Anonymous is such a great writer. Must be. He/she writes some wonderful e-mail forwards.
|Whose Work Are You Stealing?
By Marilyn Mackenzie
Have you ever noticed that the e-mail forwards you’ve received are really well written? Have you noticed that they are usually well thought out pieces, with no spelling or grammatical errors? And have you noticed that they usually arrive in your inbox attributed to the most famous author of all – anonymous? How does this happen? Why is it that anonymous seems to be such a great writer? And as a great writer, why would anonymous not want to share his/her name with us, or at least his/her pen name? Haven’t you ever wondered about these things?
I had never really given much thought to the numerous e-mail forwards I’ve received from friends and acquaintances since I first connected to the Internet. E-mail forwards just seemed to be a fact of life, something to appreciate and pass on or ignore and delete. Then in the course of a few weeks, I had reasons to ponder the origin of e-mail forwards.
First, a writer friend of mine posted a beautiful pearl of wisdom at another writer’s site I used to frequent. I loved what she wrote and tucked it away in my "favorites" file to read and ponder over again later. Sheri had written the piece about three years prior and a publisher rejected it. As often happens with our rejected writings, she’d filed it away, her self-esteem and confidence in her writing having been chipped away a bit by rejection. Yet she still hoped it might touch someone’s heart, and resurrected it at said writer’s site, where it promptly received wonderful reviews from her peers.
Before I logged off that evening, I heard the familiar sound of an e-mail message being delivered to my inbox. Imagine my surprise at receiving the piece Sheri had posted that day as an e-mail forward from my ex-brother-in-law. A slight change had been made, but it was definitely Sheri’s writing. You’ve probably received it too; I’ve received it now from about four or five others. It’s titled, "Some Things You Keep."
Within hours of being posted on a writer’s site, that story was snatched from the page by some "anonymous" person without any mention of the author, and it was flying around the world. I pondered this for a while and realized that most of the wonderful forwards I’ve received have probably been written by someone who deserves to be named and credited, and are probably copyrighted materials. They may have been taken from a personal web site, a corporate web site, or a writer’s site. But, it’s obvious to me at least, that they are probably being sent time and again without the author’s knowledge or consent.
Doesn’t that bother you? It bothers me! Although much of what I’ve written has not been for monetary gain, the copyrights belong to me. The writings are mine, and if anyone wanted to use my writings or forward them, I’d hope that they’d e-mail a link back to the web page where they are found or ask my permission to use them.
When someone has asked to use something I’ve written, I’ve negotiated some remuneration, even just copies of the publication. I’ve always insisted that my copyright information remain with the piece. This year, my 9/11 poem,
I realize that asking people to keep my copyright information attached to anything I’ve written doesn’t guarantee that my writings won’t one day make the rounds as an e-mail forward. I’ve discovered that there are some forwards that have been copied from famous writers and even from books in print. Still, when they arrive in our inboxes, they are attributed to that same famous writer as all the others – to anonymous. How sad.
While this was going on, I made some more Internet "stealing" discoveries. A friend wrote a 9/11 poem last year and we realized he hadn’t posted it here at Writing.Com. I thought the famous graphic of the eagle crying would be an excellent addition to the poem and set out to find the originator to see if I could get permission to use it.
In the past, I might have considered just copying it. After all, it had arrived in my inbox last September about 15 times. But, I realized that the graphic had not created itself, and I doubted that "anonymous" was both a graphic artist and a wonderful writer. Surely there was someone who had painstakingly designed the eagle crying!
What I discovered was amazing to me. By entering "eagle crying" or "crying eagle" into search engines, I found hundreds of web sites using that graphic. Where there were e-mail addresses available, I inquired of each if they were the originator of the graphic, and if so, if permission would be granted for me to use it.
The responses were also amazing. Many people claimed they owned the rights to that graphic. Many others said it had arrived in their inbox as a forward, so they figured it was in the public domain and belonged to no one.
Finally, I discovered the true originator of the graphic, a professional graphic artist. The artist told me that he gave permission to most people who had personal web sites or non-profit sites, if they asked. Of commercial sites, he asked for a modest fee. Like me, he’d done a search of the Internet and discovered numerous people just using it.
I also learned from him that he’d hired an attorney to deal with those who have stolen his artwork. Usually, when the law firm asked that the web site owners formally seek permission and pay for the use of the graphic, they did so. Those not willing to do as requested were given 30 days to comply, then a lawsuit was filed. The attorneys were also able to find the person who first snatched that graphic and started e-mailing it around the world. That person received a fine of $15,000.
Ironically, I wrote about this very thing at another writer’s site in a forum discussion. An attorney/writer there wanted proof of the lawsuits and fines. One writer said she had saved the eagle crying graphic and planned to send it out again this September. She said, "Let the artist try to find me, then let him try to sue." They really were not concerned at all that each time they forwarded something they received attributed to "anonymous" they were stealing someone’s writing or graphics. How sad.
I copied the forum discussion, the part I wrote, and sent it to my friends, asking them to think before forwarding things. I also politely asked them to stop sending so many forwards to me. One of my friends wrote asking if it wouldn’t be the original person who snatched something from a web site who would be at fault, and not the persons who continued forwarding and forwarding and forwarding the story or graphic.
The popular thing right now seems to be sending "feel good" e-mails with multiple moving graphics on them. My friends who send them definitely did not design these. They were probably originally at a free e-card site. Yet they continue to make their way to my inbox, with no acknowledgment of the original designer.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that this is happening, nor that writers, artists and my friends are not the least concerned that this passing of stories, poems and artwork might be considered stealing or cheating. After all, there was a recent case in a school where a number of students were caught cheating by copying directly from the Internet. When the teacher failed the cheaters, the parents were mad at the teacher and not the students. What’s wrong with that picture?
Hopefully, the next time you receive a wonderfully written story or a beautifully designed graphic in your e-mail inbox, you’ll do what I do now. You’ll consider the friend who sent it to you. And since you know that friend did not write it, you’ll delete it rather than forwarding. Each time you forward something with no mention of the writer, you are taking something away from that writer. Think about it.
For information about copyright violations and plagiarism, please read: