But is it really theft?

I remember sending a short story to a newspaper competition once, and how I felt when very soon after that I saw a bit of my story in that paper.

No, they didn’t publish my story. But someone plucked a bit out of it and used it in a newspaper article – without giving me any credit.

How would you feel?

Or that time when at a new work place the person immediately above me asked me to look into something the big boss had asked her to, and I prepared a detailed report only for her to present it to the big boss without mentioning my input – taking all the credit, allowing him to believe that this was her work.

I learned from that, and next time she asked me I typed the report with my name on it and presented it directly to the big boss.

Which is kind of similar to the way some photographers have taken to adding a signature to their pictures before sharing them on social media – because there are plenty of people who download pictures they see online and then share them without giving credit to the person who had created them.

I’m hoarse from yelling about copyright violation and how wrong it is, but for the moment I want to focus on just one tiny part of that subject: giving credit where credit’s due.

People often use words like “theft” or “stealing” when talking about copyright violation, but that’s an imperfect metaphor. When someone steals your bicycle, you are then left without a bicycle. When someone publishes your story or poem or picture without your permission, you still have the story or poem or picture – so it’s not the same as ordinary theft. But it still leaves you feeling kind of violated, it leaves you feeling someone has taken something from you, and while there are many strands to this which I’m not going to try to address in one blog post, one of those strands is:

They didn’t give you credit.

Which is why many people who don’t see why copyright violation in itself is a big deal, still say you should give credit to the original artist/author if you use their work.

I think this is mainly about two issues: honesty, and reputation.

The journalist who used my words without giving me credit – that journalist was using my words to build up his own reputation, while denying me the opportunity to build up mine. And he was doing this dishonestly – submitting my words under his own name.

The work colleague who handed my report to the boss without mentioning that this whole report was prepared by me – she was using my work to prop up her own kudos with the boss, to further her own career, while denying me the opportunity to show the boss what I was capable of. And she was doing this dishonestly.

Not exactly stealing, but wrong nonetheless. The person who uses my work without my permission and without even bothering to mention that it’s my work – they’re stealing something I’m entitled to as the person who created this image/story/whatever – they’re taking for themselves some of the reputation I’m entitled to, accepting compliments they don’t deserve. And this is without getting into the whole area of financial consequences – another time, another post perhaps. For now I just wanted to focus on this one tiny part of the big picture: why it is that it feels like theft. And even if you don’t want to call it theft, it’s still wrong.

But I can’t finish a post on this subject without adding this:

Leaving aside the ethics and how it feels and so on, legally you are not allowed to publish someone else’s work without their permission. (With a few exceptions, but they’re very probably fewer than you think.) And contrary to many people’s illusions, just because you found a picture on the internet, that doesn’t mean it’s free for anyone to use. It’s up to you to check the copyright on any image you’re thinking of using, and if in doubt then no, you can’t use it.

When you do a Google image search and click on one of the results, there’s a message saying images may be subject to copyright. It’s in small print, but it’s there.

And saying “I found it on Google” is not giving credit to the person who created the image. Google is just a search engine, showing you what people – human beings just like you – have posted online. I said I wasn’t going to get into the financial side of things but maybe at this point I should remind you: the person who created this image may, for all you know, be someone trying very hard to make a living through their photographic work. I know people like that. And that’s just one more reason (out of many) why I feel copyright violation is so very wrong.

It may not be exactly theft in the same way that stealing someone’s bicycle is theft, but you’re taking something that the artist/author is entitled to. Don’t do that.

Questions? Thoughts? Talk to me - I don't bite :)

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