I would like to thank Rachel Bean for inspiring this post.
And see yesterday’s post about Copyright
First, a question.
Do you think it’s wrong to steal/borrow/use topic ideas for your blog posts from other bloggers?
I get a good number of comments from friends and strangers who say things like, “This is a great topic. I want to use it.”
Some of them are super polite and email me asking for permission, or they are super shy and do a round-about comment on the post asking if it’s ok.
Then there’s Margo who’s all like, “ I’LL TAKE THAT *yoink* *RUN* ”
As artists, we writers are very protective of our words. We’re like junkyard dogs standing guard over our treasures, foaming at the mouth, teeth bared, digging at the dirt, wild ferocity in our eyes. Words are precious. Words are power. Words are owned and traded only at the highest price. Even before we knew what intellectual property meant, we knew that plagiarism lands you in the circle of hell where they hang you by your toenails and inflict thousands of papercuts upon your person for all of eternity. Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife or His Manuscript.
But does the same protection apply to blogs?
If it does not, should it?
Or is it an individual choice, not a normative behavior across the blogosphere?
The Nature of Blogging
I personally believe one of the foundation tenants of the blogosphere (and to some degree, the internet) is to inspire and share.
We inspire people to check out authors and books, YouTube videos and writing advice. Bloggers, particularly book and writing bloggers, are the most pay-it-forward people in the world, and none of them have come all this way to exist in a bubble of their own creation. Community is the only reason blogging works. We share the things we love hoping others will share it too.
Blogs are built for the purpose of sharing and connecting like people to like people and like topics to like topics. Our tools: Hyperlinking, Embedding, Google Friend Connect, Facebook Networks, Twitter Buttons all exist to help facilitate better, more efficient, more invasive sharing.
Do you think any blogger has the market on talking about editing? Cover art? Writer’s block? Of course not. And every single person brings something fresh and new to all topics because we all come from different backgrounds, different experiences, different techniques with different short-cuts. Two days after I wrote my blog post on the Venn Diagrams of Speculative Fiction, I discovered this blog who’d done something similar using flow charts. They are similar enough to be funny, but totally different enough to add a new level of richness to the issue of overlap in speculative fiction sub-genres.
The Short Answer
So to answer the question is it wrong to steal/borrow/use topic ideas for your blog posts inspired our outright copied from other bloggers?
No, it’s not wrong. Yes, you should do it. And do it often. How does a topic become a capital T Topic on the internet? It gets shared, responded to, repeated, and networked across platforms.
Sharing breeds awareness. Awarness inspires action. Action educates change. Change reinvents the world.
I bet you had no idea you were so important, did you?
Your words are yours, and so are your opinions. The graphics and art you create from scratch are yours too. Your ideas are not, and neither is your research.
Right now make the distinction in your brain: Create three drawers, one that is labeled “Ideas” the other ”Content” and the last one “Research”.
In the drawer labeled “Ideas” put all your blog post ideas into it. A post on vampire lore? Editing using notecards? A post on finding inspiration? On a band you love? The future of YA? Put those in the “Ideas” drawer. You don’t own those, they belong to the collective consciousness of the world.
In the “Content” drawer put all of your actual blog posts, the words you used, the commentary you presented, the graphics you built, your opinions and disagreements. Everything in this drawer belongs specifically to you. No one can use it word for word without your permission and if given they have to link back to your drawer. They can link to your drawer, summarize what’s in the drawer, but they cannot help themselves to the drawer without the go ahead from you.
In the “Research” drawer put everything you used to develop your opinions, your topic, your expertise. This might include Wikipedia, any journals, dictionaries, news sites, or biographical pages. These you have to cite if you use their work directly and these you do not own. Anyone can use these to develop their own posts.
The only stuff you need to worry about people using is what’s found in the “Content” drawer. Everything else is free to all.
College of Blogging Rules for Topic Borrowing Etiquette. Use freely.
1) Decide as soon as possible what your position on use of your “Content” drawer is, and make it clear to your readers in some fashion. Don’t wait. You can politely ask people not to use your topic ideas, but you can’t enforce it.
