The Kidnapping of Ideas

It’s been a rather surreal week.

But I’m not going to write about that in this post.

Instead I’m going to tackle a question which Melanie asked in her latest Share Your World.

Because of a referrer link I saw in my blog’s stats which had me searching online and discovering things last night.

Melanie asked two questions in one:

Is copying and pasting images or information off the Internet plagiarism?  

Do you credit those whose work you ‘borrow freely’ or do you think the idea is repugnant?

If you’re a blogger, the concept and activity of plagiarism (which means literary theft or kidnapping if you check out the etymology of the word) is one which you’ll end up bumping into one way or another on your blogging journey.

The most common bump into plagiarism a blogger will get is when it happens to you…

Like with life, we tend to only pay attention to certain things when those things happen to us (or to someone close to us whom we care about).

Then it gets personal… and our primal survival instinct kicks in and kicks us in the butt which makes us want to kick someone else in the butt… pass it on.

My first kick in the butt actually came from an artist who got mad at me for posting their image on my blog and it went slightly viral, propelling my tumblr blog into momentary attention getting status.

I had linked to source, given credit to the artist, adding a link to their deviantart account when posting the image, but I hadn’t realised they had a tumblr as well… due to them not linking to it on their deviantart which is where I had found the beautiful image.

I can’t recall if I used the tumblr share button they had on their deviantart account and the images they shared on there because that button was often glitchy – I used it when possible.

I apologised to them even though I hadn’t done anything wrong, had followed blogging etiquette, but sometimes you need to apologise because it’s the quickest way to resolve a misunderstanding and sooth a pissed off creative ego… and they took down their rant against me post. So all was okay.

I learned to be extra careful after that.

Blogging etiquette requires that you give credit to source if you use words or images created by someone other than you.

Which is simple to do for the most part.

And it’s a lovely feeling to give credit where credit is due.

It can get a bit more complex with images, especially those which have been repeatedly shared online, on social media in particular, but Google Image Search can help with that if you’re genuinely interested in finding and crediting source.

You can always link to the place where you found it as an interim to finding the original source.

But it does take a bit more work on your part to do that… and it’s easier to do on a computer than on a mobile phone.

My second kick in the butt was a vicarious kick… I was dumbfounded by what I witnessed and the dramatic story which ensued. It left me distrustful of WordPress bloggers for a long time afterwards.

A blogger I was following on WordPress plagiarised another WordPress blogger’s post, got caught because the plagiarised post received a lot of positive attention (Likes, comments, reblogs, etc) and the original author found out, confronted them. The plagiariser did a confessional post with apologies and explanation about why they plagiarised… which was fascinating.

That seems to have been an unusual case… most plagiarism of posts is hard to detect unless you’re super paranoid and constantly check for it, using Google or bots.

It is often perpetrated by “fake blogs”. They steal “popular” posts and place them on their blog to get Ad revenue, traffic, clicks. It’s not about stealing creativity, just about making money.

Sometimes though it is about taking your creativity and claiming it as their own – I’ve had that happen, it’s usually always with your blog’s popular posts. They want to own your popularity for themselves… but it’s a self-destructive action because they’re not the source so they can’t keep it up (sure they could keep plagiarising your blog posts, but think about it… think about the toll it takes on their self to keep doing that), and can’t deal with the reaction people have to your work (people regularly have strong reactions to my posts… I’m used to it because my posts are me, and I get that reaction just by being me, have done all my life, but those who plagiarise may not be used to it).

Usually when I find out that one of my posts has been plagiarised, deliberately or accidentally (sometimes people share excerpts from my posts without giving credit and their name is the only one attached so those who read it assume they wrote it… and no one sets things straight), I just rant about it on my blog… and remind myself of the choice I made to have an open creative commons copyright for very specific reasons.

Some authors have a very strict copyright, and they often demand that you ask permission before sharing their work… although they often have “share” buttons for social media… which can muddy their controlling of copyright waters.

Even with all copyright precautions in place… this is the internet and people are people.

