I have written in the past about what it feels like to have my work spread without credit – i.e. stolen. As insignificant as a poorly photoshopped pop culture pun may be, it was still something I did. It was a joke I made – and I probably wasn’t the only one – and put it into visual form. By principle, I argued, I should be tagged as the source.
Something happened to a person I’ve become a huge fan of on Twitter, @jaythenerdkid. A tweet of hers was posted by someone else on Tumblr as a screenshot and reblogged tens of thousands of times. The screenshow included her avatar and Twitter handle – valid citing of the source, not the ideal form, but still not stealing.
don't ever compliment me by insulting other women that's not a compliment, it's a competition none of us agreed to
— jay, superqueero (@jaythenerdkid) March 9, 2014
Yet, as she’s tweeted about so many times since, other people have posted the exact same thing under their own name on Facebook or Twitter. As her and her friends call these people out on it, they get defensive – it’s just Twitter, saw it somewhere else, lol who cares. The appropriate response would be “I saw it [wherever] and didn’t know where it came from. I’ll delete my tweet and retweet yours.” Or “Sorry, and thanks for letting me know! I’ll add to that with a link to your tweet to give you credit as the author.” Or if you are reluctant to buy into the tweets-are-intellectual-property argument (which is true: see #9), ask “Why is credit so important?” and hear the original writer’s side. Say “Hmm, that’s a perspective I didn’t consider. Thanks for enlightening me to that side of things.” Then go back and credit the original. (She has written many, many tweets about this in the past several days, so read through her timeline for succinctly written points.)
What this may take away from you is people thinking that you are so good at expressing things so well. If you are, you should have enough good written work of your own to demonstrate that. If you’re not, there would be a disconnect in style and discerning eyes will notice and hopefully expose you. If you copy/imitate others so much that it appears through the veil of the internet that you are an insightful writer, you are a fraud and will hopefully never get exposure or amount to anything based on the work that you steal. If you do get exposure, you will be brought down and fall apart.
One of the many, many reasons I hate internet memes is because they are often just the theft of other people’s creative property. They’re not necessarily a violation – they most likely fall under the parody clause of fair use that’s common in most jurisdictions’ copyright laws. But parody still requires accrediting the original source, and if it’s not a well-known creation (as Han Solo is widely known to be property of the Star Wars franchise) it is not implicit in the image itself from whence it originally came. Please do this. Do this with respect. If you’re inspired by something or someone, you will get more discussion and mutual appreciation if you credit the original. You can demonstrate your own wisdom by participating in discussion, not stealing words that aren’t yours. The idea can be shared. You could’ve thought the same thing or said something with the same message. You could’ve cited it and elaborated on it with your additional thoughts.
Everyone can contribute. Some just choose to steal.