2) If you decide not to allow people to use your content in any way, either at all or only with a proper citation, you need to apply this same principle to how you consume ideas from others, for your own karmic well being as well as how you’ll come across publically.
3) If you have an open policy (like mine), don’t assume the rest of the blogosphere does. Assume the opposite and be mindful and respectful. When in doubt, link back to the inspiration post instead.
The following situations are not owned by any one person and proper citation or credit is unnecessary. These are supported by the same sort of rules as the Fair Use from yesterday, with a blogging twist. Remember- you cannot copyright an idea.
Super general, like editing.
A review, like for a book or movie (it would be terrible if only one person could review a book!)
Commentary on current events, like the East coast hurricane, an art exhibit, or a scientific discovery
Any topic that is widely and individually covered by multiple independent writers
4) NEVER borrow artwork, pictures, diagrams, or photographs without permission unless the object is in Creative Commons status and you’ve got the proper citation/attribution for it.
5) If you write a post in response to an article or someone else’s blog post, it is always polite to tell them you’ve done so, in case they want to respond. Remember this is a community that we all must share.
6) If you decide to write on the same subject as someone else because they inspired you, consider telling them about it even if you don’t have to. We are part of a community, after all, and this is how friendships are formed.
How to respond when you think someone has stolen from your blog to use on their blog:
1) Look at the exceptions above. Is your topic common knowledge and commonly covered? Is it an idea? Did they cover it in a unique way? If so, they probably didn’t “steal” anything.
2) If the post is identical to yours, word for word, or identical in treatment, you’ll have to decide how you want to respond.
1. People are allowed to use excerpts that are small in relation to the original work, particularly for scholarship of an idea.
2. Did they provide enough proper citation that it is clear YOU wrote and own the post, even if they just reposted it? Consider sending a very polite note to the blogger asking them to clear it with you in the future. If they made it very clear who the owner is, the intention was probably not theft and they may not even know they’ve done something wrong. In these situations, I like to ere on the side of not burning blog bridges.
3. If you’re not comfortable with that, a stronger email might be in order to ask them to remove it.
Consider talking to a veteran blogger about this if you need some advice. Most bloggers are very willing to support each other if they can, but I urge everyone to…
4. Be polite and act professional. You won’t get much cooperation if you come out of the gate swinging. It might not have occurred to the blogger you’re not ok with this. You don’t want to burn bridges, there are too few of us. This is a community and we must endeavor to talk to each other with respect, even and especially when we are mad.
5. Under no circumstances should you make a public deal over it and send your readers to attack the thief. I know it sounds like I’m telling you to roll over and take it. I’m not and blatant plagiarism shouldn’t be ignored. But you have to believe me that it won’t look good on you if you publicly humiliate the other blogger and encourage people to bully them. You’ll lose more credibility than you think by going this route. Deal with this through private contact with the other blogger and do not involve anyone else. If the situation warrants a public notice, be brief and urge people not to get involved, that you’re handling it.
3) One last thing – you know how in a single year five mermaid books will be published and people start making those comments about how Mermaid Book 4 clearly copied Mermaid Book 1 even though they were published within months of each other? Sometimes an idea percolates through like-minded individuals completely independent of each other – meaning, no one inspired anyone else.
1. What I’m trying to say is, sometimes lightning strikes multiple people at the same time. A spade is just a spade, and there’s no cut throat burglary involved.
2. Basically, before you get mad and get even, communicate.
How to Approach Someone to Request Permission to Use
1) First, see if the blogger or website has a FAQ for this. You may not have to contact them if they already have it laid out for you.
2) In your email to the owner, be clear and up front about why you want to use the copyrighted object and how you intend to present it. Be clear what your blog is about, what the object will be used for, that there is no monetary gain involved, how much you want to use, who you are – basically, all the important information you would want if the situation was reversed.
3) Be very polite and respectful. They don’t owe you anything.
4) If the answer is no, or if it is more limited than what you had requested, accept it and thank them regardless. They have the right to turn you down, and it’s not personal.
5) If they say yes, make sure you send them a link to the final product and thank them again for their help.
6) If after they see the final product and they change their mind, respect that too and take it down, even if it is very disappointing. Treat an owner just as you’d want to be treated.