Here’s a cautionary tale I came across last night while researching plagiarism in connection with blogging, it’s from an article published in 2013:

The Guardian – Academic blogging: a risk worth taking? After her blog was republished without credit, PhD student Lucy Williams says we must confront this ‘shameless exploitation’

Here’s an excerpt:

“In June this year I was sent a link to an article on a tabloid newspaper website titled Edwardian Rogues Gallery, by a friend and former lecturer, suggesting I might find it of interest. When I opened the article, I was surprised and horrified, to find a post I had published on my blog just weeks earlier staring back at me, with somebody else’s name placed at the top. Worse still, I found the same post reproduced on other sites, under the name of more authors.


At first, my overriding emotion was that of disbelief. Although I knew that some news organisations were far from scrupulous in their reporting, I had always assumed this would stop short of reproducing others work without permission or acknowledgement. But after taking to Twitter to get some more opinions, I was saddened to hear that, yes, this can happen, and yes, it happens all the time.


Indignant, I resolved to contact those responsible. I emailed both the news agency that originally circulated the post and the two national newspapers, one regional title and global website that took it. I also tried several times to contact the individuals who had put their names above my work. These attempts were, of course, all in vain. Wherever I turned, I was met with a frustrating wall of silence. I soon realised the overwhelming likelihood that I would never get a response from anyone involved or be given any acknowledgement for my work. That is when I took the decision to partially shut down my blog.


I didn’t want to. For over a year I had invested time into producing something I was proud of, and into promoting it at every opportunity. I couldn’t bear the thought of removing it all, so I left a few posts, including the one in question, and a cautionary tale to other bloggers, on the site. I’ve not been back since.


Blogging provides a vital method of communication and networking for PhD students and early career researchers. Blogs can raise awareness of a researcher and their work in the early stages of a career, before they have a long list of publications, or grant applications behind them. But with an environment existing in which your research can be taken and used by others – for profit – without your permission, and without accreditation, is it a risk worth taking?”

excerpt from The Guardian – Academic blogging: a risk worth taking?

I didn’t use to share excerpts like the above on my blog.

I used to just link to a post or article.

Like this – TurnItIn: 5 Things Students Might Not Know About Plagiarism

And then maybe I’d say how much I found it informative to read that article, especially the part about articles on plagiarism being plagiarised.

But then over time I realised many links I’d shared to articles and posts ended up nowhere, in error 404 territory. The blog or website had been deleted or restructured itself altering the links in the process.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter, but if I discussed in a post what I’d read in the article, it could confuse matters… so I decide to excerpt the parts which I had found helpful and inspiring in some way just in case the source disappeared, was changed.

Also people who read your post aren’t necessarily going to click on the links – I’m sometimes one of those people who don’t click on links in posts and articles.

Just share in your post what it is which meant something to you, which inspired your post, you… with credit and link to source.

So if there’s something I want to share – I share it, with credit and link to source in case you want to check out the full article or post.

If any of the authors of the articles from which I share excerpts have a problem with what I do, there’s a notice in my Copyright page which says:

“Anything which I post that is the creation of others will be credited to their creator, and linked to source.

Sometimes I share the creation of others without credit or link because I couldn’t find who did it and where they are, if you notice something of yours and are okay with it being on my blog but would like to add a credit and link let me know.

If I post something of yours, and you wish for me to remove it, let me know and I will do so immediately. I do not intend to offend or upset, just share the things which inspire me.”

excerpt from my Copyright page

It seems fairly straightforward… but humans.

If we can complicate something simple… into the drama triangle we go!

The referrer I spoke about earlier in this post, which I spotted last night in my stats, was one of those sites which offer certain services mainly to students writing papers, such as a ‘plagiarism checker’.

I’ve had those before in my “Referrers” stats.

It perplexed me, but not enough to get me to research the matter online.

Apparently it is common practice for students to use paper writing services… and plagiarism is also considered a common practice, normal, a “must” if you want to survive to graduate.

It’s kind of sad that the education system requires such methods… that learning isn’t fun, isn’t exciting in a good way, and is more about who can cheat the system well enough to survive it.

A gauntlet to run which is best run while using acceptable cheats to do so. Everyone does it…

Kind of like playing a video game which cheats enabled… or using a walkthrough which you found online. I’ve done that… so I get it.

