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Friday, June 20, 2008

The Right And Wrong Way to Steal My Stuff

I'm a blogger, so I'm used to my ideas getting taken and used - and I usually encourage it. One of the biggest learning curves I had to deal with when writing my book was that in the publishing world, you need written permission for just about any quote. That's one of the reasons I far prefer writing in a blog format ... because you are usually good as long as you cite the source and give credit properly. I did something a few weeks ago that many people found really interesting and worth recreating. It was a virtual interview project to launch the book where I invited any blogger to ask me 5 questions and I would respond to each. Three days after posting it, I had 55 bloggers agree to participate and answered each of their questions individually.

The idea, it seems, was so good that several others used it for their own purposes. Jonny Goldstein was inspired to create a great contest around puppies. Bruce Reyes-Chow did his own "10 minutes with Bruce" interview idea. I love both these examples because they are exactly the right way to steal my stuff. Grab an idea, make it your own, build on it, and do something that fits your audience. Unfortunately, a few days ago I came across the wrong way to steal my stuff, from an author named Julie Gabriel promoting her new book.

That post originally was a word for word pasting of my interview contest language.  Since then, she has updated the blog post and now changed the idea to be in her own words. Originally I was not too concerned about this and willing to let it go, but after changing her original post she left an angry comment on my original post accusing me and a commenter to my blog of libel, pretending as though the original post never existed.  Here's her full comment:

While I did love the idea and put it to use to promote my book, no way I have plagiarised the copy, as your visitors has accused me of. This is really shameful - first of them, to come up with accusations, and of you, to appriove the comment. I assume, the idea may not be so brilliant at all, if its author allows such comments without checking himself. Libel? Not yet. But really close.

When I first saw her post, I sent out a Twitter note and at least a dozen people responded upon seeing the original post.  It's not that easy to just bury old information by reposting on top of it. I have also heard from multiple people that they tried to post comments on her post but those were all moderated and are currently not appearing.

This is definitely not cool. I'm a decent guy and not out to get Julie or create bad press for her, but when she realized the mistake and updated her post, she should have just apologized and let me know and I would happily let this die. Instead, I'm here writing this post. Since I really hate writing negative posts, I also want to answer the question that if Julie's original post was the wrong way to steal my stuff, what's the right way?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Give me credit - obviously, that's just the decent thing to do (and Julie DID do this, however her original post used my idea word for word - which has since been updated)
  2. Put it in your words - don't use my exact words as your own unless you're directly quoting
  3. Make it better - any idea you find on this blog has more potential than I've likely realized. The best way to steal my stuff is to make it your own and make it better.
  4. Tell me about it - I want to know if you found something useful, and might even do a follow up post about it, so please share.

Am I making too much out of this?  What do you think?  This seems like an ideal case to talk about how we should or shouldn't use other's content online - a topic which continues to be more and more important every day.                                                                               

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Comments

Rohit: I know that you are a good guy. You simply are. Unfortunately there is a lot of "bad cricket" out there. You need to draw the line somewhere. And I think you just found the right place to do it. Yes anybody can do a series of interviews in the blogosphere to promote whatever they want. After all you didn't put a big fat patent or trade mark on top of your idea. But if someone else turns around and threatens you, you must take some kind of action.

I hope Julie comes to sense and makes this right.

PS: My 12 year old daughter is totally mad at her friends because they copy everything she does. You are not alone;-)

Rohit, you did the right thing. Nobody likes drama, but appropriate attribution and reference are in order. Not out of lawfulness, but respect, personal dignity, and good moral behavior.
- Peace

When I saw the headline, I was worried you were going all AP on us. But, I completely agree with the content of your post!

oh man, that's a bit much of lying like that. She made something bad much worse unnecessarily.

Dear Rohit:

I believe it's time to address some of the nonsense that has been happening recently.

Here are some things you should consider before you continue your groundless accusations that have already gone too far:

1. You do not have copyright to the blog interview idea. Neigher had you invented the blog touring.

2. I do appropriately ackhowledge your input in the post, and I quote your worlds verbatim using quotation marks along with the link to your blog. For some reason you have chosen not to notice it.

