On Stealing, Borrowing, and Other Forms of Cheating Online

I’ve got a copyright and a common’s license on this blog and a well laid out list of basic citations and
consequences backed by laws and lawyers. And yet, at least once a week
someone violates the whole thing.  Worse if it is someone from a social
network site, it usually leads to a whole group of people violating it
that give me a head ache just thinking about having to yell at them
publicly and call the lawyers . . . We’ve all seen the dire
consequences of what happens when this “harmless borrowing” moves from
the realm of “innocent ignorance” into and across privileges and to
some extent it is always about that in the end. So I wonder why it is
that people feel so brazen taking other people’s work without credit
and/or without an ounce of respect for the ways they have set out their
work to be used and why they are so self-righteous when called on it.

And as I was pondering this, I came across a piece by the author of the Twilight book series, Stephenie Meyer.
For those who do not know Meyer has written 4 books in an ongoing young
adult series about a teenage girl and her vampire boyfriend. It has
already been animated and has a huge following. It is also one of two
series that have been optioned for live action – Meyer’s Twilight books
will be movies and the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlain Harris are
the basis for a racy (in more ways than one) HBO series. Both are seen
as a potential chance to capitalize on the industry juggernaut that was
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both offer up intelligent female characters
and complex vampire worlds, while Twilight also has the distinction of
not having offensive references or characterizations of black people
(which the Stackhouse series has a plenty and the HBO series has tamed
and shifted but still retains).

In the midst of all this success, fans of the Twilight series were looking forward to Meyer’s new book in the series Midnight Sun and Meyer’s was no doubt hoping to enjoy the success of having one new book out prior to the movie release, Breaking Dawn,
and another available around the same time as the film hit theaters.
Unfortunately, drafts of Meyer’s manuscript were circulated on the
internet without her permission. Now Meyers has said she feels so
alienated from the book and the characters/world of Twilight that she
will never finish Midnight Sun:

As some of you may have heard, my partial draft of Midnight Sun
was illegally posted on the Internet and has since been virally
distributed without my knowledge or permission or the knowledge or
permission of my publisher.

. . . The manuscript that was
illegally distributed on the Internet was given to trusted individuals
for a good purpose. I have no comment beyond that as I believe that
there was no malicious intent with the initial distribution.

I did not want my readers to experience Midnight Sun
before it was completed, edited and published. I think it is important
for everybody to understand that what happened was a huge violation of
my rights as an author, not to mention me as a human being. . . .

So where does this leave Midnight Sun?
My first feeling was that there was no way to continue. Writing isn’t
like math; in math, two plus two always equals four no matter what your
mood is like. With writing, the way you feel changes everything. If I tried to write Midnight Sun now, in my current frame of mind. . .  In any case, I feel too sad about what has happened to continue working on Midnight Sun, and so it is on hold indefinitely. (read full text here)

Because certain individuals, who the author indicates were trusted
people, “good people,” took something without permission and displayed
it on the internet in a format that was never approved, the Twilight
Sage went from being at the height of its success to possibly being
over.

While some may read Meyer’s words as simple hurt that she will soon get over, I hope they notice the core of
what she is saying about the process of writing and the relationship
that a writer has to not only their words but the ideas and/or worlds
they create.  When you take that, you violate them in ways that forever
change the process and them.

I tell my students not to cheat. I teach them what cheating is with
a special emphasis on plagiarism. And like Meyer, I believe that the
internet has made it that much easier to take from someone whether
circulating their unpublished work or simply writing a barely re-worded
version of their text as your own. Changing a few words, omitting a
line or two, is not pharaphrasing it is plagiarism, even if you link
back. Taking something and displaying it in a format that is expressly
proscribed by the author is stealing, even if you link back. Writing a
single post or a series of published articles based on the research and
ideas of someone else without crediting them, or only crediting them
when caught, or in an off hand way that makes it seem as though the
bulk of the work is your own, is stealing. And when you steal
intellectual property from someone else you are raking over a little
piece of their souls no matter what you intend.

I hope that Meyer’s heart felt words and the consequence of the
people who stole from her, ie the end to an almost completed book and
the tainting of the author’s relationship to her series at a time when
it was just about to break, resonates with you thieves among us in the
way that accusations of bigotry and threats of legal action clearly
have not.

I also tell my students, I am most interested in your thoughts and
your ideas because ultimately the only true beauty you have is that
which you create on your own. Something to think about the next time
you are passing things around that someone has told you not to or
getting rich, famous, or simply academic accolades for work that is not
your own.

—–

  • Thief. unattributed.
  • Twilight book cover. Meyer (2006).
  • unattributed

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