Ownership and Plagiarism

September 29, 2011 — 48 Comments

Pink Floyd's Animal Album Cover recreation.

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?




Print Friendly

even better stuff from Life of an Architect

  • Blaise

    A few months late to the discussion but wanted to comment.

    This is obviously a problem facing people of every discipline and creative ones especially. I had several clips from some music I wrote, recorded and released appear on the “making of…” featurette of the DVD release of an Academy award winning movie. My various attempts to contact Universal Studios for royalties went unanswered repeatedly. After much reflection on the wider issues, I concluded that I could enjoy the rewards of writing music privately without dealing with the various complications of securing appropriate financial compensation. Well, that was the plan. But guess what? I found that I lost interest in writing and recording music when I knew nobody (or very few) would hear it and gradually I abandoned music altogether. The emotional part of me regrets it, but the rational part of me knows it was the only logical thing to do – in my case. I wasn’t ever doing it to get rich, but I had to draw the line between compensation and the value of my own time and expenses against other pursuits either economical or personal.

    The harsh truth is that no matter how good a person’s public (online) “content” is, there is always someone out there willing to offer content that is as good (or almost as good.. or better) for free. There are always new people at different stages of their career paths willing to do that. And the pool of content in every discipline is ever growing and, in many cases, seemingly bottomless. People often say that 99% of the free material on the internet is garbage. Maybe true, but the 1% is still a huge volume of stuff. There are many millions of blogs, songs, books, photos, articles etc… available and if only a fraction are good, that is still a lot of good free work. In fact, it’s an excess of good work. Supply outweighs demand which is why so much of it is available without cost.

    What does this mean in the case of this site? Well, I like what you do. Would I pay for it as an occasional reader? No, to be honest. But one of the things I admire about some people is precisely the fact that are willing to share good creative work for reasons other than financial (recognizing I wasn’t capable of making that commitment myself). It shows me that there are still people in this world who have talent but don’t worship at the alter of the mighty dollar. And there is a public perception among many that architects aren’t particularly known for this generosity or for allowing outsiders to take a glance at the internal mechanisms of the architect mind. So, I for one, thank you for what you have contributed thus far, regardless of what changes happen going forward. For better or worse, what you have written to date has escaped the genie’s bottle (much like my music) and it will float in cyberspace to be enjoyed unbeknownst to you for the time to come. Hopefully, you can take something from that.

  • Pingback: «Слеза ребёнка» в море вонючего журнализма. « Архи Альтернатива()

  • Pingback: One “tear of a child” in a sea of stinky journalism « Archi Alternative()

  • Elise

    Well it’s taken me this long to come out of my traveling fog and to catch up on your posts. What you are doing is spot on: analyzing WHY you are doing this and WHAT do you want it to do for you. There is not right or wrong for each person but there has to be a reason if only to keep your blogging on the right track. 

    You discuss very important blogging topics on your blog (SEO and the like) and that makes me think you are in this blogging thing for more than a learning experience and just to share your musings. But that is an outside opinion coupled with our conversations in London. 

    My general opinion is don’t give it away for free. If it is worth your time (and time is so valuable) then it is worth being “paid” for it. Now what you are willing to accept for payment is up to you. Again, to each their own. Industry standard doesn’t exist in this industry but you can use these two resources to see what is happening out there in other industries: BlogWorldExpo (http://www.blogworld.com/category/monetization/) and ShePosts (http://sheposts.com/content/blissdom-11-advanced-monetization-presentation).

    The plagiarism thing is hard; it happens and stopping it completely is something even the big guys have a problem with. So just put a credit statement, you can “lock” your photos as someone said below and then move on. If you do a Google search every now and again, then that might yield some worthwhile cease and desist (or at least give me credit) legally prepared emails. 

    Hope that helps.

    • Elise,

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and leave behind some valuable links and resources.

      You are right in that I have begun questioning why I am still doing this – my motivations have changed somewhat but even with the SEO, it’s all part of the learning process. The big question for me at this point mostly centers around what I want this site to become – I am at once a big picture guy and a details guy – it’s the middle ground between the two where I find myself now.

