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 10, 2009

The Revolution Will Be Digitized Pt. 2: Could Kindle Really Change Everything?

kindle3Last time, I talked about the supposed demise of books due to the technological revolution and the uphill battle that publishers and pushers of paper of all kinds are facing with the combined force of a weakened economy and a (relatively) free forum like the Internet from which to gather information.  I questioned whether Amazon’s Kindle could really convince the market to switch from paper to processor and from books to e-books, even with a screen bright enough to allow you to read in a bar.

I did however, recognize the benefits that a device like Kindle could have on a struggling educational system.  I’m probably not the first to think of this, but I do think it is an excellent point; this device, if provided to school and college aged kids, could revolutionize the way they read, research, write, and learn.  If a university student doesn’t have to pay for or travel to obtain access to a scholarly journal or book, they are much more likely to read and implement it in their educational process. That got me imagining what else Kindle could do.

Newspapers and magazines are struggling, and there is no end in sight.  Even the formidable New York Times is having trouble making it from paycheck to paycheck, and having to do a real estate shuffle to stay afloat. Sacramento Bee staffers took a pay cut so to prevent further layoffs.  There is a debate going on as to whether free online content is to blame and whether newspapers can stay in business by requesting “micropayments” (e.g. 10 cents per click) or offering content on a subscription basis.  Similarly, magazines (although bought and paid for) are losing advertising money and are cutting back accordingly.

So where does Kindle come in?  Let’s suppose for a moment that Kindle could access the Internet on a wireless connection .  Then let’s suppose that Kindle offered a database of not only books, but current “print” copies of newspapers (not web versions, but Kindle friendly versions of the actual paper), magazines, and other reading materials.  So, for example, let’s say I want a subscription to the New York Times, but I am one of those people who have come of age with a cell phone in one hand and an iPod in the other.  I would read the NYT but, I am not someone who will lug around a bulky paper. I will just wait until I get home, visit the New York Times website and get all of my information there.

Now let’s say that Amazon offered a subscription to the New York Times via Kindle.  I could access the newspaper from my device where ever I wanted it.  Let’s say the same goes for magazines.  Of course, subscriptions would have to be cheap, which they could be if paper was eliminated and it was all web-based.  Newspapers and magazines could offer their product to another audience, the crucial one that doesn’t necessarily have a web-based phone on which to access news and information (which even on a BlackBerry still looks like it belongs somewhere circa 1999), but isn’t inclined to purchase papers or magazines for various reasons.  Let’s take it a step further and add blogs.  Now readers can access books, magazines, newspaper, journals, and blogs.  With Kindle (and enough storage space on the device) there is the potential to build an entire library of reference material that doesn’t get thrown away, is easily and instantaneously accessible, and is compatible with today’s web-based generation of iPod addicts and technology savvy users.  Hell, a tree or two might be saved after all.

So, if these technologies are already available, why aren’t we using them?  If anyone has the power to convince the world that Kindle could mean a reading and writing renaissance, it is Amazon.  It’s up to them (and us, as consumers) to decide what use will be made of the technology.  Not everyone will buy a Kindle (or a similar device), many will want to stick with the traditional paper versions of various media.  I only pose one question; isn’t it better to read a paper on Kindle than it is for the paper to go under altogether?

At Amazon, we’ve always been obsessed with having every book ever printed, and we know that even the best reading device would be useless without a massive selection of books. Today, the Kindle Store has more than 240,000 books available, plus top newspapers, magazines, and blogs. This is just the beginning. Our vision is to have every book ever printed, in any language, all available in under 60 seconds on Kindle. We won’t stop until we get there.

Whether you prefer biographies, classics, investment guides, thrillers, or sci-fi, thousands of your favorite books are available, including 102 of 111 books currently found on the New York Times® Best Seller list. New York Times Best Sellers and most new releases are $9.99, and you’ll find many books for less. (Source: Amazon).

February 24, 2009

The Truth and Lies of Freelancing

It’s a tough economy out there, but you didn’t need me to tell you that, did you?  The last figures show that approximately 5 million Americans are now unemployed, mostly due to the weakened job market.  But while some are sitting around answering polls about their current employment status, others are doing something about it; freelancing.

When I began freelancing, I did what any good former professional student would; research.  I wanted to know exactly what I was getting into besides being able to perch myself up in my office with my coffee and write in between spells of my CNN, Jezebel, and HuffPo addictions.

The average site dedicated to helping the freelance writer will usually contain a list that goes something like this; Set up a blog or web page,  get a Skype account, set up an Elance portfolio,  monetize your content, and so on.  The big thing that seems to be inexplicably missing from all of these sites is a description of what it is really like to be a freelancer.

