Jennifer Astle

April 5, 2009

Hey, That’s My Intellectual Property

plagiarismo4doYesterday morning I was browsing the Internet to see if anyone felt the same way about Eat, Pray, Love and chick lit in general, when I stumbled across a blogspot post with the title Enough with this Eat, Pray, Love Crap.  Wow, I thought, someone feels exactly the same way I do.  Little did I know, as I clicked on the link to read the post just how exact their feelings were to mine.

Word for word, my post was copied and pasted to this other post.  For a moment I was speechless.  I kept searching for a link back to my blog, or even a reference to my name as the author of the original.  Nothing.  This anonymous blogger known as Bookworm had literally stolen my intellectual property.  Now I want it back.

It’s not that I am not flattered.  I mean, it must say something about my writing if someone is willing to copy it and pass it off as their own.  But it didn’t take long for the flattery to wear off and the, well let’s call it what it is, rage to set in.  Yes, rage.  I take my writing career very seriously, and this blog is my concerted effort to learn and document all that I can about the literary world, the struggles that writers face, and the feelings I have about everything in general.  It’s like my professional diary on display for the whole world to see.  It’s also here to give readers some insight into the type of writing I do, to develop my own unique literary voice, and hopefully build a following that will be excited when my first work goes to print.

I don’t make any money from this blog.  After switching to a more professional format, I decided not to use ads, because the entire site itself is an advertisement of my writing.  Plus, I hate them as much as everyone else, and the possibility of earning a few bucks from ads was not worth alienating readers. So why am I so pissed off by this little act of brazen plagiarism if it’s not really costing me anything?  Because those words are my intellectual property.

Intellectual property refers to creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce. Intellectual property is divided into two categories: Industrial property, which includes inventions (patents), trademarks, industrial designs, and geographic indications of source; and Copyright, which includes literary and artistic works such as novels, poems and plays, films, musical works, artistic works such as drawings, paintings, photographs and sculptures, and architectural designs.  Source: World Intellectual Property Organization.

Intellectual property isn’t just some term writers and artists came up with to pretentiously describe their writing.  It is a legally recognized category of property established in copyright law, and meant to protect those whose work is slightly less tangible than that of physical property.  Personally, I had thought about this issue when I first began this humble little blog, and clearly posted the following on the site to protect myself from word thieves;

Creative Commons: You may duplicate this work providing that  you contact the author prior to distributing work from this site as the majority of samples have been previously published elsewhere.  All credit must be given to the author. Creative Commons License: This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

Posting a creative commons license on my site was my way of saying “Hey, I’m cool with you reproducing my work, as long as you get consent first, and give me credit where credit is due”.  Creative Commons defines their services as follows;

Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to making it easier for people to share and build upon the work of others, consistent with the rules of copyright. We provide free licenses and other legal tools to mark creative work with the freedom the creator wants it to carry, so others can share, remix, use commercially, or any combination thereof.

Please note that yes, I am quoting directly from their site, but I am also providing a functioning link back to their site so readers know where I got my information, can verify it, and learn more should they choose to.  Maybe it’s the academic still left lingering in me, but citing sources is fundamentally important.  Otherwise, it is flat out plagiarism.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting.  Blogging is a relatively new phenomenon, at least to the average person.  Note that the WIPO recognizes literary works such as novels, but is silent on the rules as the apply to the Wild West the Internet.  However, the basic premise remains the same.  If I had written the Eat, Pray, Crap article with the intent on including it in a nonfiction book, I would have legal grounds to stand on.  What are my legal grounds on the Internet?

The link love rule seems to be the unspoken standard among bloggers. Like I said, I would be fine with a portion, or even all of the post being copied if two things had been present; my name and a link to my blog where the post originated.  In the case of Bookworm/Word Thief, neither appeared, so I am left to believe, along with other readers, that this writing is their original work, when it is categorically not. I even went so far as to leave a comment on the site, informing the owner of that blog that I recognized the post as my own and requested a link back.  As of 10:23 AM in my time zone, none appeared.  I’m still fuming.