  • ABC Dragoo

    Bob, are you hearing that from someone who is firmly footed in the design world, or who has ties to the Mommy-Blogger set? If it’s the latter, they’ve organized themselves in a way that the design and lifestyle bloggers have not. The Mom’s out there hit a sweet-spot for advertisers which allows for some to actually get paid per word. Mostly however, it’s about getting paid with free stuff.

    If you want to write for publications, I have heard $1 per word is the going rate.

    As for having things copied -I have the same attitude as you did before whomever it wasnon the trip got your ear. I have a blogger who writes about the same thing I posted about just 2-3 days earlier. What’s frustrating is that she is more well known and runs in a group of bloggers who I know don’t read my blog. I have harder against people copying by the way I format my photos with a black edge and the writing, but anyone who knows how to do a screen-shot can easily get around it.

    I’ve had brides copy my design work and post it on their wedding blogs saying “look how well I copied these expensive invitations on my own” all while linking back to the post where the original design was. On the other hand, my work was featured in a national wedding magazine -the theme was DIY weddings and they gave credit for the designs/printing to the bride. They mentioned the stationery 3 times in the article and it was all about the bride – no credit where credit is due. It’s all about DIY these days, ‘duplicate it yourself.’

    I don’t like it but have no idea what to do about it either. I remember when I used to be paid for my creativity – and now there are that many more working the side hustle trying to ‘break in’ to the industry with little or no design experience (outside of collecting images and blogging them) who will willingly step in and do jobs for exposure.

    I am getting off topic, but in a way it is all connected. You see, if you don’t value your work enough to charge for it-you’ll likely ‘take’ other peoples work. That seems to be the crux of the issue.

    • ABCDragoo

      Lord, typing a comment on an iPhone is murder.

      Wasnon = was on and the part about me trying to make it harder for people to copy images: missing the words “made it”

      This is why I don’t leave comments-typos get left forever!

      • I always try and fix typos on the comments people leave for the very reason you mention (shudder)…

        I got my info from a variety of sources, some of which did include the some mommy bloggers and some lifestyle bloggers. The question I got asked was what do I want and to be brutally honest, I have no idea. It never bothered me before and I don’t really think it bothers me now. In my world (working with contractors both good and bad) your intentions count for a lot.

        I never really thought about this subject too seriously until I started sharing my posts on ArchDaily. They are fantastic people, gave me credit and links, helped people find me, etc.. and I have a lot of respect for them but when my posts started showing up higher in Google searches on their site rather than my own (typically the next search entry down) it sort of rattled me a bit – just got me thinking.

        That’s what started the conversation, not so much about me but the topic on the whole for this huge contingent of creative people who express themselves online and get absorbed (even with no ill intent) by someone larger, that it feels like you have just disappeared a little bit.

        I really do appreciate you taking the time to comment, meeting you on the trip to London was a real treat.


  • Bob – I’ve found this to be very prevalent within the
    architectural industry, and I guess the reason that I’ve been so surprised (and
    disheartened) by it is that we of all professions should know better. I develop
    training material focusing on sustainability, and a couple years ago I had an
    entire eight hour LEED presentation stolen from me. The person who stole it
    felt they had full rights as I had allowed her to co-presented it with me once.
    She failed to take into account the hundreds of hours that I had put into the
    creation and development, not to mention the research that was involved. I was
    quite surprised when I was in the audience one day and saw a direct copy of my
    material, slide by slide, up on the screen. She had changed the background and
    some of the font colors but otherwise it was a direct rip. Of course there was
    no credit to me and definitely no share of the income.


