Imagine that you have a baby. Now imagine that some random guy, friend or acquaintance maybe, uploads a photo of your baby on his page. Now go one step ahead and imagine that people who are friends with this guy assume it is his baby and start commenting “Aww, your baby is so adorable” and the guy goes on to say “Thank you”. How would you feel? And what would you do?
Too far-fetched? Okay, let’s try something else. How many of you have said or at least heard others say at your work place, “I hate that guy! I did all the work and he took the credit for it shamelessly.” Haven’t you felt angry at such people who take the credit for someone else’s work?
Why then is it difficult for people to understand the reason why writers feel angry when they see their words stolen and passed off as someone else’s? Is it because you feel writing is not really ‘work’? And when I say writers I also mean anyone else who is creating something on their own – for writers it is their words, for photographers it is their photographs, for painters it is their paintings and so on.
Back in October 2015, I had put up a Facebook status on how it infuriates me when I see people stealing others’ content without so much as mentioning the source of the content. The immediate reason for putting up that status was seeing a beautiful article on an acquaintance’s timeline. So many people had liked it and even commented about how beautifully it was written. I read it, liked it and then suddenly felt it couldn’t have been his content. As is my habit from my assignment correction days as a trainer, I took one sentence from the article and searched in Google and there, I found the entire article on a news website. And I felt so bad that the person who had shared it had not even bothered to mention the author’s name or the website or anything for that matter that would help people understand that it was written by someone else. That irked me big time, because I wouldn’t want my content to be passed off as someone else’s and I could understand how any writer would feel the same way.
Hardly two days after I put up that status condemning plagiarism, a guy in my friends’ list took my own status message specifically put up for my trainees and pasted it on his timeline with minor tweaks. I messaged him saying that the content was written with a lot of personal feelings and it wasn’t meant to be used by anyone else. Thankfully, he had the grace to take it down.
Yesterday I had a rather lengthy discussion in the comments section of one of my posts (thereby breaking a rule I myself had set) regarding this. I saw a comment, a very meaningful one at that, posted by a person. (Is it a strange coincidence that this was the same person whose copied content had pushed me to put up the status back in 2015?) Maybe because the previous instance of plagiarism was fresh in my mind, I put one sentence from the comment in the search field of Facebook and found the very same content as posted originally by a lady. I posted a screen-shot of it as reply to his comment and told him that while I agreed with the content, I felt it was not right that he posted the same content without even mentioning the source. He argued that he didn’t gain anything financially by posting someone’s content and so there wasn’t anything wrong in what he had done. I tried to explain to him that profit or gain is not what makes something right or wrong and that taking away the recognition that someone else deserves is equally wrong. He kept putting forward arguments about how he had received the content as a Whatsapp forward by someone other than the original author and how he didn’t crucify that guy like me. I wanted to ask, “So if someone steals content from someone else, does that mean you have to do it too? And even if you didn’t know who the author was, couldn’t you at least give a tag like #copied or Source-Unknown?” I didn’t bother to, because I knew no matter how much sense I try to talk, he would keep defending his action and it would only be a waste of my energy.
I wouldn’t blame this person alone though because majority of the people I find online are of the opinion that there is nothing wrong in taking someone else’s content. Their reasoning is “Not everyone has the ability to write. So when we find something that matches our way of thinking, we take it. What’s the big deal?”
The big deal, my friend, is that whatever you posted as your own is someone else’s baby. To you, they are simply some words conveying a message. For us, the people who write those words, they are the end result of going through lots and lots of strong emotions. Whether it is a 10 page article or a two line post, those are strong emotions we have endured in the form of words. We might have felt those emotions for years or for some minutes – those were still strong enough to push us to vent them out.
I take only about half an hour tops to finish a blog most of the times. You read it in less than two minutes and probably forget it in another minute, which is fine. Sometimes it creates an impact, sometimes it doesn’t, which is fine too. But what you don’t know is that almost always, the seed of this blog had been planted in my mind a long time back. I have a note in my phone and my computer, where I have listed down these ‘seeds’ for future. Then I leave it. But at the back of my mind these seeds are always in action, forming one sentence at a time. And then one night I would not be able to sleep at all because the entire blog comes alive in my mind and all I can see when I close my eyes are the sentences that I would have to write. I somehow hold the urge till morning so that Hari’s sleep is not disturbed and the moment I am up I write down whatever I kept thinking of all night. Even short Facebook status updates happen this way most of the times.
And it is this baby that you are shamelessly passing off as your own with the excuse that you don’t gain financially from it. Dear friend, I don’t earn a rupee from my writing. Whatever I write, I write because it is something I feel so strongly and passionately about. And while I am okay with not gaining anything else from it, a little bit of recognition wouldn’t hurt. That doesn’t make me selfish. That just makes me human! Think of this the next time you underrate words as ‘just some words’. I’m sure I’m speaking for everyone who creates something.
Anyway, since I can’t fight a one-man battle and end plagiarism once and for all, I guess I would end by doing the next best thing (as suggested by the same person, although in a mocking tone) – set up new rules for my timeline, whether they work or not.
- DO NOT steal my content. You are free to share my links or updates, thereby giving me credit for my words automatically. But you are not free to copy and paste my content.
- DO NOT post stolen content as your own on my timeline or in the comments section of my post. I will definitely find the original. If you would like to use someone else’s words as a comment to my post, do make sure that you give them due credit or at least mention the words are not yours in case you do not know who the author is.