Steal My Work

The thing that cracks me up every time I visit some obscure blogger’s site and suffer through (more like scroll through) their overly long and self-indulgent poetry or short story is seeing “Copyright © 2014 (name of blogger)” at the end.

It’s ridiculous.  And arrogant.  And reflects an obsolete and superstitious way of thinking.  These bloggers are like artists who have “this vague and terrifying notion that the creepy copycats or the monster mega-corporation will murder a creative’s first-born artwork if she-he doesn’t use a © to ward them off” as artist Gwenn Seemel put it in a great article on her website Face Making.

Again, ridiculous.  Maybe they’re hoping some day to make money from their work and the copyright will protect them and their “brilliant” writing.

That’s about as likely to happen as getting hit by lightning after winning a $100 million dollar lottery jackpot.  Ain’t gonna happen.

But say someone did steal their work and make cash off of it.  What are these copyright-using, amateur, using-a-free-web-hosting site bloggers going to do?  Hire a lawyer to sue the thieves with money they aren’t making off their work?

The reality is that if you put your writing online, it may be taken.

You should encourage it.

Stuff that isn’t shareable or stealable is worthless.  It’s just noise.

I know what you may be thinking:  “Just because something isn’t shareable or stealable, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.  Maybe there’s value in just expressing yourself.”  My answer to that: do it offline.

The way I see it, it’s a compliment to have your work taken and used.  You want your work to be so good people are inspired enough to want to steal it.  Instead of a copyright on my site I would put:   “Steal my work.  Just give me credit.  Thank you for thinking it was worth stealing.”

By Austin Kleon

What matters is CREDIT.  Stealing is to be expected.  The internet was created for data to be shared and today’s technology makes it too easy.  Stealing without giving proper credit is immoral and the real crime.

What’s a creative person online to do?  Kenneth Goldsmith has some ideas, the man who inspired me to write on this topic:

To be the originator of something that becomes a broader meme trumps being he originator of the actual trigger event that is being reproduced.  The “re-” gestures — such as reblogging and retweeting — have become cultural rites of cachet in and of themselves. If you can filter through the mass of information and pass it on as an arbiter to others, you gain an enormous amount of cultural capital.  Filtering is taste. And good taste rules the day.

This means that all that really belongs to you are your ideas and your taste.  You can’t copyright the connections that only you can make between things or impeccable taste.  There is currency and value in choosing the best stuff.  This doesn’t mean you don’t create. It means don’t sweat it or consider it too precious. And isn’t it more fun highlighting other people’s great work?

Am I advocating stealing other people’s work?  No.  I believe in thinking of your creative endeavors and those created by other people as director Jim Jarmusch advises in this poster:

By Mark Malazarte

Some unsolicited advice and things to think about:

1.  Read Kenneth Goldsmith’s ideas here and here.  “Publish it on a printed page and no one will ever know about it. It’s the perfect vehicle for terrorists, plagiarists, and for subversive thoughts in general. If you don’t want it to exist—and there are many reasons to want to keep things private—keep it off the web.” — KG.

2.  If you’re really worried that someone will steal your work, do what Gwenn Seemel suggests:

If you want to protect your work from being ripped off online, find some punk way of doing it, because otherwise you’re just joining a system that’s intent on destroying culture.

Find some punk way of doing it.  Make it unmistakably yours.

3.  Adopt the mindset of Neil Gaiman:

When the web started, I used to get really grumpy with people because they put my poems up. They put my stories up. They put my stuff up on the web. I had this belief, which was completely erroneous, that if people put your stuff up on the web and you didn’t tell them to take it down, you would lose your copyright, which actually, is simply not true.

And I also got very grumpy because I felt like they were pirating my stuff, that it was bad. And then I started to notice that two things seemed much more significant. One of which was… places where I was being pirated, particularly Russia where people were translating my stuff into Russian and spreading around into the world, I was selling more and more books. People were discovering me through being pirated. And then they were going out and buying the real books, and when a new book would come out in Russia, it would sell more and more copies. I thought this was fascinating, and I tried a few experiments. Some of them are quite hard, you know, persuading my publisher, for example, to take one of my books and put it out for free. We took “American Gods,” a book that was still selling and selling very well, and for a month they put it up completely free on their website. You could read it and you could download it. What happened was sales of my books, through independent bookstores, because that’s all we were measuring it through, went up the following month three hundred percent.

I started to realize that actually, you’re not losing books. You’re not losing sales by having stuff out there. When I give a big talk now on these kinds of subjects and people say, “Well, what about the sales that I’m losing through having stuff copied, through having stuff floating out there?” I started asking audiences to just raise their hands for one question. Which is, I’d say, “Okay, do you have a favorite author?” They’d say, “Yes.” And I’d say, “Good. What I want is for everybody who discovered their favorite author by being lent a book, put up your hands.” And then, “Anybody who discovered your favorite author by walking into a bookstore and buying a book raise your hands.” And it’s probably about five, ten percent of the people who actually discovered an author who’s their favorite author, who is the person who they buy everything of and they buy the hardbacks and they treasure the fact that they got this author. Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it, and that’s how they found their favorite author. And I thought, “You know, that’s really all this is. It’s people lending books. And you can’t look on that as a loss of sale. It’s not a lost sale, nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.”

What you’re actually doing is advertising. You’re reaching more people, you’re raising awareness. Understanding that gave me a whole new idea of the shape of copyright and of what the web was doing. Because the biggest thing the web is doing is allowing people to hear things. Allowing people to read things. Allowing people to see things that they would never have otherwise seen. And I think, basically, that’s an incredibly good thing.

Forget your copyright.



7 thoughts on “Steal My Work

  1. Well, early on being a newbie blogger, I put that on my blog because I saw others doing it and thought I had to do it. I do write poetry but publish little of it on my blog because, yeah I might publish it another way one day. I don’t think my poems/stories should be freely distributed so easily just yet. Do I think it’s because I am so great? No, but if I don’t think my work is fantastic, who will? If it comes from me, I get excited about it and I should. Do I think others work is fantastic? Yep, and I get excited about it too. Would I care if someone ripped me off? Maybe but I doubt I would try to sue. I don’t think anyone is going to get rich off stealing my work. I do think the copyright is stupid, it does little to nothing. I changed mine a little over time to say something different. Most of the time, when I reblog someone’s work, which is totally legit because of course they get credit, the person never says thanks for the reblog, so I don’t think they would notice being ripped off unless that person got rich off their work. Then they’d be PISSED!


    1. Why don’t you thnk your poetry should be freely distributed? What will happen? I don’t understand.
      Re-blogs are totally fine and if you’re on WordPress you kind of agree to re-blogged. I wonder if you can prevent your stuff from being re-blogged. Why would anyone want to prevent it?


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