    I was really disheartened as this was someone that I had
    worked with for years and had up to that point considered moral. I guess I
    never considered that this was even a possibility as I always felt that
    architects of all people could relate to the number of hours that it takes to
    develop an idea, even though it may not reflect it directly. I talked to many
    within the industry about this situation seeking their advice, and I was really
    surprised at the cavalier attitude towards it. It was almost across the board
    deemed as no big deal. So I started posing this hypothetical situation. What if
    you sent a set of cad files to another architect for the use of coordinating
    backgrounds, and found out that they had simply replaced your title bar and
    resold the building as their own. Would you feel violated then? The answer was
    a resounding yes. So I guess as long as the work that you create is in cad,
    someone will think twice about stealing  it – but other intellectual property like
    presentations or blogs – you’re on your own…

    • Michael,

      That is a brutal story and I am very sorry to hear that. For some reason, it doesn’t seem that ludicrous when someone you’ve never heard of copies your work for themselves – maybe it’s because it seems faceless, like nobody is getting hurt. But to have an associate do it to you is painful to hear – it hardens people I think.

      I think this format of creating and sharing information is going to force some changes – I just don’t know what they will be … but their coming.

  • Ok, I’ve now read through everything twice. A great discussion with good information. I appreciate all of it. However my question for you Bob, would be why are you writing your blog? What is the goal?  You started when you had time, the blog took off, found a wide and appreciative audience. You have a great voice that people adore. They adore it so much they steal it. However unless you decide what is the purpose and intent of this successful project, I’m not sure you can answer all the questions that plague you regarding dealing with copyright, time and the value of what you’ve created. I’ve had to ask myself all these questions with my Tileista column, which is only monthly and very limited in scope. However, when these issues have come up, I was able to answer them because they either supported my goal in writing the posts or they didn’t. Now which pen did you use exactly to write your signature?

    • short version – I don’t know. It was only to entertain myself but it has become my master at times and I it’s willing servant. 

      Okay, so maybe I do know why I do it – it makes me feel good about what I’m doing, that people care and listen, but at some point I need to determine if there is a goal out there I am interested in achieving. Thus far, everything has far exceeded my expectations.

      On a lighter note, I used a fine point Sharpie – which actually isn’t very fine at all – it’s rather fat.


  • lisa league

    Bob, please don’t get bogged down by all this – part of what makes your posts so entertaining is that you are obviously entertained by writing them. Be aware of plagiarism, but don’t waste too much energy on it – let Karma take care of the rest.
    On another note – now you can get an agent:

  • Most copyright law that applies to what bloggers “steal” is very specific regardless of what people think they know or what they want to be true. If you highlight something, copy/paste it and slap it in your blog, you are stealing. Really that simple. If the owner finds it and sues you, you will lose and pay.

    If you create it, you own it. Create your own original stuff, including your photos, or BUY them from iStockPhoto.com or similar to use. If you have even the slightest doubt you can use anything, don’t. Now that doesn’t prevent anyone from suing you if they think you stole it, but they have to prove you did. Even in America 🙂

    That said, what should you do? I dunno but here is my “best practice” for my blogs (some of them are business blogs like TourneyCentral.com) Most are fairly specific to niche industries so they don’t generally have as broad an appeal as architecture, but it amazes me how brazen some people are even though they are likely to be found out quickly. It’s like stealing someone’s watch at a small cocktail party.

    For the goofy stuff like DogWalkBlog.com, I don’t generally bother to protect. That to me is like scribbling notes on a post-it and throwing it outside. If someone thinks that ranting dribble is worth copying, first, they need to see a doctor and second, ok. Big deal. It is not making me money nor is it tied to any commercial enterprise or likely to get picked up by a publisher or compiled into a book. (though if someone did that, I’d have my lawyers all over their ass. And not in a “I’m a friendly dog” kinda of way either!)

    In general, I make sure I use a phrase that nobody else is using, like “a monkey with a loaded typewriter” or “physically impossible, linguistically silly” somewhere in the post (Google it first) and create a Google Alert on that phrase. Similarly, with photos I care about, i.e., those I take personally, I titled them uniquely and build a Google Alert on those. I also embed a copyright in the EXIF and IPTC. Most photo lifters aren’t very bright and they right-click and download instead of screenshots. I suppose I could watermark them, but I simply don’t bother. That would be easy enough with a Photoshop filter that overlays pixels in a specific pattern that are undetectable with the human eye, but reveal with a computer.