How does one effectively fight plagiarism on the web?  It’s not like there is a phone number for blogspot that one can call and report plagiarism.  There’s no risk of Bookworm flunking a course because of his/her actions.  There is actually no means of communicating with this person except in their comments section, an avenue I have already exhausted.  The only weapon I have left are my words, and each time I lay those out on a public forum like my blog, I run the risk of having them stolen and passed off as belonging to someone else.  Let me put it another way; if someone stole my car, and passed it off as their own, it would unequivocally be considered theft, but my writing is worth more to me than my car, so what am I left to do but stare at the stolen post in anger and dismay?

I’m going to do the only thing I know how; scream it from the rooftops (and by rooftops I mean my desk).  I can bring as much attention to this issue as possible, and encourage people to be diligent in protecting their words as though they were as precious as any piece of physical property they own.  I can also ask for your help in inundating Bookworm with comments on their site calling them out on their act of plagiarism and insisting that they rectify it by the means I listed above, or take the post down altogether.

So, will you help me?  You can leave comments on the doppelganger post here.  Thank you!

A Word Thief Busted!

A Word Thief Busted!

March 23, 2009

Wanted: Online Writing Group

In all the effort I have been putting into learning all that which a writer must know, the one thing that has consistently been lacking is a support system of people who have or are experiencing the same sorts of trials and successes.  Sure, I have a few contacts who have unfailingly offered me advice (Mr. Christopher and Netta, I mean you) which has been incredibly helpful.

I am beginning to learn that any writer worth his/her salt has a number of other writer friends with whom they exchange criticism, advice, support, and the odd affirmation when rejections start coming in.  The old adage is true; two heads are better than one. So, this is my attempt to establish a community of new writers (by “new” I mean unpublished) or established ones who are willing to share their knowledge of the mysterious inner workings of the monster that is the publishing industry.  If you are interested, please email me at jjastle at att dot net.

Remembering Ron MacDonald

id2171For many the name Ronald MacDonald might conjur images of a red-haired clown who peddles french fries and cheesburgers.  In my case, it conjurs images of a red-haired teacher who peddled the English language and literature.  Ron MacDonald was one of my most memorable teachers in high school.

He had a huge bookcase in his classroom, filled with books that he lent out liberally to students.  Once I approached him to apologize for being late in returning one particular novel, and he (somewhat jokingly, I imagine) repsonded with “You know, stealing books shouldn’t be criminal.”

Once he called me after class and I was certain I was in trouble (probably pushing the envelop for what was considered acceptable in young literature, I have a bit of a dark streak when it comes to fiction).  Instead, he handed me a well used copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, one of the epic books of my youth.  Although I was always a reader, he became sort of a book pusher, constantly suggesting books I might find interesting.  He also gave me The Giver, which I read cover to cover in one afternoon flat and still remember with alarming clarity (those gray eyes…).

He was an old scotsman I believe, and had a bright red face (that most of us I suspect, attributed to his drinking).  He had a handle bar mustache and a habit of getting food lodged in there, but he would stand in front of the class room and teach us as though we all wanted to grow up to be literary masters.  He took little notice of students who took little notice of him,  but those who expressed an interest in literature were nurtured and constantly supplied with books.

Sadly, he passed away while I was still in university.  Living a life of a bachelor, I like to imagine that he was in fact, married to his books.  To this day, I can look at my bookshelf and see volumes that were passed from his hands to mine and think fondly of all that he taught me.

Update:  Says Beth Button, a classmate of mine and a relative of Mr. MacDonald’s;

He came up in conversation recently. Ronnie was a pretty close family member. Notorious for being eccentric and also for buying every single christmas present in a theme each year. I think if I had known him now, I would have appreciated him so much more than I did as a kid.

A bachelor who died without a will or any real indication of what he wanted. Instead of the traditional funeral, we all gathered at another family member’s house in a circle, with his tobacco pipe, and passed the pipe around as family members had an opportunity to tell a story or share thoughts. In it’s own way it was quite beautiful.

Of course then there was drinking.