So those who don’t do it, who refuse to do it are… what?

I refused to cheat when I was a student… while everyone else was doing it. It was one of many mistakes I made due to being young, foolish, far too idealistic and deeply rebellious to the point of stupidity.

Ah… we live and learn… and maybe keep making the same mistakes because we’re stubborn about it. Fuck that, I’m not learning that!

Oh… the image I used for this post:

Is a screenshot of weird shit happening on goodreads if you search for quotes about “plagiarism”…

I wonder if Paul Gauguin really said that or if he borrowed it from someone else… who isn’t on goodreads… does it matter?

That’s it from me…

11 comments

  1. Thanks Ursula for the thoughtful words on what plagiarism may entail, and how diverse the term actually is when you start digging. The reason I asked that question was because there are two bloggers I follow (occasionally) and both wrote a post framing their thoughts on ‘what plagiarism means to me” (paraphrased deliberately. I don’t want THEM coming after you because your comments section contains something they maybe said or wrote. They’re a bit nuts on the matter if you were to ask me). Both bloggers were vitriolic about their point of view which is “if I wrote it (thought it or said it FIRST allegedly) It’s MY INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY and mitts off world.” Which, as you so adroitly pointed out, is difficult to police in these days of the internet and easy copy and pasting. I admit to getting a bit riled up, because two days before or so I’d linked their blog to one of my posts. I didn’t use any content off that particular blog post, and I rarely do ‘borrow’ anyone else’s words, I’ll LINK and let people read the original thoughts by the original blogger for themselves. I commented on that particular bloggers’ post that they could expect no further exposure from me as I didn’t wish to trod on toes and if I had, mea culpa and all that. I still think those bloggers are naive because of course somebody is going to read something they may have written and probably use the material. I’m not condoning wholesale plagiarism, but what’s to stop the reader from reforming the idea into words of their own? Which comes down to a harder question in my opinion “What’s actual “intellectual property” and how does the blogger (writer) defend themselves against plagiarism in that context?” Maybe you can figure it out. It’s far too complex for my weary brain..

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you very much, Melanie 🙂

      You’re absolutely right about Intellectual Property being very complex, it’s a minefield of complications even at the legal end of it where inventors, entrepreneurs, artists and companies can patent an idea, thus in theory making that idea their property by law.

      One of the more well known cases is the Tesla/Marconi who invented the radio first conundrum. People are still debating this decades later. Both Tesla and Marconi filed for patents on their similar invention around the same time. Also Marconi did use the inventions of others in his invention, improving upon what they did – so his invention wasn’t solely his, it was a collective work. Could he have created his invention without using the inventions of others? Would he have had the idea without others having similar ideas at the time?

      The same question could be asked of artistic creations.

      Most writers have read books by other writers, usually it was due to reading the work of other authors which inspired them to be a writer themselves, they’ve absorbed the words, writing styles, ideas of lots of other writers – are their ideas really all their own?

      If you do a quick search online about the issue of intellectual property in connection with writing, there are loads of discussions on writing forums about it.

      Here’s a link to a reddit discussion about it – https://www.reddit.com/r/writing/comments/4srghs/why_are_so_many_writers_afraid_of_having_their/

      Most of those discussing the issue appear to agree that writers who are terrified of having their ideas stolen are in the “amateur” stage of professional writing, and that at some point they’ll figure out that it’s not about the idea but about the execution of it.

      “Sure, someone can steal your idea, but they can’t possibly execute it or interpret it in the same way you can. No one can be you. That is your best protection of all.” – Jeanne Bowerman

      The above quote came from this article – https://www.janefriedman.com/idea-theft/

      Here’s another interesting takes on the issue, with a writing prompt twist at the end of it – https://thewritepractice.com/steal-ideas/

      You’re right to give a wide berth to bloggers who are overly touchy and precious about their writing and ideas (which is theirs, that belong to them – Monty Python’s Anne Elk popped into my mind again 😉 ) which they are sharing on their blog online, on the internet which was created for the sharing of information, for anyone to read… they definitely want others to read their words but they don’t want anyone to take anything away from reading their words.