    That being done, I just publish and let Google track where my crap ends up. If a for-profit competitor uses it, they get an email and a letter on engraved stationery from my lawyers immediately. (people get nervous if your lawyer uses engraved stationery) If it is a non-profit or hobby web site, they get a friendly email asking them to link back and credit me. (if they get nasty, they get the engraved letterhead letter.. ton of bricks strategy almost always works) 

    But most of the time, I look at who is using my stuff and then follow them on twitter, like their Facebook fan page, etc. Your friends close, your plagiarizers closer. (BTW, people never suspect the dog.. they almost always follow me back 🙂 Have you thought about getting a dog to do that job for you?)

    Decide for yourself what makes you money and what is worth protecting. You can drive yourself crazy trying to hoard it all, but to what end? If you put out content and that draws people to work with you, your goal is accomplished. If you are good, you will always have knock-offs that people will buy for a cheaper price, but would those people have bought from you anyway? Probably not. They would have wasted your time and sapped your soul arguing about the price every step of the way.

    If it is a secret, don’t publish it. An aside: I once presented at a symposium for soccer tournament directors and showed them all the marketing we did. Most of them were scribbling notes like mad and eventually one of them said, “why are you telling us all this for free?” I said, “Because that is what I did last year and for me, it is old news. What I’m not telling you is what we are doing next year. For that, you’ll have to hire me.” 

    I signed up eight tournaments on that statement alone. And everyone quit scribbling.

    • There is a reason I come to you for your thoughts on some subjects – if I could keep your response at the top I would.

      Thank you for responding and adding your insight to the discussion – I really appreciate it.

      • Bob, it was fun. Now I’m gonna package that comment up and sell it all day long as a $97.00 Webinar! Woot!!  Never had anyone want to keep one of my comments at the top. Most just want to bury them deep in the back yard, like they their busy-body Aunt Mabel after whacking her buttinski, non-stop chattering head with a cast-iron skillet. 🙂

        • Mae

          What a great response. Also love the idea of monitoring via Google Alert. Thx for posting.

  • Chops

    The way I see it, is that if you’re creating stuff that’s good enough to be shared, that’s great. You’re not going to be able to stop every case of plagiarism, so you shouldn’t try to (i’m not saying you shouldn’t try to catch any though). What you’ve built now, is a platform that you can use to showcase your skills and talent, which you could then take to the next level to charge for (i.e. writing pieces for other blogs, occasionally selling a product/service through the blog, etc). 
    In such a busy world where time is minimal and information is easy to obtain (there are so many people out there with opinions!) people only tend to care if what you’ve created is different and worth their time/effort (quality). So by creating something free, like you have, the effort/cost is minimal (only time). You are giving them your product and asking for nothing in return. Now, I don’t think suddenly charging for the blog is the right answer. I do, however, think that you could capitalise on the success of it (while not disadvantaging your subscribers), and choose a strategy that suits you (ie charging lots for few purchases vs. charging little for many purchases, etc). Basically keep it balanced, don’t try and take too much or you’ll eventually get bitten, and don’t take too little otherwise you’ll never get anywhere.

    Sorry about the slightly ramble-y nature of this post, as you say it’s quite a difficult subject matter! I hope you are successful in whatever you choose.

  • Just a few quick thoughts as I went through a similiar issue awhile ago – http://copyscape.com/ is a great program for catching posts. Generally a quick email asking them to take it down or add in the niceties – originally posted, by, etc… works. There has only been one case where I sent the email to their ISP & their site was down in an hour for breaking the ISP’s TOS. You may also wish for a blanket letter from your attorney to use & simply CC him on each one sent.

    As an FYI, while you could add the Copywrite tag to each post just having it at the bottom of the page is more than enough. As for the pics, well you got me on that one. There is a way to prevent people from doing a right click – save as which can be coded into the site / I haven’t tried it yet, andit will not prevent someone from doing a print screen.

  • Todd Vendituoli

    I’ve been reading through all of the comments and they are worthy . It almost makes it hard to add anything that hasn’t already been said. 
    I have struggled greatly with the everything is free to use and do with as you please if you’re on the internet concept. Why should everything be free with no restrictions?It shouldn’t be but the internet is so huge and trying to constantly police what you’ve created would be tiresome to say the least. 
    To my thinking you would have a few options, none of them great.
    1. Do what you have been doing and add something into the post stating this is copyrighted. I mean each piece, not just at the bottom of the blog.

