Copyright, plagiarism and the whole shebang.

January 8, 2009

I used to make my living writing things down and selling them. It was fun, but at times it could be quite difficult, which is why I was amply rewarded (40c/word) and lived the lap of luxury (PR folk, ever wonder why lunch works so well on journalists and they stay for hours? IT’S THE ONLY TIME THEY EAT THAT DAY).

Occasionally I was forced to Google for my own name (it helps to have a weird name so the only hits you get are for yourself) not with a view to polishing my room-sized cranium (no, really) but with a view to finding those evil bastards who steal my work and pass it off as their own and bringing down all the vengeance of the gods on their pox riddled arse.

Normally some booger would post my entire story in a thread with a “Hey, just found this. Isn’t it well written and insightful?” and not even link to the original source material.

That blows chunks.

Typically said vengeance would take the following path:

1: A friendly email to the owner of the website asking nicely if they could remove the post, replacing it with perhaps the relevant quote and a link.
2: There is no 2.

Almost without exception they would comply, typically within minutes. The only one I had any trouble with was a US legal website that had put up an entire article I’d written about the contractual ramifications of Y2K, complete with my name and “Auckland, Australia” and who refused to even answer my email. It would be ironic if it wasn’t lawyers. Hey, what’s the difference between a lawyer and a catfish? One’s a scum sucking bottom dweller and the other’s a fish.

So it is with interest and not a little mirth that I read this on my new favourite website, Cracked, and in particularly the blog of one Dan O’Brien.

And I quote:

El Grafico, a Mexican Newspaper, stole Jeff Kelly’s article on Sex Myths Explained by Science. Even though they’re getting traffic and ad sales due to the article, El Grafico didn’t come up with the idea- Jeff did. And they didn’t do the research- Jeff did. Hey, you know what else they didn’t do?

They didn’t upload their own images.

They linked directly to our images. The images in our server, that we have access to. For those not too familiar with how image hosting works, this basically means that, if we make any changes to the images on our end, the new, edited images would show up on their site. (It’s explained a little bit better in this article.)

With this in mind, it would appear that any clever, enterprising and well-endowed Cracked employee could easily alter those images, as sort of a public embarrassment to El Grafico for being such lazy, thieving fucking cowards.


Not to draw too fine a line, I’ve met a couple of plagiarists in my time and the thing is they don’t see anything wrong with it. One of the magazines I worked for had a celebrity columnist (now long since departed the scene thank the gods) who thought nobody would notice or care that she copied entire swathes of other people’s writing and passed it off as her own. What irks me most is that nobody knows about it and presumably still think nice thoughts about that lovely lady who used to be on the telly.

This all makes it very difficult for me (morally speaking) when I look at my hard drive and see TV shows galore. I know someone’s slaved to craft that, worked long hours, and sweated over [some device or other] to produce a show I like. And yet I’ve “stolen” it.

I wrestle with it, but then I think “those lousy bastards at the network will show this series in the small wee hours of Wednesday morning, having cut out vital scenes/dialogue to fit in more ads and they won’t even bother doing that for another six months. Fuck them and the horse they road in on” and I happily have it away on my toes. Play the TV when it is fresh and new and don’t cut anything out and I’ll watch it. In fact, make it available as a download and I’ll buy it. This is not rocket science, it’s business. Don’t make it difficult for your customers to give you money.

And with that in mind, the flip side of being able to find creative content anywhere and to have it for your own use is … that you CAN find creative content anywhere and have it for your own use. This beauty came to my via Neil Gaiman’s blog and I wouldn’t have found it without the internet and my world would be a slightly worse-off place.

“If I had urinated immediately after breakfast, the mob would never have burnt down the orphanage. But, as I left the dining hall to relieve myself, the letterbox clattered. I turned in the long corridor. A single white envelope lay on the doormat. I hesitated, and heard through the door the muffled roar of a motorcycle starting. With a crunching turn on the gravel drive and a splatter of pebbles against the door, it was gone.

Odd, I thought, for the postman has a bicycle. I walked to the large oak door, picked up the envelope, and gazed upon it.


The Orphanage



For me! On this day, of all significant days! I sniffed both sides of the smooth white envelope, in the hope of detecting a woman’s perfume, or a man’s cologne. It smelt, faintly, of itself.”

Mysterious Dave, this one’s for you.

PS: I have today learned that plagiarist isn’t spelled plagarist and that vengence actually has an ‘a’ in it. Who knew?


2 Responses to “Copyright, plagiarism and the whole shebang.”

  1. Mysterious Dave Mather Says:

    I’ll read the piece for me in a bit.

    I have to agree with you, but could I simplify your difficulties with copyright into a single sentence?

    If someone is paid to be creative, you expect them to be creative: if you want a creative work, you want it in a pure form undiluted by middlemen, and you would pay for it if you could.

    (at 40 cents a word, that’s only around $15. I’d starve as a writer)

    So for you, plagiarism is the deadlier sin than copyright infringment, as the later is done with love.

    For myself, I remain amazed at the failure of production companies to move aggressively into direct to audience sales of series, as that seems to be the primary way audience now view them. Rather, the DVD of a series is released as a secondary to the series, much like a soundtrack cd. I think the companies should look at the television screening as one form of advertising for the series, while the primary cash cow is the direct sales.

  2. Giovanni Says:

    An Italian humourist called Achille Campanile who did his best work in the thirties wrote a piece back then on all the foreign papers who had plagiarised his stories, as far afield as Argentina. How he managed to found them in those days, I’ll never know – at least nowadays Google is your friend.

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