Part 1 was mostly about unintentional plagiarism. Part 2 was about copyright and when to reference other people's work.
Now, you're pretty sure someone has used your words. You're not talking about someone scraping your blog for your posts. You really mean Person A has stolen your words and passed those words off as Person A's words.
It depends on the form that they chose to use your words. Let's start with presentations.
Someone Plagiarizes Your Solo Presentation
I've met people who decided that since I created a presentation, they could use all or most of my words. They changed the copyright and all the places I'd put my name or domain name.
Despite the copyright notice and domain name on each page.
If I don't know they did this, I can't do much, especially if they don't share the content widely.
However, if they post “their” slides on some site, chances are good I'll discover what occurred. Sometimes, the site tells me. (Very few sites now do.)
More often, a reader will tell me.
What I do:
- Request the person take down the presentation.
- I've changed my presentations to have many more images these days.
- I can ask the site to take down the presentation if the person doesn't.
Now is the time you ask yourself: Do I want to spend any more emotion or time on this jerk? Often, I decide the answer for me is no.
I write more, as I suggested in Part 1. I also spend time whining to my husband. Then, I move on.
We Worked Together and Now I Own It, Too
I've written and presented with several people. We succeeded in our writing and presentations because we decided we could both use the work we prepared together. And the work with approached the partnership with? That remained ours, alone.
I've also worked with other people who thought that because we worked together, they had a claim on my copyrighted work.
At the very least, those people are unethical. Are they crooks? I suspect they're thinking more about an advantage rather than crooks.
What about a book? That's a different problem.
Plagiarism of Your Entire Book
Back in Part 2, I wrote about copyright and fair use.
Until I started to write books, I had no idea how many people would steal the content of my books.
I was so naive.
I knew people stole my slides and passed them off as their own work. But books? Surprised me.
People steal for several reasons. Some reasons are:
- Putting a book on a torrent site “isn't really stealing.”
- They think the information should be free. One person said, “No one should have to pay for information they need.”
- “We worked together once. What you wrote belongs to me, too.”
These are all instances of theft. They cause harm to me, the author.
I spent time writing these books. The publisher (someone else, or me) took the time to create a cover, edit the words and the pictures, and all the other publication steps to create a valuable piece of information.
That information is my intellectual property. When someone steals that property, that act is theft.
Some people think that digital intellectual property is different from real property. It's not.
Digital property is real property. That's why either you or the publisher can send takedown notices to notify the seller of theft.
But, you might not want to, especially if it's on a torrent site. You might want to leave it there.
Why Leave a Book on a Torrent Site
Too many nonfiction writers sell too few books. The Nonfiction Writers Association says in How Many Books Can You Expect To Sell? The Truth About Book Sales And The Keys To Generating Income From Publishing that many self-published authors sell 250 books. Total.
Too many publisher-published nonfiction books sell just 3000 books over their lifetime. (Yes, I plan to address this problem in the writing workshops I'm developing now.)
So, why would you leave a book on a torrent site?
Discovery. People can find that book and you. These people have problems that your book might help them solve. And, if you're able, you had a call to action in the back of the book so people can find you and hire you. (Nonfiction writing differs from fiction in this specific way—hiring the author to help solve the problems.)
Just as I work to make sure libraries carry my books, a torrent site might attract readers. Some of those readers will tell other people about your book.
How many copies of the book do you think you'll sell? If you think the bulk of your revenue is from the business stream around the book, you might just leave the book on the torrent site—for discovery purposes.
However, putting a book on a torrent site is wrong. It's theft, pure and simple.
Make your own choice about what to do about a torrent site.
Plagiarism from Book to Presentation
I didn't realize that people would actually plagiarize my books in their presentations. (Yes, naive here.)
I didn't know until a colleague told me about something he'd seen. He had the problem of “We Worked Together…”. He used a lawyer and the lawyer contacted me.
However, the other two reasons don't stand up to scrutiny. Let's clarify: No information is free.