    2. Do what you’ve been doing and on occasion do some checking around as you did. If you find cases that have used your work without permission- call them on and if they rectify that consider it closed. If they won’t call them out in a post showing yours and theirs- A call to arms if you will. I think Brian mentioned something like this.

    3. Add a clause in each article stating that the work here is copyright protected and if you would like to use it please contact us. Some may some may not. You can then attach a fee if you so desire to it.

    4. I really don’t think much of this one but am putting it out there anyway- devil’s advocate. 
    Charge to subscribe. This has many flaws.

    These are just my ideas and being new to blogging I don’t have any golden solutions. 

    • Todd,

      I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you thinking about this and taking the time to type it up. Figuring this out as you go type mentality has typically served me well but in this case, I am at a loss as to assume I know which course of action would be best.


  • Anonymous

    Great topic Bob.

    Your article primarily focuses on writings, photos or works of art but another area here, which should be of particular interest to architects, is buildings.

    I’ve done my share of production and custom housing over the years and those design ideas have been ripped off on numerous occasions. Especially vulnerable is innovative, cost effective but “hand on the market’s pulse” builder housing. A builder works hard with me to really develop design oriented yet profit making product line. The builder takes a leap of faith and builds the line. Turns out it hits the nail on the head from both a profit and design standpoint and the next thing we know is some guy in the area is building the same thing, drawn up by a draftsman all from our brochures.

    A while back did a Capitol Hill gutting of an 1870’s rowhouse for a builder. Kept the facade but we made some two story spaces inside, getting light to the interior, created an innovative stair, etc. Another spec builder bought the house next door which had the same original plan and did the same exact thing. The only redeeming thing there was the interior details got “dumbed down” so his inside it looked like a poor cousin.

    There’s been lawsuits on some of this stuff which we’ve prevailed when we chose to go that route but as they say “There’s no cash register at the courthouse”. It’s a big hassle.

    The big question here is what’s a derivative and what’s original. Same with writing. I can’t publish a bunch of books titled “Larry Potter and the …….”, change around a few plot lines etc., and get away with it. You might recall the George Harrison debacle where he was accused of copyright infringement with “My Sweet Lord” sounding a lot like “He’s so Fine”. And George is hardly one in need of inspiration a songwriter. Copyright infringement is a slippery slope no question.

    But again Bob, thanks for bringing up a topic that’s relevant to all of us.


  • Bob — love your insights and I agree with most of what you wrote (and I was in the cab sitting right next to you when you took that very industrial shot in London).  So far, I’ve not gotten my knickers in a twist because when someone references my blog (either in photos or text) I take that as a compliment and most often they link back.  I’ve only had one unfortuante situation in the three years I’ve blogged, and so I politely sent a message asking to please credit my photographs and editorial (that was literally taken from the site and put on their site).  They obliged and we’re all happy.  I guess you know it when you see it — kind of like good design versus bad design.  It may be hard to describe.  As usual I love your writing, which is refreshingly stream of conscious, witty , honest and funny.  So happy we got to share Blogtour together.  xo tamara

    • Thanks Tamara,

      This in fact a stream of consciousness and I wonder if it makes a difference to you reading it that you know me a little bit? You were one of the unexpected finds for me on this trip so that was definitely a plus.

      I’ve never really gone looking before so when I did, what I found in 30 minutes was alarming and just added to my already mounting concerns. I really don’t know what to make of this yet.

  • “Did these people steal it? I think I’m going to say that they did…”

    I have another situation.
    I have a blogger who’s CONSTANTLY stealing my ideas, my style, my themes… I hope he reads this comment 🙂

    I also was in the situation when a powerful web-resource have stolen my article and posted it as their own with slight modification.
    When I contacted them they ignored me.
    Recently that web-resource was caught on plagiarizing even more powerful player.
    Here’s a factual link about that:


    All this is really frustrating for us, creators of the original content.
    But let’s forgive those pathetic individuals who steals our ideas. Let’s be above it.
    ‘Cause after all we’ve being blessed with the talent and they have not.

