Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Dancing with myself...again

It was bound to happen. Actually, it's been happening for several years but I figured if I didn't play, it would go away. What is it?

Unequivocally, I dislike plagiarism, it's at best laziness and worse, sheer thievery. Ladies and gentlemen, plagiarism as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary- the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own. In my line of work it is not unusual for this to happen; consultants do it to us, colleagues etc, it's a cutthroat world. I've always looked at it and figured, I have lots of ideas, you stealing one of mine isn't going to kill me, it just shows how limited you are. Until it happens, then you get mad. Depending on what the situation is, it can really burn.

So now you know. But this is really just a segue, what's happening is that I've started to "borrow" from myself. All writers do it to some degree, we store up ideas or pieces of work that we've created, sometimes they re-appear in different formats. It happens. From the mid-nineties up until about three years ago, I wrote extensively for publications, websites and corporate clients. It was sort of like being back in television when I'd churn out five to seven live spots a night in addition to producing business features, documentaries and occasionally, promos. A little bit of a lot of genres.

Mostly though, I wrote Tourism type articles for glossy magazines and the Tourism website. One carnival, I wrote 250 pieces for TIDCO, it was wild, it was mad and it was hard to keep up but I loved every minute of it despite my bitching otherwise. Of course at the time I was also running a Mas Camp and doing some event management on the side so a little madness was in order. Over the years I've become somewhat of a homegrown go-to person for all things Carnival and many things Trinidad. I'm proud of my body of work, it's taken me places and taught me a lot, about my country and about life.

What pissed me off? Several years ago while surfing the net looking for information on some or other thing, I came across another website, the information looked suspiciously familiar. I read it once and then again and a particular phrase struck a chord. I dug through my file of articles and sure enough, there it was. Not only had the owner of site used my work wholesale, down to the last comma, they'd not bothered to credit the information. I sent them an e-mail, the short version of the story, they took down the piece, eventually. But I started noticing work that I'd done being used all over the place, sometimes credited to me and sometimes not. This is plagiarism and it sucks.

Of course there are times when it gets funny too. A magazine that I write for once called me to ask who they should talk to about re-printing an article they'd found on the internet. They liked the style and thought, because I wrote for a lot of sites, I might know how to get in touch with the publisher. I fell over laughing, it had been written by me, I was the person they'd have had to ask anyway since I generally license my work. This is also not unusual, a piece written as a magazine article was used by the subject as their official biography in an art catalogue. Eventually, it found it's way back to me from another magazine who asked the artist if they could use an updated version, they volunteered to send a writer and gave him my name. He burst out laughing and said, "she doesn't have to come and see me, she wrote the original and I'm sure she can do the update from the information she knows". Nice to know.

It's been fun on some levels to do this work. At one stage my e-mail address was included on the tourism work and I used to get e-mail queries from all over the world, people looking for information, people curious about something I'd said or people who wanted to nit-pick or disagree. At the same time however, it is work that I did, like my colleagues in the business, we'd like to remind you, imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but we'd really prefer if you credited us when you "borrow" our work.


Marcus the Coffedude said...

Coffee on a rant!LOL.

I sympathise as it is obvious we have no regard for intellectual property (come to think of it, no regard for plain ol' intellect!) in this neck of the woods. You can see it by the pervasiveness of TT$10(US$1.50) DVDs with piss-poor audio and the silhouette of a guy standing in front of the cinema screen.

This highest respect you can give an artist is to enjoy it the way he or she intended you to enjoy it whether that be in a gallery, in a book or on the web - LEGALLY.

Your words and prose are your lifebolood, your tattoos, your prized posessions. It must be challenging opening yourself to the technology and thus the public yet still have to look out for yourself from marauders.

All that said, Project Guttenburg was founded in the early days of the WWW and still provides thousands of Ebook version of Puiblic Domain books. http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page. However, it still cant beat holding that decades old discoloured paper in your hand and breathing in the heady odour of age, wisdom and literary love.

Gabriela García Calderón said...

Of course it is outrageous to be copy-pasted, without mentioning who the author is! It has never happened to me, though, but I totally agree with you and your feelings.
On the other hand, I can imagine how funny it must have been when you were asked whose permission you needed to republish and old article... of yours.

Coffeewallah said...

Intellectual thievery is not much different from breaking in to a man's house and stealing his possessions. Actually it's worse, at least you can buy the stuff back if you have to, when it's your work it's a lot more personal.