When People Argue “Information Should be Free”
Now that the internet has made information acquisition pervasive and easy, some people think “information should be free.”
I wonder what else people think should be free. I would love high-speed internet to be free. Maybe some chocolate. The dresses I'm only going to wear once for a wedding? Yes, those should all be free.
I hope you read the sarcasm in that previous paragraph.
When I write, I take my hard-earned experience, write it in a way that you can understand, and then publish it. (See What Can You Learn from the Experience?)
My time to write isn't free. My time to acquire that experience is not free. I spent time and paid for that experience in these ways:
- Gathering that experience. I invested in myself.
- Writing about that experience so you can read and understand it. I invested both in my writing time and your ability to understand.
- Creating a package (book) so you could read about all the experience so you could make sense of it. I invested more in you.
Notice all the investment I made—in myself and you.
My creation time isn't free. Neither is your consumption time.
I spent time curating, writing, and editing my work. You spent time reading it—assuming you want to get anything out of the book.
None of that time is free. You might want a lawyer. See below.
Sometimes, people think that when we work together, they somehow own my copyright.
Who Do You Choose to Partner With?
You might choose to write a book and work with a publisher. That's when you need to review the publisher's contract carefully.
- Your copyright. (Remember, your copyright lasts 70 years past your death unless you assign it away.)
- The rights to finish the work they want to. If you don't finish the book, they want the right to finish it. That might be reasonable.
- Rights to publish in all formats: Ebook, print, and possibly audiobooks. Some contracts say, “All future formats.” I see that as a rights grab.
- All the rights to ancillary products, including workshops, talks, and more. If you relinquish audio rights, you might have given them podcast rights, too.
I don't sign contracts with these rights. You will make your own decision.
The publisher didn't create your intellectual property. Publishers often assign editors to help you complete your writing. They probably created a cover—which means you might need permission to use that cover in your marketing. Maybe they sent an email or two (or more) to help you promote your book.
The publisher manages their publishing costs. You might be able to manage your costs, but I have yet to manage the cost of my time when it comes to books.
Why would you give them the ability to create ancillary products from your IP, just because you worked together?
Nonfiction writers generate all kinds of intellectual property (IP). It doesn't matter if you work with someone on a presentation or a book (or something else). Remember Passive Guy's advice:
- Don’t Do Business with Crooks
- Don’t Do Business with Crazy People
- Don’t Do Business with Incompetents
- Don’t do business with jerks
If you discover you have done business with crooks, crazies, incompetents, or jerks. find an IP lawyer and decide what to do.
Prevent the Need for a Lawyer
Lawyers might charge you a lot of money for not very much monetary return. Here's how you might prevent needing a lawyer:
- Read any contract carefully. That includes contracts for: speaking, books, consulting or coaching. Anything that requires a contract. Several of my recent clients had clauses that said they owned the contents of my workshops if I decided to teach that 2- or 3- day class. I declined their kind offer. The lawyers had to get involved. One of them said, “We would never enforce that for a workshop.” I asked how I could possibly know that. They changed the contract.
- Create an agreement with colleagues.
- Read any publisher's contract very carefully. I like to say that the first contract they offer is the start of the negotiation, not the end of the negotiation.
And, if you need a lawyer? First, decide if it's worth the time and money to you. If so, get the best lawyer you can.
Can You Prevent Plagiarism?
I don't think you can prevent plagiarism. There are always people who will steal from you, just because they can.
However, you can “own” your IP in various ways:
- Write a lot about “your” topics.
- Publish widely.
- Speak widely (maybe), so people associate you as the go-to person.
- Monitor your work with alerts, etc.
And, don't forget to choose your partners wisely. Heed Passive Guy's ideas about avoiding jerks, crooks, incompetents, and crazies. And, if you realize later that your partner is one of those? Exit the partnership as soon as possible.
You don't need that aggravation.
This is a three-part series:
- What Writers Can Do About Informal Plagiarism, Part 1
- How to Use Other People's Words and Not Plagiarize, Part 2
- What Writers Can Do About Intended Plagiarism, Part 3