Let’s face it, some people are never going to do the work, are they? They’re too busy, or they can’t write… or they simply can’t be bothered, or they’d rather spend the time or money on something else, or…
That’s why you’ll find copies of the books colleagues have written on file sharing sites, you’ll find blog posts posted elsewhere under a different name, you’ll find slides from presentations inserted into the presentations of others (the blatant one at English Australia this year was all the more delicious because I was sat in the audience), articles re-written and re-published under another name, etc., etc.
The big question, of course, is does it matter? Well, I suspect that there’s some kind of middle ground here.
As a very minor author, I never bothered putting down the initial payment on a yacht or a house in the Bahamas – the income from my books was never going to stretch that far (it’s not bad for a few decent dinners every year). I don’t expect an income from my blog, I write it to help me shape my thoughts, and to get feedback from others on the same subject – that’s why there are no Google Ads, sponsored links or anything of the sort on any of the posts. No chance of that miracle slimming cure here… move along, please – nothing to see…
Presentations? Well, I get my fair share of invitations to conferences, generally – and I do strongly believe that it’s people that people want at conferences, not their materials and ideas (or not solely their materials and ideas, at any rate) – that’s why being filmed or recorded has limited (or no) impact on your attractiveness as a speaker.
Articles? I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the articles I’ve been paid for over the years, compared to the ones I’ve written ‘pro bono’ – the rest were because I wanted to write them, as a favour to someone or by request of someone (and those requests rarely come with offers of remuneration).
Were I Dan Brown, I suspect I could probably survive quite comfortably even with all the illegal copies floating around… but of course I’m not. I’m not saying Dan shouldn’t hunt the purveyors down and eat them of course – whatever works for him, his agent and his publisher. But I reckon he’ll be able to afford a normal lunch tomorrow, either way.
The problem comes, of course, when you’re trying to make a living solely from your blog, or your books (however misguided the faith in your books and their potential sales may be [ not you Dan, obviously]) or your conference appearances, etc. I’m (un)lucky enough to have to work for a living – so I have an income which is derived from a day’n'night job – the rest: the blogs, the books… well, those are small bonuses throughout the year, sometimes financial, sometimes in terms of content, engagement and discussion.
So, do I care – personally? No, I don’t think I do – I don’t care if someone rips off a blog post of mine, or publishes an article of mine because frankly it’s just words, a collection of words which have no meaning outside my chosen context – and outside the circle of people who will share those words and get involved in the discussion. On my blog I get conversation, articles inspire feedback, books get read and used and sometimes you get a friendly email saying how useful (or not) it was. Anything outside that circle of feedback doesn’t much matter to me. The chances of anyone hiring the plagiarist are slim, I reckon.
But am I more sinner than sinned against?
Casting around my hard drive I note that my music, films and software are all entirely legal. Looking at my company website I note that we paid for the rights to use all the photos we use… but then again have I always been so stringent in the images I’ve used in presentations? No, the fact is that I’ve broken the law at some point – so how can I get too worked up about people stealing my ‘intellectual’ property (such as it is)? I think the answer is that I can’t really – or not with a straight face, at least…
As a side note, it’s much easier to find CC materials now than it was when I first started on the Net all those years ago (and no, that’s not intended as an excuse for my younger criminal days). For images there’s a great CC search option in the advanced Google Images search, the same on Flickr, and – specifically for ELT – the wonderful and growing resource ELTpics, which you can find through the hashtag #eltpics on Twitter, or by searching for the same on Flickr.
So, since I don’t live in the middle ground where writing is my living, and since I’m not Dan, I reckon I can quite comfortably say the following – speaking for myself only, obviously:
- Anybody is welcome to ‘borrow’ my blog posts
- Anybody is welcome to ‘re-purpose’ my articles
- Anybody is welcome to ‘re-invent’ my presentations
They can claim them as their own, if they like – it’s all the same to me. I think in all honesty I’d be happier if I was credited – or would I? What if their blog has loads of dodgy content and my post gets added, perhaps I’d rather people didn’t know it was me… What if they do an atrocious presentation, and credit me? What if they completely misinterpret my slides and portray me as someone I’m not? No, listen, actually – thinking this through, maybe I don’t want to be credited. Damn, but it’s complicated!
I can’t say they’re welcome to my books, because that really is illegal, and (rightly so, possibly) the publishers would be down on them like a ton of bricks. What’s really worth bearing in mind, though, is that all they’re getting is words and ideas, not the person who had them. And really, they ain’t worth the paper they’re not printed on, not on their own – there’s a package involved with all of us engaged in thinking, writing, creating and presenting, and there always will be.
Ooh, me precious words – keep them safe from the great unwashed. My oeuvre…. what shall become of it?
As the Bee Gees never sang, “It’s only words, and words are not all we have”