A funny thing happened….

A funny thing happened to me on my way back from Spain recently. I discovered that something I had written had been ripped off. Well, it wasn’t really funny. My stuff, unless its created specifically for a client – gets reused all the time – I want that to happen – I encourage it to happen. I NORMALLY STICK A CREATIVE COMMONS ATTRIBUTION SHARE ALIKE LICENCE ON ALL MY STUFF – FOR GOODNESS SAKE. I’m telling the whole wide world that I am happy for you to reuse, adapt and share my factsheets, resources, everything, for free, as long as you credit me and make sure that the licence I have chosen follows my resources and anything you do to those resources.

And, yes, I am shouting. I’m shouting because  in this specific case, my stuff was reused without any permission being granted and WITHOUT ANY CREDIT TO ME. It wasn’t exactly the same, but clearly based on my stuff. I’m a copyright expert and I know it was close enough for me to at least be credited. Ironically, in this specific case, I did not put any Creative Commons Licence on it, but an “All Rights Reserved” would have been the default (so that means, even less could be done with it). But if they had asked, I would certainly have said yes – but with a credit. And this is the rub. Not only was I not credited – or even a “based on…”, my particular resource was published in another resource created by an organisation – thus appearing like they came up with what I did first.

So, why am I bothered so much by this. Because it goes to the very heart of what copyright means to me, means to us as a society, means to people who make or create or produce stuff that they come up with first, means to all of us. Its more than crediting and acknowledgement. Its a fundamental ethical/moral/human issue. We are here for a mere heart beat of time, and we have a need, a fundamental human need to write on the big wall of mortality “I WAS HERE”. Some of us literally do this. We have always done that – check out the Altamira hand prints dating from 13,000 years ago ! I’m someone who does this through the stuff I write and create (like this blog post). Crediting me, means you acknowledge that “I was here first” and I have come up with something original  – an original way of expressing an idea that other people might have had  – but I was the first one to express it in this way. Crediting and acknowledging me is a massive motivation for me to create more and more and more stuff for free. And more than that, it motivates me to try and make the next thing I do even better and more useful than the last thing I did. So, to summarise so far, I believe that banging on and on about copyright being a legal issue, such and such legislation can blind us to a essential truth –  Copyright & crediting = ethics, morality & mortality

[OK then. I know that you get it. I also know that you understand that copyright in itself is more complicated than that – but you can read that up in many of my freely available resources!!]

So, what happened next. Well, I challenged the publishers of my resource and they said they would retrospective credit me next week …..o..k… But during the course of the email exchange, I was treated to the following gems of wisdom:

“I did it first”

No you didn’t – I did. I even had it published online before you published yours. Plus, you have copied an error I made – HA HA!

” I must have been at a conference/seminar/presentation where it was presented”

Yes, that’s right. It was all the conferences/seminars I presented at  – you were in the audience listening to me and clearly copying me too

” there is no copyright anyway in what you did – because there are only so many ways of presenting copyright related stuff”

Wrong – There are a myriad of ways of expressing concepts and ideas – THAT’S WHAT COPYRIGHT PROTECTS – DUMB NUT. 

During the last 24 hours, I have consulted friends and the sad thing is that some of them have been ripped off too. It happens all the time. Sometimes this can be a genuine mistake. Sometimes being ripped off can be a product of greed and/or laziness or even pressures to create more and more stuff in less time with less resources. I get it. We all want short cuts for lots of reasons. But all I’m saying is that short cuts come at a price – if not our own- someone else’s.

By not crediting someone (even if you don’t get permission or have an exception to copyright to rely on  – which is another ball game completely) – we become part of a more sinister trajectory – dehumanisation. Crediting is a legal requirement, I know, not crediting and passing off something as your own is plagarism, but its also an crucial ethical issue. Its acknowledging the individuality and existance of somebody else because every time you credit someone, you write on that great wall of mortality, their name, that they were here and they did something to make a difference. Crediting means that when everything turns to dust, who they were and what they did mattered.


©Naomi Korn, 2016. Some Rights Reserved. This article may be reused and shared under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike Licence

One thought on “A funny thing happened….

  1. Thank you for sharing your experiences Naomi. They picked the wrong person to mess with! I have certainly experienced this over the years and there is great value in us learning from each other. I have found in some instances that folk haven’t understood Creative Commons at all, and have willingly corrected their misunderstanding. I was contacted by a publisher once asking whether they could reuse images of blood cells because they hadn’t understood the license and hadn’t actually needed to ask at all which was quite sweet. Possibly the worst case was like yours a complete rip-off of health information relating to sickle cell that it was very important to get right. They completely ignored efforts to correct the mistakes in their version, and failed to attribute the author. As one colleague once said, we rely on the “spirit of open”, and on just rare occasions people don’t comply. I wonder how much it will come with the territory – as Martin Poulter said recently, our OER will outlive us. We will need to let go, but the risk is, as we’ve both found out, there won’t always be fair attribution and there may even be blatant rip off or even worse a miscommunication of the content.

    I hope this prompts other folk to share their experiences.


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