Here are my thoughts.

  • Lie:  You become your own boss. Yes, it is true that you decide what time your alarm clock goes off in the morning, no one is going to yell at you for taking a nap at your desk, and you can wear your pajamas to work.  But truth be told, your new boss is your client.  So instead of being completely independent, you may go from having one boss to several.  Each client will have their own set of criteria, style, quirks, and budget.  The only control you have is choosing which clients you service.
  • Truth:  You have to be organized. Repeat after me, I have to be organized.  I know we just went over the “no boss” thing, but set yourself a schedule complete with daily goals the same way a manager would monitor your productivity.  Otherwise, you may end up reading about the Octo-mom instead of completing projects…
  • Lie:  Write, and they will come. Sure, setting up a website and purchasing some ads might gain you some exposure, but although writing (or whatever service you offer) is the most important aspect of your business, so is finding work that pays.  Clients generally don’t go looking for freelancers via their individual websites (unless they are well known or have been previously used by said client).  They post their gig to a freelancing job board and then wait for the responses to pour in.  And they pour.  Remember, the writing is the easy part, it’s how you market yourself that will determine how much money you make.
  • Truth:  You don’t need to have a huge portfolio. Most clients don’t want to see your life’s work.  They want to see between 1-3 samples of your work that is most closely related to the gig they are seeking to fill.  If you see a job you are “write” for (oh, I’m so punny…), draft a sample that suits the project.  I did this for one project and landed one of my highest paying regular clients this way.  Customize it.  That really grabs the client’s attention, as opposed to sending a political journalism piece to a celebrity gossip blog which will promptly get your inquiry tossed.
  • Lie: You’ll make as much as you did before you freelanced. Unless you write for a particularly well paying niche market, or you are a well-respected writer, chances are you will start off at a pittance of what you made before.  You might be lucky (or talented) enough to land a large, well-paying contract, but the truth is you will probably start somewhere near 0.02/word whilst writing a page here and a page there for a number of different clients.  Repeat after me; I am not Carrie Bradshaw and I won’t be making $4/word at Vogue…at least not yet.   Speaking of money; Google Adsense – two thumbs down and the same goes for most PPC advertisers.  I’ve come to learn that it’s best to avoid alienating your clients and readers with an ad-free blog or by running a site worthy of hosting ads independently and that can be tailored to the tastes of your readers.
  • Truth: Writing for free can pay off. A lawyer knows that pro bono work can benefit them in a number of ways, and so should freelancers.  Doing this not only builds your portfolio and keeps the wheels greased in between jobs, but you could earn valuable referrals and future paying clients.  Be wary of scams, but at the same time consider doing some work for free or in exchange for other services like web design.  Other gigs may offer similar services in exchange for content.  A lot of “new sites that are launching soon” will offer the promise of pay “when the site become profitable” in exchange for your services now.  Yes, you could potentially get in on something lucrative, but for the most part you’ll be working for free.  Proceed with discretion.
  • Lie:  You’re a writer. Okay, so this is a partial truth, but you are also much more than that.  You are your own accountant, PR and marketing person, secretary, web designer, etc.  Buy the hats and wear them accordingly.   Close Word and open Excel.  Start a database.  I keep three; Contacts, Freelancing Gigs (complete with income history), and Publishing (where I track submissions to literary journals and agents).  Don’t know how to use Excel?  The “Help” button is a wonderful thing.  If you’re still stuck, buy a calculator.  If you’re really serious about freelancing, draw up a business plan and determine how much you want to make and how much work you’ll need to do to make it.

One last thought…

The media is all over the freelancing industry, noting a rising trend in the number of people either choosing to freelance or being forced to for lack of traditional employment opportunities.   Yes, it can seem scary to lose a regular pay check given the current state of things, but you’re also doing the economy a favor by creating your own job, and if you’re successful enough, possibly others down the road.

“More companies are using freelancers because their businesses are becoming more project-based, one expert said.

“As business models change, you get a lot of organizational upset and that adds to the economic uncertainty,” said Joe Pastore, professor emeritus of management science at Pace University. A business “really can’t see out much more than a year perhaps. And you’re operating from business cycle to business cycle.”

There are also big economic incentives to hire freelancers, he said. Businesses cut the costs of benefits and payroll taxes and often don’t have to buy new equipment or find work space for a freelancer.

And Pastore said because of the bureaucracy of many companies, it’s much easier to get a freelancer approved for a project with a specific short-term time period than it is to get a new full-time position approved.” Via CNN.

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