      They’ve kind of missed the point of blogging, but hey we all have our personal narrative and that’s theirs – That’s their story about their writing. It’s obviously a very serious drama, with horror elements, creatures in walls whispering fears until the person living in the house goes insane, screaming about their intellectual property until their brain explodes and that’s the end of that. 😀

      Like

  2. I didn’t know it was all so complicated. I found out about cc photos you can use and I read the term of serviceon websites and so on.

    As for ideas, you need input, a reaction and then you get a contra-reaction and so on and so on. Isn’t that the point of a converstation? When you ‘copy’ or ‘summarize’ and credit because you want to spread the message that is needed to be heard, that is ok. If that wasn’t ok, politics would be over and out. Credit where credit is due but all within reason.

    What you could do is write something very stupid that they can copy. Copying without understanding can give you a whole lot of trouble. Copying is not something ‘easy’ to do, the price comes.

    Now just to be clear and all safe on the intellectual property. Last week you commented on my blog about the Guardian knot. I TOOK your idea and knotted a poem out of it and then someone else made a picture of a pumpkin shaped as a knot. I hope we’re fine on the legal front here 🙂

    Like

    • Haha! I love what you did there, Kacha, very clever 😀

      I agree with you about ideas needing input, reaction, etc. One of the reasons I love blogging and the internet is the exchange of ideas which happens, it’s a brainstorming session. People share their thoughts, perspectives, stories and ideas and that inspires more thoughts, perspectives, stories and ideas to be generated, created, shared. It’s a great way to solve all sorts of puzzles separately and together!

      Funnily enough one of the posts on my blog which someone plagiarised was one I wrote while in a silly mood. So basically I wrote something stupid which someone decided to copy 😉 I got the impression that it didn’t work out the way they imagined it would for them. “Magic” does indeed come with a price.

      While it is annoying and frustrating when you find out that someone has taken your post and claimed it as theirs, there’s a lot to be learned from the experience, both about the self and about others. It’s a rather intriguing psychological narrative to explore from different angles. Lots of interesting questions rise up and lots of interesting answers present themselves.

      The credit where credit is due issue is one which is part of a very personal puzzle for me.

      It’s part of the narrative of my family.

      It’s a big element of narcissistic behaviour – narcissists constantly steal credit away from others, like medals to pin on themselves which they don’t deserve and didn’t earn but as far as they’re concerned they take what they want and it’s okay when they do it, not okay when others do it. They often seek out “sources” to steal from and then hide it from others so others won’t also steal from that source or find out what the narcissist is doing, discover their dirty little secret, they’ll crush the source to make sure it stays hidden and keeps feeding them. It can get very dark.

      It’s also part of a legacy passed on by my father – he was a professional artist, and he was denied credit where credit was due because the art world is full of petty little bitches with giant egos. He didn’t play by their rules, so they punished him. His frustration and fury and his depression all affected me.

      The thing is that when we give credit to those who inspire us, we generate more inspiration – we inspire those who inspired us to keep being themselves, sharing themselves, inspiring us and others. We also create the right kind of energy within what has been inspired, and what we do with the inspiration will pass the inspiration along to others. Not giving credit is like shutting a door on the flow of inspiration.

      But you are right about how it could go overboard, giving too much credit can be as problematic as not giving any credit. Such as if you give credit to everyone else and never to yourself. There needs to be a balance to it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your answer. When you credit the inspiration, the source can live on. Like happiness, you can pass it on to others. I thought art was supposed to do that but that’s not always the case I see now. Is it all rooted in fear? The fear to be discovered, the ego crushed by others. A constant danger luring at you from the shadows when you don’t own your own shadow. I believe it’s better to step into the light, wear sunscreen and accept your shadow. The one doesn’t survive without the other. Your blogs and comments makes my thoughts flow in such a fun way, sometimes confusing but energising. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Ursula 🧸

    I agree with Melanie. Ideas are vague and part of the collective (un)concious. I’ve seen a random, unusual word I used be used later by two different people. Personally, I love it when ideas, words, concepts bounce around and people add their own twist to them.