    Tnx for raising this issue, Bob. 

    • Albert,

         Your response really bothered me, because I have been through something similar.  I am sorry your ideas and content has been stolen.

         In my previous comment, I sort of missed the point of the blog piece.  Bob asks the question, “So what do I do now?”  That is the question we all need to struggle with.

         The internet is a double edged sword when it comes to sharing content.  We work hard to write something original, informative, and sometimes even funny, and all a person has to do is highlight, copy and paste.  In a few seconds they have achieved what took us several hours.  A new post.

          But because the internet is so open, it also affords the opportunity to watch each other’s backs.  And then to do something about it.  I’m not talking about litigation, but about retribution.

          I am a big fan of Life of an Architect.  If Bob chose to write a post, exposing someone who had stolen his material, he wouldn’t even need to ask.  I would be clicking on the link and writing a scathing reply to the offender.  I would imply horrible things about them, their parents, and suggest they think bacon ISN’T the BEST of the cured meats.

         An artist in Canada, who had won numerous awards for her photo realistic paintings, was caught claiming she had taken the photos she worked from.  The problem was that she chose to steal images from a well known and well liked contributor to istockphoto.  He is a person who is very active in the forums and incredibly helpful.  When another photographer noticed her work and that she claimed to have worked extensively with the model, he knew she was lying.

         So the person who noticed it went to the istockphoto forums and wrote a post about this Canadian woman who had painted a remarkably perfect copy of the istock photographer’s image (in her portfolio there were 4 of his images).  And won an award for it.  The photographer was slightly upset by her claims…the community was enraged.  Literally thousands of photographers pounced on the woman’s site, the sites who displayed or talked about her awards, and the museum who showed her work.  The forum thread hit four or five thousand responses withing a few hours.

         24 hours later…her website was gone. Every single mention of her work by sites who had given her awards was also removed.  She was, for all intents and purposes, exposed and eliminated.

         That is the beauty of the internet.  We may not be able to afford to litigate, but we are far from powerless.  I think this is the point of this post.  And it is a good one.

      • Well put Brian.

        Yet the real problem arises when you are plagiarized by much more powerful resource.
        Supposedly “they” have much more credibility. Their traffic & general exposure are much greater than yours… In that case there’s not much you can do. Unfortunately.

        See how ArchDaily got caught by Arch. Records (see my link above)? Archdaily was immediately issuing an apology and stuff like that… But when one of the ArchDaily writers practically copied my article there was nothing I could do.

        I contacted them by email and was ignored. And they blocked and deleted my comments. More than that, recently they’ve published a material from the blogger who openly plagiarizes me. I don’t care about the blogger (lack of talent is excusable) but there’s nothing I can do against the corporate monster if he decides to use my stuff 🙁

  • Lots of interesting things to think about here, Bob- And talk about some good info from Brian down below.

  • Kim

    I’m just stunned that anyone’s still paying $1 per word for anything anywhere, let alone online. The Internet has leveled the playing field (and demolished the press) to the point that work I used to be able to charge $60+ an hour for barely commands $30/hour now.

    • I was surprised to hear that as well but I am just regurgitating what I heard from someone who is in a position to actually hire people. I suppose the rate is commensurate with the writer and what they bring to the social media or online mix. Hiring ghost writer ‘X’ to  write something might not be as appealing as hiring certain online personalities to write.


  • Telma

    First of all, sorry for my english, it may not be perfect (i´m Portuguese)… We have a saying in portuguese that goes more or less like this: don´t change a winning team (em equipa ganhadora não se mexe) but i believe the bottom line here is how do you feel when u found you’re posts in other places with no mention to you as the author? Does it bother you enough to go an have the extra work of preventing that? If not, why change?
    Anyway: i just discover this blog a week ago but i simply loved it! In one way or another, keep up the good work!

    • There is a certain amount of ignorance is bliss here for sure. Not knowing why I should care is not the same as understanding and not caring.

