There is a new kind of plagiarism that is sweeping the Internet by storm. Quote theft. Taking a famous, or not-so-famous quote about love, philosophy, inspiration, motivation etc. and leaving off the original author of the quote, or changing the wording just a bit, calling it ones own and posting it into social media or into one’s blog is intellectual property theft.
Before leaving old England, our founding fathers (and mothers) were sick and tired, not of just of losing rights to tangible property, but also to non-tangible property such as their writings, often including quotes they had written, and being credited to someone with more power. They keenly understood that creating such quotes and writings is real work, no different than plumbing, medicine, law, or any other profession. The word or art that was created was their property, no different than land that we purchase and have ownership rights. If someone came along and partitioned off a section of our property, we would not stand for it, most likely. Hopefully if we see one of our creations, whether it be words or art, copied, but without our name, we would speak up.
When I first started in cartooning, this happened to the point to where I couldn’t handle it myself and had to call in an attorney to warn those posting my works without my credit. It was not that I was that great, and everyone had to have my work and take credit, it was that they were that bad, and couldn’t come up with something on their own. I’m not feigning modesty…and its not that I’m that great now, I am, in my mind, presentable, and people enjoy my work. When I look back to much of the work that we created at the start fourteen years ago, I cringe at much of it.
I enjoy writing quotes. Mine are often humorous quotes (or at least that is my intention), and nothing like “the masters” such as Shakespeare, Wordsworth, etc. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t see this type of theft conducted on both facebook and Twitter; often by otherwise “respectable” sometimes even household names.
The first time it happened to me by one of the big dogs; my wife Lee Hiller-London found it in a high profile well-respected online tech magazine. They offer blogs to their “reporters”. One of their bloggers lifted one of our early cartoons, removed the text and credits, typed his own and posted. The only problem was he forgot to remove the tag; and we found it on Google under his name at his blog. That tech magazine is owned by one of the three major TV networks. I immediately shot off an email to their legal department and even though they removed it the same day, it was not before it was picked up by hundreds of other blogs. Normally I would not get so shaken, stirred but never shaken, but the author, who had to be “on something” not only removed all our credits, but added credits in his article adjacent to the tampered cartoon. He used our good name to attack a major corporation with which he apparently had “a beef”.
Other than lack of creativity and/or motivation, there is another perfect reason not to conduct this type of activity. There is a new breed of lawyer that “hangs out” at Twitter and facebook looking for this very thing. Early on, I explained this to my facebook and Twitter friends and many of them took my advice. Many others kept doing it, and yet others continued to take well-known quotes; change a few words, and take credit; just as repulsive.
After fighting with the large TV network and their tech magazine to get my altered cartoon removed, I decided not to spend a lot of time and energy on instructing other adults how to prevent making a big mess. Lee advised me to “Not clean up other adult’s messes, even if they are friends”. That is hard because I was taught “that’s what friends are for”, but she’s right; you can instruct a friend, and hope they heed the advice, but if they don’t it is only enabling if trying to go in to clean up the mess. I rely on friends who know more than me to counsel me as well on all types of topics. Most of it is common sense behavior, “Do unto others…” etc. But some has shades of gray and I often need advice and ask for it from others who have trail blazed before me; and I’m grateful that often they do so. When I mess up, and I do, it is not intentional (I’d be perfect if I thought that could ever be possible); but the best I can do is try to mess up less today than yesterday; and that is more than just a lofty goal for anyone I think.
Last night, I was reading my stream on facebook. Suddenly I had a very sick feeling in my stomach. I saw a quote by the great philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (slightly altered) and posted by a relative of mine flow down the facebook stream. Kierkegaard’s name was not attached to the quote.
My initial feeling was to send a private message to my dear relative and explain the importance of “not shoplifting quotes”. But I decided on Lee’s counsel who gave me the same common sense approach that applies to friends. “You can’t clean up other adult’s messes”. I rebelled a little with a response, “But this relative is young, in college, and may not know better. Maybe some of her professors are doing it, and do know better but don’t care”. (I hope readers are getting my point here; it’s not just a mean thing to do, it is Unconstitutional and anti-everything for which our founding fathers (and mothers) stood.
So I turned off the computer, and faded into an uneasy sleep; knowing that, no matter how much I love a friend or relative, it is my responsibility to understand the important boundary that they are adults too (even if some young adults). I can’t modify or change a behavior in anyone but myself (and as I mentioned, in case you didn’t notice, I am far from perfect).
The best I can do is write blogs like this and hope that the ones I love, and even the ones I may not love so much “get it”.
Addendum: My wife Lee writes gorgeous quotes about life, wisdom, the universe, love and much more. She has a wonderful coffee table photography book “The Nature Of Love” at Amazon, B & N, etc featuring many of her early “love quote” muses to me and nature photos. We can’t even count the times people have lifted her quotes; changed a few words, and posted them on facebook or Twitter (or both) giving themselves credit. The oddest thing of all is, this has happened more often with “so called” friends with whom we’ve both chatted, not complete strangers. We still are at a loss how to handle that one but if anyone has any ideas, please advise. It is a hideous thing to look up and see your own quote slightly altered, going down your social media stream. For those who don’t understand, writing such quotes (along with her photography and product design) is her work. People who do this are stealing her work even if only one word is altered and removing her name on the credits.
Rick London is a freelance writer, designer and cartoonist. He and his wife Lee Hiller-London are active in animal and environmental causes. He founded Google’s #1 ranked offbeat cartoons “Londons Times” and numerous stores featuring over a quarter of a million funny gifts bearing his cartoon images.