So I recently returned from a trip to London (as part of BlogTour 2011) where I was surrounded by some of the most notable design bloggers from the US and the UK. It was an exciting, exhausting and eye-opening experience (where I apparently worked on my alliteration skills). One of the conversations that came up a few times was plagiarism and ownership of content. These were fascinating conversations to have but I left with an even cloudier understanding of what’s happening and, more importantly, what I should be doing about it.
Plagiarizing – transitive verb
: to steal and pass off the ideas or words of another as one’s own : use another’s production without crediting the source
In the effort of full disclosure, I’ve been have been accused of plagiarizing content twice, outright stealing an “idea” once, and not giving proper photo credit 4 times on of the 309 posts that I’ve written. Every time one of these claims came through I almost threw up in a panic despite thinking that I hadn’t actually plagiarized anyone – at least not intentionally. The two most egregious claims were from people who thought that I had basically cut and pasted their words directly into my post – which absolutely didn’t happen. I had seen one of the articles before but despite the fact that I hadn’t actually copied their post, there were similarities and so I played nice and modified my post to give them credit. In every case, the way I handled it was quick and genuine and I think that it made a difference. I suppose since I’m not writing this from jail they felt the same way.
With all the content floating around out there, what does it mean to have ownership of your creations? Most of the conversations I had with my fellow bloggers in London centered around our blog posts and the images we create. My site was an easy target to discuss because I have been unbelievably lucky and fortunate in that my blog has found so many readers in a relatively short amount of time. I chalk this up to a good URL address and that I’m not competing against that many other architecturally themed blogs. When I shared with my fellow bloggers what I do – or maybe more precisely what I don’t do – their reaction was “What?!?”
There were loads of suggestions from the group on what I should be and should not be doing. Most suggestions well reasonable and well founded, I came away thinking that I am giving away the farm by my laziness and cavalier attitude towards the work I create when writing here on Life of an Architect. I don’t get in a twist when people post my work on their site as long as they give me credit. I don’t put a ‘Bob Borson’ of ‘Life of an Architect’ watermark on my photos. I always thought it was flattering that others liked what I did and wanted to share it with their readers on their own website. Again, the crowd reaction was “What?!?” along with some other colorful phrases tossed in to add some gravitas to their incredulity.
My naivete on the value of my work not-with-standing, I really believe that people who make their living from writing are really starting to panic because there are loads of people out there blogging who underestimate the value of their efforts simply because nobody is reading what they are writing. They don’t think twice about others “taking” their work possibly because they themselves are guilty of “borrowing” the work from others. I mean, we all love each other in the blog-o-sphere right? You help me, I help you etc.etc. and on and on. So what do you do if you are lucky enough to find yourself one day with the a heavily trafficked blog and you think “maybe I can actually make some money by doing this and I don’t have to pay to front my hobby anymore…”
So what to do now? Do I start protecting my work, watermarking photos and policing the internet for copies of my posts? Holy Crap!! Just where am I going to find the time to do that in addition to all the other time I spend working on this website? But I suppose that’s sort of the point isn’t it? I do work hard on this site and it does take a lot of my time – so shouldn’t I value that time and effort appropriately? I didn’t start off writing this blog for any other reason that to learn some new technology and find a new creative outlet since the overall field of architecture was experiencing a lull in work and I used to actually have the time. Now things are a little different, this site is (according to one highly respected and famous blogger) “one of the most awesome and inspirational sites in the history of all mankind” … or something close to it, I might have embellished a little … maybe they said something like “not bad” but let’s not split hairs.
I went back through the last 30 posts I wrote and found 17 copies of my work on various sites. This is content that I wrote and they got for free … and in a day and age where every single dollar in my pocket matters to me. Here is another test: enter “Men and Urinals: Time for One to Change” into Google and you will see my post show up 9 times – 8 of which I never knew about until just this very moment. Did these people steal it? I think I’m going to say that they did since I didn’t receive any consideration from those people for placing my post on their site.
I was told from one of my London travel buddies that she pays $1.oo per word when she hires writers to create content on blog sites and she told me that I should expect the same consideration. (cleaning out ears …) $1 PER WORD!?!?!?! Have you seen how long my posts get?! My reaction was “who would pay me that?” I was told that I undervalue what I am doing here and that I need to stop thinking of this as just a creative outlet. The consideration should be that regardless of the traffic to your site, you shouldn’t be so cavalier when it comes to protecting the content that you create. As an architect, you would think that I would understand this concept a little better than I am demonstrating.
Given the reaction from the people I met in London – other designers, manufacturer’s, vendor’s, bloggers, etc., blogging is a widely accepted and rapidly increasing method of communication and everyone is paying attention to this format. Maybe it’s time to reconsider my blogging as an experiment and start thinking that this website is an extension of me and my abilities (as dangerous as that sounds). I honestly have not been able to wrap my head around this and I would like to use this post as a sounding board to get the opinions of others out there. How serious should people take this and where do we go from here?