3. No one has moderated or deleted any comments on the post.

4. If you have any issues with me, please get a grip on business communication and send me an email instead of making posts on social networks.

I suggest that you stop accusing me of plagiarism without any solid proof. This is getting serious now.

Hi Julie,

Thanks for posting your comment here and for your thoughts. I'd like to address them just so we're clear. I have NO problem with you doing a blog tour or even using my idea and I do acknowledge that you quoted one sentence from my post. I don't claim copyright on that idea and in fact, if you look at the IdeaBar section of my blog, I actively encourage people using any idea I come up with. My issue with what you had done is twofold:

1. You had an original version of your blog post which you have since replaced where you used most of my original post verbatim without specifically quoting it. If you stood by that, why did you later update your post and change it without making a note to that effect? That certainly doesn't follow a journalistic ethic. Not to get into a debate, but there are several dozen others who saw your first post and could easily confirm that what you have now is an update and not the original post.
2. Now you are attacking me for simply pointing out that what you did in the first case was a mistake and calling you out for not being up front about the fact that you changed your post and for not accepting comments on your post (as I write this, there are still zero comments). In contrast, I'm willing to engage you publicly here in the debate.

That said, as you had suggested, I would have loved to send you an email about this in a professional way, however going to your site and clicking on the About page returns an error and I had no way of uncovering your email address. Now that you have left a comment, I have an email address for you and will be sending you an email shortly. Once again, I am NOT calling you out for using the idea of a blog tour or even for using the virtual interview format and I appreciate that that post you now have addresses my earlier concern. I just think that instead of coming here pretending that this is how you always did it, you should admit you made a mistake when you first posted and that you have corrected it. No one is perfect, but that's what good journalists do.

Thanks for your message. I am sorry but I have to repeat what I just said:

There have ALWAYS been a proper quotation of your content in my post - including the backlink to your post. It is still there, and have always been. Why cannot you accept this simple fact? You built the whole case on wrong assumption.

That's why I was (and am) angry: I properly acknowledged the material that was taken verbatim (a quote from your blog), so why did you attack me in the first place?

I feel really bad I have to write this. This is all rather sad and leads nowhere.

I apologize if this comment has been made already but I have been following this from my phone and havent read every comment but the part of this that is most surprising to me is not that the concept was borrowed or that the "copy" was lifted almost/if not word for word because that happens all the time. The part that got me thinking that this was uncool was that the borrowed copy was to promote a book and books are supposed to be about original ideas. If this author is copying other blog posts why does that say about the content if he book?

Now I don't know this writer and for all I know she has some kid mange her blog but at the very least she should have said "I saw this idea and thought it was brilliant" because that small "hat tip" would have made it for the most part ok.

(please ignore any typos as I am on my phone and mybfingers are bigger than the little buttons)

Just to provide some third-party input here: I can validate all of Rohit's claims. I visited Julie's [first] post shortly after Rohit twittered it, and I compared her original post to his. Her post had been lifted mostly word-for-word, with some minor content tweaks to fit her subject. I'd estimate that 80% of her post was copied verbatim.

And although she credited Rohit in a passing comment, her original post did not include a link to his blog post.

I also posted a polite but questioning comment to her blog. It was moderated and never posted.

Nothing wrong with being inspired by someone else to do something similar. We all learn by imitation. But, c'mon, it makes sense to put your own spin on it.

Does nobody else want to use Google cache to validation Rohit's claims?
http://64.233.183.104/search?q=cache%3Ahttp%3A%2F%2Fthegreenbeautyguide.com%2F%3Fp%3D105&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&client=firefox-a

Try comparing that to Rohit's original post:
http://rohitbhargava.typepad.com/weblog/2008/03/be-part-of-the.html

The way it is originally written is as if Julie had the idea, based on the very brief quote from Rohit, and despite her claim, there is no link to Rohit's blog.