March 20, 2009

Confessions of a Writer: The Art of Patience

patienceIt is August, and I hand my mother a list.  She looks at it, and then looks back at me; it’s my Christmas wish list (including a section for Birthday, which falls 13 days before Christmas).  She puts it on the fridge, and there it sits until December, when normal people start thinking about Christmas.  But, in my head, I have been unwrapping gifts since before Labour Day.

I’m in university.  I complete a paper on some complicated Sociological issue.  I, of course, expect the professor to hand them back during the next class.  Of course, she doesn’t because she’s a professor.  It takes weeks.  For weeks, I fret about my grade, desperately wanting to hold the paper in my hands with those tell tale red marks scrawled all over it.  I lose interest (somewhat) in the grade, and become more focused on just knowing.

I meet my future husband.  We fall in love.  We move in together after less than a month and in less than three we move to Toronto. I know you want to correct me now, and tell me that means I am impulsive and not impatient.  I would argue that implusive people act without knowing what they want, while impatient people know exactly what they want and simply can’t wait.  I am the latter, trust me.

Now I decide to write a book.  I use my fantastic research skills (I did pay nearly $70,000 for them after all) to learn about how people get published and follow that path.  Write your book first (“But that could take a year!”), research agents, query them, and wait for a response (without hitting the refresh key on my email seven hundred times a day), likely having to do the same thing over and over until someone bites, if anyone bites.

So, I devise a plan to satisfy my urge to be published NOW; short stories.  They take less time to write, and I can begin querying (and being rejected by) literary magazines almost immediately.  But, instead of finding the immediate gratification that my personality wants like a junkie wants crack, I learn an important lesson; patience.

I don’t want to screw up my chances, so I hit send, shift uncomfortably in my seat, and stare at the computer screen.  Nothing.  Then I watch some news, listen to the Rachel Maddow show, and write a little.  Refresh.  Nothing.

(hold on, I need to check my email)

Still nothing.

Slowly, I am learning that the literary world requires something more of me than great writing; extensive patience.  I don’t imagine there would be any faster way to get rejected by both agents and literary magazines, than by harassing the editors for a decision.  So I remain silent (another challenge for me, I might add).

So, my Grand Master Plan has backfired on me.  I set out for immediate gratification, and instead I am getting an important lesson in the fine art of patience.  Instead of getting what I want, I am getting what I need.  I am learning to wait, without holding my breath too long.  I have submitted one short to three magazines.  I’ve only recieved one response since I began this journey to get published in February.  It was a rejection.  Nevertheless, when I opened my email that morning and saw a response from an editor, my heart jumped.  Someone, somewhere, had read my story.  Even learning that the story “was not right for the publication at this time” I was still elated.

Now I wait again.  One down, two to go.  It’s hard to say if I will still be elated and grateful for being read after three, four, or five rejections.  I am not that much of an optimist, but damn it, I am going to try.

March 12, 2009

The Great #QueryFail Debate

fail281

I sold my soul signed up for a Twitter account this morning.  I have resisted the beast until now.  I wanted to have a look at the phenomenon that is #queryfail.  A handful of literary agents, editors, and other industry “insiders” have been sharing reasons why query letters get rejected.  The query mistakes range from bizarre to simply ignorant (both equally unacceptable). #QueryFail Day on Twitter is the creation of Colleen Lindsay.  This is what she has to say about #queryfail;

Today is #Queryfail Day on Twitter, the first of what will probably become a monthly or semi-monthly experience. What is #Queryfail Day, you ask? * rubs hands together gleefully * A group of online agents, book editors and periodicals acquisition editors are posting about their queries in real time. The idea is to educate people about what exactly it is in a query that made us stop reading and say “Not for me.” We’re being very careful not to include personal identifiers of any kind. The idea isn’t to mock or be intentionally cruel, but to educate.

