Beg, Borrow, and Steal

When I first heard the old saying “good writers borrow, great writers steal,” I scoffed at it. Surely great writers don’t steal. If a piece of writing was good enough to be stolen, wouldn’t the original author be able to find success with it? Plus, anybody stealing other’s work and then capitalizing on it would definitely be caught!

Then I entered the real world…

It wasn’t until I got to college that I actually started putting the Internet to good use. Downloading new music, finding directions, chatting with friends…and reading unpublished work.

Growing up, I’d venture to guess that 90% of the average person’s reading material is forced upon them. Book reviews, summer reading lists, crappy textbooks. Eventually we begin to find our “enjoyable” reading niche, which unfortunately for most men is Sports Illustrated or some other pathetic magazine while women turn to crappy romance novels. Before we know it, we’ve unceremoniously morphed into adults who have long forgotten what it feels like to read something spectacular. It’s no wonder that every time you board an airplane, all you see are cookie cutter John Patterson novels in people’s hands.

In the past, only a select few seemed to be lucky enough to truly discover and appreciate a Watership Down or Catch-22 or Ball Four. But even with those, you were limited. It’s my experience that no matter how wonderful a book may be, chances are anything else by the same author is…well, sub standard. You’ll always be holding the author up to what ultimately may be their magnum opus, at least in your eyes. Something that took years of writing and polishing and editing is what you find yourself holding as the benchmark for adequacy. An author can’t just snap their fingers and produce another equally astounding piece of work. I don’t care what J.K. Rowling writes next, it won’t top Harry Potter. The same goes for Richard Adams or Pat Conroy or any of the other authors who’ve written something I’ve grown to love.

So with that, all I can say is thank God for the Internet. There’s something different between an author in the traditional sense and somebody who writes and publishes something each and every day. Sure, you have to sludge through a lot of crap, but every now and then you find a hidden author that for reasons unknown is able to produce gem after gem, day in and day out, with practically nobody reading it. It doesn’t take a genius to see how somebody then goes from reading an unknown blog to ripping it off.

Think of it another way. How many of your favorite bloggers have taken their old material and actually made a book from it? How many of their posts will actually ever be read by more than a few hundred people? With odds like that, and other pressures that a “”published” author faces such as deadlines and expectations, I’m honestly shocked we haven’t seen more cases of plagiarizing on the web. The only blogger who I can name off the top of my head that transformed his material into a book (and whom I once read on a daily basis) was Colby Buzzell. Most bloggers simply delete their material when they grow tired with the net, like Doc and Stan did. At that point, ripping somebody off isn’t just an appealing option, it’s practically screaming in your face.

I write this post to point out one fact: in the past, I’ve ripped people off. There, I admit it. I’ve since deleted anything I copied from somebody else and thank God none of it became popular (in the sense that it made the Best of Shyzer or even garnered a lot of comments). Before, whenever I read something I especially liked, I might copy it here on Shyzer and bury it somewhere in a post. Now, I just link to it as it should be.

I think what changed my ways was having my own content stolen for the first time a few years back. It pissed me off then and it still pisses me off now, as is evident with the Mark Kotsay’s wife post I made a few months back. But at the same time, it’s an occupational hazard and something to be expected, I guess. Hell, I’ve even had attacks against me that I’ve copied other people for posts I made on HIF and it wasn’t even intentional. Such was the result of accepting user submissions. So, basically I know how it feels to be on every end of the plagiarizing triangle and frankly, none of them provide an enjoyable experience.

So to any would-be plagiarizing author out there who thinks he or she can get away with copying just a few paragraphs from an unknown website and passing them off as their own work – don’t do it. It’s simply not worth it, trust me.