Julie, it's rare I'm this blunt, but based on that Google cached copy, you're an out and out liar - there was a huge amount of word-for-word plagiarism in the original version of your post and no clear attribution to Rohit.

Dear Rohit,

This has gone way too far. I think you are making tons of fuss out of nothing. For all I can see here, you are victimizing an unlucky blogger who visited your website and liked your ideas just to show off how great and innovative you are.

You suggest the "right" ways of "stealing your stuff" (I completely disagree there are any good ways of stealing anything, and my lawyer supports me in this), but let's take a look:

1. GIVE ME CREDIT: You were properly credited in the post.

2. TELL ME ABOUT IT: You called me a thief even before I had a chance to email you.

3. MAKE IT BETTER: I added a spin to your interview contest idea by adding a blog tour to it. Obviously, your idea is not working in my case, and I am sticking to the traditional blog tour scheme.

4. PUT IT IN YOUR WORDS: the bulk of the article is my own words. The quotation from your post is put into quotation marks and properly attributed.

My lawyer suggested that I refrained from any correspondence with you, so this is going to be my final reply. Anyway, this is way too stressful, and I believe I have done nothing that deserves such brutal treatment.

I strongly believe that you plan to keep this issue afloat your own for your self-promotional reasons. Your insinuations lead nowhere good. But I am sure your self-esteem and book sales get a nice boost while you keep poking into that lousy post of mine.

And God forbid me from visiting your site ever again.

Julie - Clearly you are unwilling to admit that there was an original blog post of yours that you have since updated with your current post. All I really hoped for was that you would take responsibility for what you had originally wrote, the mistake you made, and be honest about the fact that you updated your post to correct it. Had you done that, I would have happily stopped talking about this and likely never even written this post. If this were published in print, you would keep the original text, and publish a correction. Your failure to do that in this case strikes me as inauthentic.

Regardless, we have now had an email dialogue about this and I have expressed my frustration to you. I don't wish for you to be targeted here any longer, and contrary to what you may think - this post does nothing for book sales and most of my readers care very little about this. They care about marketing content and ideas. I would be thrilled if this were our last communication and won't be commenting anymore on this.

Wow. Having read both, it's pretty clear. She's-a-lyin.

I had someone do an exacty copy-and-paste from my blog once, and while I didn't get angry, I was pretty surprised. I mean, why blog if you don't have anything original to say?

It's true! Some people think they can get away with anything (in any setting). You can't on the social web. And if you don't take time to learn the space, you'll make mistakes. Some of them bigger than others.

For most bloggers (or anyone else creating and sharing content online), intellectual property is our currency. Overlooking copyright is dangerous territory: plagiarism is a gravely disrespectful lazy move, and Google knows everything. So, the lessons of social media to date have been wasted on some people.

For someone in Julie's position, the smartest thing she could do at this point is make a public apology on her blog and share her lessons learned. She's certainly not the only person to think stealing language would go unnoticed: the outcome (do's and don'ts) would be good for the wisdom of the less-informed crowd, and maybe drive some traffic to her blog (lest this dialogue kill it dead).

Creative Commons is our friend.

Thanks, Rohit, for handling this in a straightforward and diplomatic manner. We've all seen bloggers tear people a new one for lesser offenses, so your kindness here is not unnoticed.

Rohit - It's unfortunate this has happened. She is clearly in the wrong, but at this point I would not waste your time with her. After stating your case, everyone that you would want to know the truth can clearly see it.

An idea I've been meaning to steal of yours is your about page. All in due time. When I do I hope I can improve on it. Either way I'll give credit where credit is due.

Rohit,
This post is needed more now than ever. The more understanding there is of copyright, ideas and how best to give credit the better.

The whole A.P. copyright story is getting people [Arrington of TechCrunch etc] to talk about what is right and wrong and more importantly where the law stands.

Quite a few bloggers seem to use HT: [Hat Tip] to point where credit is due. To not do so a few times may be an oversight. To never or rarely give credit seems a bit unscrupulous.