Here is a sampling for your reading pain/pleasure;

ChristianPubTip: It’s a handwritten manuscript with a note that says this is the only copy they have.#queryfail

danielliterary: Asks me how to go about submitting? Uh. If u have my email address, then u obviously
have my web site address with my guidelines #queryfail

danielliterary: Say you don’t know how to paste the first five pages of your manuscript into your email?
Please get your 3-year-old to teach you. #queryfail

angelajames: ONE sentence about the book. I don’t need to know your life history. I need to know about
the book. #queryfail

angelajames: “passion raging between two characters will burn right off the page” makes me think your
book is going to be overwritten #queryfail

Colleen_Lindsay: A headshot embedded into body of query email. #queryfail

Colleen_Lindsay: @bookavore I just delete all queries that come in addressed to Dear Sir, To Whom It
May Concern or Dear Agent. #queryfail

danielliterary: Call yourself a “published author” when what you really mean is “self-published”?
#queryfail

bostonbookgirl: Including a creepy photo of you clearly taken about 20 years ago? You have just taken
your first step on the road to #queryfail

Colleen_Lindsay: Three paragraphs, no plot, no hook, and lots of “me, me, me, look how wonderful I
am!” – #queryfail.

mattwagner: “My proposal is a work in progress.” Sorry, please finish your proposal before querying,
#queryfail

danielliterary: Addresses me “Dear Sir/Madam…”? #queryfail

I deliberately excluded the #queryfails for the BDSM photo included with the letter, the mothers who want to educate their daughters about pimps, and the con-men who are finally ready to tell their stories.  Self-explanatory.

I, like others, am incredibly interested in this debate.  Netta at WordWebbing.com had this to say;

I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what is done in public, what the hell goes on in private? But then, it’s private and I don’t have to know. I also wondered if these agents, who took time out of a busy day to skewer the hapless writer, ever took the time to contact the writer and tell them, in private and in a professional way, just what it was that made the query fail. Feel me?

I feel you.  Rejection is important.  It’s more important than succeeding, because succeeding doesn’t really teach you anything.  You already knew how to do it in the first place.  I can see where there would be concern over the feelings of some poor hapless writer venturing into the mysterious world of Getting Published. That said, not every writer (ahem) follows Twitter, so the personal contact offering constructive criticisms (to the honest mistakes, not the con-men and crazies) would be useful.  I would venture to guess though, that not every literary agent has the time to write a personalized assessment of my crappy query letter.  They have more bad query letters to read you know.

As a whole I think we have become too sensitive to rejection and failure.  No, I don’t like failure.  I’m not a complete idiot.  But, I learn from my mistakes and hopefully refrain from making them again.  No, I don’t want to be another hilarious #queryfail tweet, but I do want to know how NOT to write a query letter, so I learn from the mistakes of others. It seems that this would be common sense to most, but common sense seems to be about as common as horse-drawn buggies these days (see: Pimps for Dummies #queryfail).

Still, some are up in arms about the snarkiness that can come along with some of the fails, but honestly, they seem to deserve it.  Besides, telling an agent or an editor that they’re doing it wrong would be like telling God she built the universe wrong, and that, I suspect, would land you in the #queryfail pile.

February 25, 2009

Con-Artists Posing as Employers: Beware!

In an effort to offset my income, I’ve been looking for administrative work.  During the course of my job search I started to notice something fishy.   I had applied to several administrative and marketing jobs which all appeared to be reasonably legitimate.  It wasn’t until I got some responses and started to do a little research that I learned of large and pervasive schemes that are currently being advertised as “careers”.  Two of these schemes seem to be the most common.

1)  “Entry-level marketing jobs”. Here is an example of the type of job postings which fall under this umbrella.

[Un-named] Marketing Group is now offering positions at the entry level for sales and marketing.​ Our firm has a very high success rate of developing SPORTSMINDED individuals into TOP PERFORMERS in a management capacity.​ We are seeking inexperienced professionals that would like to take their “Winning Mindsets” and apply them to lucrative business careers.​ We want to develop our own people, (starting in entry level), rather than hiring people with habits counteractive to our mission.

Our field of expertise is executing business customer acquisition campaigns for Fortune 100 companies.​ We are not an employment or temp agency.​ We are an outsourced sales and marketing team.​ Our clients need us to communicate with their customers since their telemarketing and direct mail channels are failing.​ We provide the human interaction our clients so desperately need.​ We’re currently expanding in 4 new markets across the country.

