If you’ve ever had your ideas stolen by a colleague and presented as their own work – or they’ve taken the credit for something you have done – you’ll know that it’s a really weird headspace to be in. It inspires a rapid-fire gamut of emotions that cycles through shock, denial, anger, more anger, desire for revenge, voodoo curses on their patrilineal descendants for the next several millennia, hysterical laughter, forgiveness and then, finally – calm acceptance.
I’m a writer. There is a very simple code of conduct in my industry: you don’t steal other people’s material. You don’t borrow liberally from other people’s creative repertoire and you certainly don’t take your inspiration without giving due credit to the original source.
It seems pretty simple, right? Thou shall not steal. You might be surprised at just how common this type of theft is, and I know several bloggers who have been victims of creative fraud. I’ve personally had my work stolen four times and one of those – bizarrely enough – was direct plagiarism in Bahasa Indonesia. My post about crazy cat-ladies apparently transcends any number of cultural barriers. (For the record, “meow” in Bahasa is ….“meow”) .
So, what does a writer do when their intellectual property gets stolen and they need to exorcise some lingering existential angst? They write passive-aggressive open letters to the perpetrators, of course!
Dear person who stole my intellectual property
Hey, I read your article last night… Interesting. And I don’t mean that the article itself was interesting, I mean that it was interesting how two posts written two weeks apart by two complete strangers could contain such strikingly similar material; right down to the specific content, structure, phrasing and the inclusion of my totally naff jokes. I mean, they weren’t even that funny to begin with…
A suspicious person might even think that you stole the content directly from my article.
For the record: I am a suspicious person.
Here’s the thing: my blog doesn’t make any money. I don’t have banner ads or affiliate links or sponsored posts and I’m not exactly brand ambassador material, because I swear WAY too much. In almost three years I have made maybe $600 from my blog. I also scored myself a free jar of hazelnut spread with my name on it, which was something of a highlight.
I won’t add what my blog has cost me during that same time because a lot of it can’t be quantified. It takes me away from my children. It takes me away from my husband. It takes me away from episodes of my favourite reality TV shows. I mostly do it in the five minutes of free time I get once the kids are in bed and the freelance work is finished. It’s tiring.
I’m not trying to be a martyr: I write because I love it. I started documenting my experiences after being at home with two young children for several years, because one day I turned around and realised there was nothing left of me. Everything I did was for other people, and I had no identity outside of my kids. It was depressing and totally demoralising – then I started writing.
It was my outlet. My saviour.
It was me. Snarky, wise-cracking, unsuitable-for-kids me.
Last week you stole a piece of ME.
I know I’m not Hemingway, and it’s not like I’m bleeding onto the screen here, but these are my words and my ideas and my lame jokes; they are the result of many hours of love, sweat and the occasional beer. It’s not the first time I’ve had my work stolen from me and I’m sure it won’t be the last. People tell me that I should probably be flattered or something, but it’s wrong and it’s unethical and it’s just not cool.
If my experience has taught me anything, it’s that you will get caught eventually. That thing we call the internet? Lots of people can see it. Crazy, I know…
P.S. It might be time for you to take up a new hobby or something. I hear that adult colouring in is popular.
Have you ever had someone blatantly rip you off? What would your letter say?
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