Where to Get Pictures and Graphics Without Needing Permission
There are a few great resources for finding art, graphics and pictures and you do not need to ask for permission to use. However, you still must cite the origin and owner and date if available.
1) Creative Commons- this is a designation used to let the internet world know that they can use your picture (or whatever) without permission, but there are some restrictions, usually it has to be cited and cannot be used for financial gain.
2) Flickr Blue Mountains: I like this search engine – it searches Flickr for pictures marked as Creative Commons. You can search by topic and each picture has the proper citation listed for you to cut and paste.
4) If you use WordPress.org, try out the plugin called PhotoDropper. It puts a button on your posts that, when clicked, bricks up search bar. Put in a search for a picture you want, and it searches all Creative Commons listed pictures on Flickr. If you find one you like, when you insert it, PhotoDropper will put the proper citation into your post for you.
Here are a few comments from my new FAQ.
I am putting the finishing touches on a new FAQ page to go live later this week/weekend. This will be included in the FAQ. Should I answer any other questions?
How do you feel about people stealing using topics you’ve covered on Tell Great Stories?
Go for it. Burgle away. Write it better than me, even! Most importantly? Have fun! That’s why we are here, after all.
Do I have to ask for permission first?
Do I have to link back to you?
No. If you’re not quoting me or referencing me, you don’t even have to mention me. If you like Tell Great Stories enough though, I wouldn’t mind the link back
What if my post is in response to your post and I am going to totally disagree with you?
As long as you don’t call me names, fair is fair. I don’t mind if people disagree with me and I LOVE hearing alternate points of view I may not have thought about or had experience with. I’m a growing girl and I don’t know everything yet.
Can I quote you?
Sure, but you really need to link back to the post it came from. Not because I’m going to scream plagiarism and run around setting blogs on fire, but because context can change the meaning of a quote and I’d like people to have the opportunity to read the full post, especially if the quote is potentially misunderstood.
Can I repost something you’ve posted?
Potentially. You need to ask my permission to use an entire post, and I reserve the right to say no, even if you meet the following criteria.
- Where you are reposting cannot represent, share, or support anything illegal.
- Where you are reposting cannot represent, share, or support anything that you wouldn’t show to a teenager while their parents are in the room. I write YA after all, so no porn, gratuitous drinking, drugs, hate groups, etc. If your blog or website is extremely controversial, you should probably ask me first.
- You cannot sell my posts or charge anyone access to my posts.
- Some of the pictures and artwork on my blog posts do not belong to me – they are Creative Commons or used with permission by friends. Some will have citations under or around the picture or if you hover over the picture it will show the citation then. I’ve tried a lot of citation methods since starting TGS
- You have to link back to the original post and give credit to Sommer Leigh of Tell Great Stories as the original author of the content.
- You cannot repost a guest post or interview post as this content does not belong to me. If you want to repost a guest post or interview, you’ll need to contact both myself and the actual author and I will not give permission if the original author doesn’t. If you get permission from both of us, you will need to cite the original author, their blog/website, and Sommer Leigh of Tell Great Stories with links to us both.
- You cannot, under any circumstances, repost or reuse any of my fiction, usually found on my blog in the form of excerpts or flash fiction.
My email: firstname.lastname@example.org
So I can borrow from your blog posts, what about your fiction, like excerpts from your novel, flash fiction, or poetry?
That you can’t have, for obvious reasons. Sorry. You can link to it though and you can summarize what you read.
Why do you allow so much free use of your work?
Because I’m in the business of helping bloggers and writers. Because it makes me happy. All I ask, in return for all this freedom is just – be cool. Don’t abuse my generosity by reposting all of my posts and calling it your blog content.
I reserve the right to yank back the free reign I’ve given over my content. If I ever ask you to take down something of mine you posted, I would appreciate your full cooperation.
Be kind. Don’t be a jerk.
So what do you think?
Do you think it’s wrong to use topic ideas for your blog posts from other bloggers?
Have you had any of your content stolen before? What was the experience like? Do you have any advice for people trying to decide how free or controlled their content should be and do you have any advice for people dealing with content theft? Share it in the comments!