Seems legitimate, doesn’t it?  Guess again.  These “event-based” marketing firms are essentially door to door sales.  When you interview with them, you are informed amidst a big speech about how you will become a marketing manager in 6 months – 1 year, that your role as an entry-level assistant is to sell products or go door to door handing out free tickets to entertainment or sporting events.  It’s not marketing, it’s selling Girl Scout cookies (without the chocolate!).  Often, these companies fall under one or two parent companies, and are each strategically given several different names. However, the postings are well written and any young person struggling to find work will see “sports” or “entertainment” and jump at the opportunity to work for the company.  Until they discover what really happens.

2) Administrative Assistant Wanted. This is a tricky one because a lot of administrative jobs are legitimate.  However, occasionally you’ll receive an email like this (I left the company name as is because this was their direct response sent to my inbox);

Thank you for taking the time to reply to our
job posting here at Zephyr Research.

Our company develops market research for national
finance and investment companies. They depend upon
our online data collection methods so they can
develop better marketing campaigns.

Because this job position requires excellent data
entry skills, we ask that you take our two-part
data entry test. At the end of the test, you
will have an opportunity to submit your resume.

For Part 1 of our test, you will access one of
our websites which has been customized for this
test. Part 1 should take you less than 2 minutes
to complete and is 3 pages long.

You will be tested on your ability to follow
directions and your accuracy rate. Therefore, it
is crucial that you enter all of your personal
information correctly on pages 1 through 3 as it
will be matched with your resume information.

Also, be sure to answer every question, even those
that seem survey or opinion oriented. You may answer
those questions however you choose, but if you skip any
of them then your test cannot be processed.

IMPORTANT – Once you complete page 3, be sure to
write down the first 3 words of text that you see
on that page, because you will need those words to
complete Part 2 of the test.

You can access Part 1 of the test here:

http://www.alphatricorp.com/s327tm.html

Once you complete page 3 of Part 1, go to
Part 2 of the test here:

http://www.alphatricorp.com/test3v7.html

When you are finished, you will be automatically taken
to our resume upload page. After you submit your
resume, we will contact you with your test results
and your application status.

Again, thank you for showing a sincere interest in
our position.

Georgia McNeal
HR Director
Zephyr Research

When you click on the link to take the “test” and complete the “application” you are brought to a site encouraging you to sign up for some product or service which has NOTHING to do with your career.

scam

It is simply a scam to harvest mailing lists, and to convince unsuspecting job seekers to sign up for something they don’t need or want in exchange for a pay check.  The pay check, of course never comes because neither does the interview.  If you’re lucky, you might get an exact copy of the email, “signed” by a different name, but with the same title at the same company.  Slick, guys.

Oh, and in case you can’t decipher the tiny blue print at the bottom of the screen shot, it says;

* We will never rent, sell, or give out your personal information. We hate spam too! *

Injury, may I please introduce you to my friend, Insult.

So, as if you didn’t have enough to be afraid of what with the economy, job loss, two wars, and global warning, now you have to be afraid of people harvesting your information while you conduct an honest job search.  That said, these scams are avoidable.

  • Don’t send your resume to job postings unless the name of the company is clearly listed, as well as a contact person for the hiring process.  Most legit job postings will refer you to someone as a point of contact.  No name? No resume!  If you find yourself intrigued by one of these jobs, send a brief query letter asking for more information about the role.  If you get the email above, or anything that doesn’t resemble a real email, written in haste by a real, busy HR person, it’s probably a scam.
  • Pay particular attention when applying to jobs posted on Craig’s List.  Yes, companies are posting legitimate jobs there, especially since the service is free while Monster and Careerbuilder charge employers for their job ads.  However, the above rule applies.  Do some research, ask questions, protect your information.
  • If you are given a company name that by all other standards appears to be legitimate, Google it.  Google it like it’s a long lost lover. If there is one post calling it a scam, it may just be a disgruntled employee, but read what they have to say anyway.  If they are disgruntled, perhaps you could end up the same way.  If more than one site indicates it is a scam, it is.  Run.

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