      That’s the reason for the post, to work through what ramifications are happening without me being an active participant in the ramifications. 

      • Telma

        oh, ok… guess didn t understand…

  • Brodie

    Fascinating question.  I’ll be interested to see where this thinking leads you.  It’s certainly a dangerous idea.  I think it would be hard to so dramatically shift your thinking about what you’re doing here without likewise shifting the content and feel of the blog (even if it’s inadvertent).  So it’s a dangerous idea.  

    I’d liken it to the difference between writing a diary and writing an autobiography.  The first is more personal – and for outsiders fascinating to read.  The later is more profitable but for the reader there’s less of a personal connection.  If you were doing a guest post, do you suppose the content would be the same if you were doing it as a favor vs. doing it for $500?  Maybe the later would be better or worse, but almost certainly not the same.

    However, you’ve got a talent for writing and it would be hard to blame you for making something more of it.  Check this video out, I think you’ll like it 🙂 Harlen Ellison – Pay the Writer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE&feature=youtu.be

    • In a sharp contrast to your comment, I am not talking about me writing for others for money, but rather finding my content placed on other websites without anyone ever bothering to ask for permission. 

      On my site, I write about what I want, when I want, and how I want – period. But what about the others?A great many people make their living through writing and there is a tremendous demand for content to populate all the websites that are out there – most of which are interested in creating traffic as a means to generate advertising revenue. So what happens to the writer/designer/photographer/ etc.  who creates content for there own use and benefit only to find that others use it to further their end game without consideration to the creator? That is what I am struggling with – that concept isn’t one that I have ever thought about before but it comes up almost daily these days.

      Thanks for the video link!

  • shbewkes

    Oh – complicated issue and something, as you know, I’ve been thinking about as well. So much to do – so little time!!!

    • so little time is everyone’s problem, especially my own but this seems to be something that warrants finding the time. 

      The real question is what gets chopped off the list to create the time?

  • Mae

    I see you’ve been noodling on this. Excellent.

    • Yes – thanks in no small part to our conversation.

      ** Mae is one of the participants in my London conversation, is half of the writing and blogging team thank can be found at  http://www.hereinthishouse.com/ **

      Still struggling with what happens next – that conversation has caused me to do more than noodle over the last few days. As always, I am very grateful to have spent time with you and can’t convey enough how much respect I have for you.


      • Mae

        As I’m making my way back through your posts, I’ve only just realized that you replied! So sorry for my absence.

        What a great string of responses you have here. Love it. What a great community you have.

        As you may have gathered from our conversation, the notion of what to do next, to me, is always rooted in the question of what do you want. Everyone’s goals are so different and in this chaotic and sometimes impolite online community, one can’t really say what’s best for someone else. Do you want credit? Do you want to make money? Or are you using this to invest in building your brand? Do you want to use it to launch a Presidential campaign? (DO IT!) find *your* purpose and the rest begins to fall into place.

        Seems like some introspection is in order?

        Hope to see you again soon!

  • Anonymous

    I am very interested in the idea of inadvertant plagarism. With 7 billion people on this planet its very difficult to find your own voice without someone blaming you for copying what they said. I started to blog a bit about “original thought” here- http://threefourteendesign.com/blog/2011/09/wagisms-stuff-i-said-that-hopefully-hasnt-been-said-before/ (shameless blog plug). I completely agree that credit needs to be given where credit is due when it comes to jacking someone elses words for personal use, but just because someone had the idea to take a picture similar to yours, or discuss a similar topic using similar words to describe said topic I think “some” degree of leniency should be given. I personally like to research and sometime find other bloggers who have similar ideas and link to their own blog. posts at the end for further reading where its appropriate.

    • Jason,

      Check out my response to Brian below – there is a link that addresses copyright infringement – what it is and how to avoid it.

  • As both a writer and photographer I am very sensitive to copyright.  I don’t harp on it too much, as most people don’t understand how little photographers receive for their work. In truth though, when I read a blog with images taken from other sites, it makes me cringe.