    Actual plagiarism is taking someone else’s entire post, picture, product and claiming the credit for it. Reaping the benefits without the work.

    That whole ordeal that had some of us freaking out earlier this year was, for me, more about using my stuff to attract ad money. Hey, I need money too😉

    I dont use any copyright, even a CC one. My blog is little and that’s fine. I write for me, or sometimes on request😉 and the numbers dont matter one way or the other.

    I include links if its relevant. If I’m just mentioning that a post I read made me think, I probably wont link the post because the part that made me think would take a slew of words to explain A (post) to Z(thought) with twists and turns and getting lost and backtracking and skipping letters… you see? Plus, lazy human syndrome.😉

    Cant we all just get along? (Says the INFP Pisces 🤣)

    🌞💃🏼💕

    Like

    • Hey, Angie 🙂

      You’re right about the collective aspect of it.

      Often an idea is born in several minds at once, sometimes it’s part of a zeitgeist, part of many people thinking separately about a collective problem/puzzle. The 100dth monkey effect. Those minds which come up with the idea may belong to people living in different parts of the planet who have had no contact with each other. So who owns that idea? The first person to copyright or patent it? Or does it belong to everyone because for an idea to become more than abstract, take shape, become concretised, take on physical form, it usually needs the work of many. Many ideas have died because others did not participate in its further development. Some ideas were left in limbo until many years later when someone else came across it, revived it, infused it with other dies, evolved it.

      There’s a theory that nothing in the world is completely original, that many of our inventions are actually a case of reinvention. Because so many ancient civilisations have come and gone often leaving very little in the way of traces, we don’t know what they knew, so we don’t know if they knew what we know which we think we’ve just discovered but maybe we’re re-discovering those things.

      I think the most interesting aspect of plagiarism is all the different perspectives people have of it borne out of their own experiences of it, including lack of experience of it which is an experience too – but I would think that since I’m an INTP 😉 my type likes collecting perspectives and then looking at what perspective all those perspectives collected together offer of the collective as a whole. What does it say about us all, and what does it tell us about where we are on an evolutionary path? The evolutionary path of the collective informs the evolutionary path of the individual and vice versa.

      We appear to be peaking when it comes to collective narcissism.

      Blogging is like a microcosm of the macrocosm of society. You can see similar dynamics at play.

      We each have to figure out for ourselves how we’ll approach our blogging experience and journey, what we’ll learn from it, how it will change us or crystallise us, what we give to it and what we take away from it.

      Do we join a group or go solo? If we join a group do we have to abide by their rules, if they go into pitchforks at dawn mode and we don’t want to… then what?

      What we do online is a reflection of what we do offline, it’s a virtual reality perspective of the RL, we can do many things here which we don’t or can’t do in RL – the choices we make here however can affect what happens beyond the here, sometimes subtly but the subtle is powerful. The psyche of our blog is in many ways a reflection of the psyche within.

      Fascinating stuff 😀

      You might enjoy this – https://www.elsaelsa.com/astrology/what-it-means-to-be-a-pisces/

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I left a fairly long comment, but it disappeared somewhere into WP limbo. 😉 Anyway, a few months ago I found that my entire blog had been lifted and my name removed. My name hadn’t been replaced by someone else’s, but there it was, hanging out on a weird site about narcissism, except that my photography and other posts were there too. So strange.

    Like

    • That’s a weird experience. Sounds like they used your RSS feed. How did you find out about it? Is it still there? Just your blog or other blogs too? Was there any explanation of what they were doing or was it a fake blog designed to capitalise on clicks?

      But most importantly, you okay? How did it make you feel?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for your concern, Ursula. 🙂 I am completely fine.

        I found out about it from another blogger whose blog was also there, except his was all photography. There was no explanation or attempt to claim all that work as belonging to someone else and I do think it was about clicks. Shortly after I took a look, it disappeared.

        It was really strange to see my stuff out there as a sort of stranger to me. I had this momentary feeling like it wasn’t mine and had never been mine. Weird, but that was my first reaction. Then I was really pissed off. But by the time I went back for another look, it was gone. I’ve let it go by now but it was such an odd experience.

        Liked by 1 person

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