Keep up the good work. Hope to meet you at the metro Detroit book signing in a few weeks.

Best,
David

While I appreciate your concerns as an author, about the "copying it the wrong way" issue, I thought it was better if you did not post this one on your blog, and tackled it "below the line" with Julie. Don't you think, you are giving some free publicity to her new book:-) Honestly, I've never heard of Julie, (I'm not interested in the topics she write on) before you pointed us to her blog. Now she has completely removed the controversial post. Even her "about me" page throws a 404 error.

This is a good (but cheap) way for some one to grab the attention of masses about a new book you are going to publish. Just create some controversy with a famous blogger, and let some debate build around it. You are famous overnight! Great job Julie!!!

Rohit,

We've seen this all before. I don't know what it is about the interwebs that causes people to do this.
You're being to nice about the situation. Julie stole your content, changed it, and now tries to make you seem like the one who did wrong.

She deleted her 105th post and changed it to her 106th post, and pretends that you were lying. The Google Cache is clear.

Everything else aside, I think she needs to be publicly shamed. We simply cannot allow people to do this on blogs without some kind of community response. If nothing else, she needs to apologize, directly, on her blog. If she doesn't, then she needs to be held up as an example of plagiarism and dishonesty.

Thank you for this.

This is a great case study in best practices, not to mention being a good citizen. Very constructive. Very useful.

Rohit: Glad you posted about this. I think you handled it very well and I think it was a good idea to get this discussion going among bloggers. In hindsight, in your shoes, I might have left the details of the who the other blogger was out of the picture and just focused on the action in question.

Two comments mesh with my thought on the matter and are good lessons learned:

From Qui: "For most bloggers (or anyone else creating and sharing content online), intellectual property is our currency. Overlooking copyright is dangerous territory: plagiarism is a gravely disrespectful lazy move, and Google knows everything...For someone in Julie's position, the smartest thing she could do at this point is make a public apology on her blog and share her lessons learned. She's certainly not the only person to think stealing language would go unnoticed: the outcome (do's and don'ts) would be good for the wisdom of the less-informed crowd, and maybe drive some traffic to her blog (lest this dialogue kill it dead)."

And Rich: "I mean, why blog if you don't have anything original to say?"


With all the online concerns about "cyber-bullying" among teens and pre-teens, this controversy strikes me as a grown-up spin of that issue. Julie Gabriel clearly has emgaged in unprofessional behavior simply because she thought she could get away with it online. The same thinking is at the root of cyber-bullying. In fact, she advanced the cyber-bully anaolgy by launching into a series of I'll-get-my-lawyer-to-beat-you-up threats against Rohit. But just like the shocking cyber-bully-mom Kori Drew who was indighted for misleading and harrassing a 13-year-old girl into committing suicide, Julie evidently didn't know that electronic evidence of altered posts precludes changing the past to whitewash her thoroughly tarnished image.

Change your name, Julie Gabriel. This is going to live on the Internet forever and cast doubt on all of your efforts for a really long time...

Interesting exchange re: Julie. By all accounts, you are in the right, and your efforts to set the record straight are to be commended. But the issue underscores a conundrum that I and other bloggers face. The Internet makes our information and ideas freely available. But issues arise on what the exact meaning of "free" is, and where to draw the line between an idea to be freely shared and content that should be attributed. One example: I am very happy when I see others echo my belief that the '70s era theory of "positioning" died long ago and needs to be buried before any more brands are damaged by this outdated concept. On the other hand, I am less happy when others make the same argument using more-or-less the same wording. I sometimes debate whether to make an issue out of such theft, but ultimately decide that limits on my time, combined with the greater good of driving yet another stake through the heart of the "positioning" theory, merit my silence. So I really respect your diligence in this area.

It is sometimes difficult but when given a choice between being right and being kind ... always choose kind.

I am confused regarding the whole issue but when both parties are focusing on being right, kindness seems to have 'gone straight out of the window'.

He who wins, perhaps does so at a cost that is too high.

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