by Alice Woodrome
Plagiarism. It happens. As long as creative people create, there will be those who think that anything they find is theirs to use any way they wish — including passing it off as their own. Anything an artist (of any discipline) puts on the Internet is especially vulnerable to those who feel no compunction at claiming what is not theirs. More often, though, authorship is not claimed. The work of another is simply used as if it were up for grabs. While strictly speaking, this may not be plagiarism, it is the larger problem.
It is admittedly a fuzzy area. Who among us has not — at least on a small scale -- appropriated the work of another without permission? If you think you are above that, ask yourself this question. Have you designed every cute graphic or background image that you've ever used in your blog? Have you ever shared someone's poem or article without asking permission of the author? Have you ever passed along a great photograph that you did not take or a joke that you did not write? All of those things were created by someone who may or may not approve of you using their work for your own purposes.
Often, the name of the author is not included when we come across a picture or piece of writing that we like. So what do we do with these things that come our way if we don't know to whom credit should be given or from whom to ask permission? Are we never to share something wonderful because it came to us without a name? It's a hard question, and the answer depends on whom you ask.
There are those who feel that anything they find on the Internet is legitimately theirs to use — sort of the finders-keepers mentality. At the other end of the spectrum are those — usually an artist or author -- who feel that nothing that a person has not created themselves should be included in anything they share on the web or pass along via email forwards. Most of our views on the subject fall somewhere in between.
As an artist who made a career of selling the product of my creative efforts, who also happens now to be a photographer, writer, and web designer-- plus a prolific blogger, I have a perspective that is informed by a wide range of experience. And I suppose that is why I am not hard-nosed on the subject. I can appreciate the problem from all angles. I have had my ideas stolen and used to profit someone else when I was working. It didn't happened often, and it never really hurt my income, but I didn't like it. It is sad, really, when an "artist" has to steal ideas, but it happens. A true artist will come up with new ideas, but the thief will always have to depend on the work of another.
Using the artistic efforts of others on the Internet is something different, but it is really only a matter of degree. We may not claim authorship or profit from its use, but we are still using the work of another without permission, and I have been guilty of it myself — albeit it in fairly insignificant ways.
The way I felt about it when I was depending on my work for my livelihood is pretty much the way I feel about it now. I'd rather spend my time creating new work than patrolling my own creative borders. I try to be sensitive to those who may not feel as I do about sharing their work, but I do occasionally pass along an "anonymous" gem.
So use my work if you like. I would prefer that you ask permission and give me credit and that my work not be used for any commercial purpose, but I'll lose no sleep if you do not abide by my wishes. There's more where that came from.