Southwrite

Telling stories

Steal my story, please!

Posted by southwrite on July 22, 2010

Usually writers don’t consider the taking and reusing of their work without permission and compensation a good thing. Although there are many people who have a hard time understanding the concept, it’s much like walking into a store, picking up a purse and thinking you can take it without presenting a credit card to the cashier. Besides, with the low rates many outlets pay these days you may feel as if you’ve already been robbed.

That’s why the move by the non-profit ProPublica site to make  its investigative reporting freely available for republication just a little bit startling. In fact, they even provide advice on how to use their  content under a section entitled Steal Our Stories. If you want something, there’s a handy “republish” button to the right of the byline on every story.

Obviously they want their brand of public interest journalism to get as a wide a play as possible. With the internet so fragmented it’s hard to build an audience and gain readership.

Unfortunately, it also reflects the continuing trend of making creative work available for free on the internet and in the process cheapening the work done by its creators.

This is nothing new and it’s been a source of continuing debate. It speaks to the lack of a viable business model for online publications, as much as, the willingness of writers to work for nothing or next to nothing (think content mills and $5 assignments.)

As freelancers, we’ve all worked, at one time or another, for someone who placed little value on the materials we created. Rather than professionals we were regarded as something akin to unskilled field hands. Sometimes they were businesses, but probably just as often they were editors and publishers who should know better.

People given to shock at the images of desperate people breaking into a New Orleans Wal-Mart for food, think nothing of lifting and republishing an article they didn’t pay for.

I came across magazine articles I had previously written being sold on Amazon. When I pointed this out to the magazine’s editor, she was baffled. They had no idea how the material  had found its way in downloadable electronic format to the “world’s largest bookseller.”

Obviously, I don’t have an answer to this problem. In a world where information is so freely available and few consumers are willing to pay for access, earning a living writing is getting more difficult. Yet, since there is no free lunch somebody has to pay for the stories you read. Maybe the payment comes in poor writing and shoddy reporting. Maybe the author is really working for the business or politician being profiled or the product being touted. It probably isn’t a disinterested party seeking the truth.

Have you found your work used without permission? What did you do about it?

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5 Responses to “Steal my story, please!”

  1. Susan said

    When this happened to me, I filed a DMCA takedown request with Blogger because my blog posts were posted on a site using their blogging platform. The posts were taken down.

  2. Mickey said

    Another nail in a writer’s professional coffin? Will the piracy never end? I wonder how an inventor would feel if the research for his life’s work was posted online without permission or payment.

    • southwrite said

      Sad, but true. The problem for writers is that they’re on the wrong side of a power relationship. We’re like workers with no union to represent us so we often have little leverage whether it be with a magazine or a content mill.

  3. bradley jacobsen said

    happened to me about 10 years ago. it was the AJC no less. they repurposed my article without giving me a byline. I called them on it.

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