This piece is one of a small group of my published posts which recently decided to hide themselves from view and move to my drafts folder. I am inept, and don't know why that happened, but I'm posting them all again and hope that this time they stay where they're put. Apologies for any confusion.
My earlier post about message-board plagiarism and copyright infringement kicked up a bit of a storm at a writers’ message-board.
The discussion centred around comments like, “I don’t know what the fuss is about,” and, “what harm does it do?”
The answer is simple: it’s against the law!
Such use is theft: not just of intellectual rights, but of cold, hard cash—albeit indirectly. By reproducing articles elsewhere, you’re using up rights to those articles which the author might otherwise get paid for.
When an article is bought by a newspaper or magazine, it will usually appear in both the print and the online editions. If the writer retains all other rights to the piece, they are free to sell it elsewhere. I’ve done it, and so have most of my writer friends. My standard procedure is to let the new editor know exactly where a piece first appeared, and when, and to give an undertaking not to offer it elsewhere for a reasonable amount of time after their publication (which can mean days, weeks or months, depending on the periodical I’m negotiating with and how much they are going to pay me). If the new editor subsequently discovers the piece elsewhere within our agreed timeframe then I'd be trouble, and would lose the sale—whether I had agreed to the second use or not. It can be difficult to develop good relationships with editors: appearing dishonest, even when it’s due to someone else's lazy habits, lays waste to all that effort, and makes it pretty unlikely that I’ll ever work for them again.
But my main objection to this casual copy-and-paste misuse isn’t fuelled by any potential financial loss. What really irks me is the total disregard that such copyright infringement shows for writers and our work. It’s bad enough when non-writers see no value in our efforts: when other writers treat our work with such a shameful lack of respect, it’s reprehensible.