    People don’t realize that copyright applies to things they photograph as well.  If someone takes a picture of the Opera House in Australia or the Eiffel Tour at night, and they have advertising on their blog, they will be violating copyright laws if they run THEIR own photo.  The light show is copyright protected as is the architecture of the Opera House. Nobody has the right to display those images, except the photographers who have been given permission.

    Another copyright fact that people don’t understand is the necessity of suing to protect one’s copyright.  People complain when a huge company sues a ‘little guy’ who ‘borrows’ their content.  They think the companies are just big mean soulless guys beating up on the poor blogger.  The company doesn’t really have a choice, they aren’t just being bullies.  If one doesn’t defend their copyright, they risk losing their copyright as a result.

    When I submit a photo to istockphoto, they check for brands, logos, anything which might be copyright protected (Le Tour Eiffel) at night.  This is how I have learned so much.

    I don’t mean to be mean but…the photo, of the graffiti, is a violation of the artists rights.  Yes, graffiti is protected too.

    I have had my guest posts for Spin Sucks stolen and printed in their entirety on other sites.  It really makes me mad.  I wish I had the energy and resources to sue the pants off the offender, but I don’t.  I think fewer people would be so quick to violate copyright, if they knew how much work it takes to create content.  I have spent over 1000 hours on my photography portfolio and $7000 on equipment.  It is a hobby, and I am years away from breaking even, but even without the cost of equipment, I still average only a few cents per photo.

    If anyone is moved by this discussion and wants to get images without stealing, simply go to istockphoto and for only a few dollars, you can have great images, and help a starving photographer.  Plus, you will be NOT be violating anyone’s copyright.

    • I appreciate what you are saying but your understanding of the copyright laws is not as I understand it to be – particularly the part you describe in the second paragraph of your comment. 

      Here is a good FAQ from a copyright attorney that is discussing the nuances of original work and modified reproductions – or creative interpretations – of the work of others. 

      My taking a picture of some graffiti is not copyright infringement because of “how I took the photo”. The angle, the exposure, the composition – those are mine and are therefore my ownership. In the FAQ link above, the attorney uses the Eiffel Tower in his answer to describe why someone actually CAN take a picture of the tower and it not constitute infringement.

      It’s worth a read.

      Thanks Brian, I appreciate you taking the time and adding your voice to this conversation.

      • That was a very interesting article, but I think you may have been confusing it with another one.  I couldn’t find any bit about the Eiffel Tower.

        With regards to my second paragraph.


        The tower and its representations have long been in the public domain. However, a French court ruled, in June 1990, that a special lighting display on the tower in 1989, for the tower’s 100th anniversary, was an “original visual creation” protected by copyright. The Court of Cassation, France’s judicial court of last resort, upheld the ruling in March 1992.[38] The Société d’exploitation de la tour Eiffel (SETE) now considers any illumination of the tower to be under copyright.[39] As a result, it is no longer legal to publish contemporary photographs of the tower at night without permission in France and some other countries.

        • sorry, I meant Statue of Liberty – if only I had simply cut and pasted the content from that website here… 😉

          Of course the last part of that paragraph from Wiki states that this example has been controversial and as such, I would not expect it to be the gold standard to which all examples are held. There is gray area to this as well – is the tower part of a panorama of the sky, requires that the tower me the main focus, and only when the tower is lit at night … and there’s is controversy. Shocking…

          Who knew? This is turning out to be a more fascinating topic than I imagined – thanks for making that so.

          • I would agree that it is definitely a gray area.  I am not taking a position that it is right or wrong, just that people don’t realize that there are instance like the Eiffel Tower at night, out there.

            I have a number of Eiffel Tour shots at night, which are lovely.  I don’t use them anywhere, because of how I read the intentions of the people who do the light show. I had a really nice photo of the Korean War memorial, which sold several copies on istockphoto, but was later removed from their catalog, because they felt it was in that ‘Gray’ area, and I am fine with that.

            I am also one who used to download tons of stuff from Netflix, but now I feel I was wrong to do so.  I think that each person needs to find the line, within that gray area, and let that be their guide.

            I agree, it has been a good discussion.