If my words are worth nothing, why are you stealing them?

A few days ago, I noticed that people were sharing around my blog post “Muslim, queer, feminist: it’s as complicated as it sounds” without including my Twitter username. Not a huge deal – they were linking back to my blog, so I was still getting clicks and page views out of it – but it was a little disconcerting (not bad, just disconcerting) to realise that my work was being shared around by people who didn’t even know me and therefore couldn’t directly credit me as the creator.

People keep telling me this is a consequence of “fame” (I wasn’t even aware that I was famous!) – that people will share your work without letting you know about it. I suppose I can live with that, as long as people aren’t just copy-pasting words of mine without any kind of course or attribution…

…which is exactly what happened to me this morning.

I woke up to find that someone was quoting a tweet of mine on Facebook without any mention of me whatsoever, and that people were quoting that Facebook post on Twitter – again, without any mention of me whatsoever. When a follower of mine brought this to my attention (thank you!), I politely requested that the person quoting me attach my name to my words. I think this is a reasonable request. I have a reach on Twitter of about a million users per week. As a writer who doesn’t have a regular column in a broadsheet or on a large website, I rely on my reach to promote my work, so that reach is important. All I did was politely request that my name be attached to my words. I even provided a link to the source so that I could be directly retweeted rather than being quoted.

Five minutes later, my mentions were full of people telling me I was a rude, entitled bitch who didn’t know her place. Nice way to start one’s day.

In academia, quoting without attribution is called plagiarism, and doing it is against both the written and unwritten rules of any reputable institution. So why do people think that on the internet, those rules don’t apply? Writing, no matter how it may seem to non-writers, is work. I’ve been writing constantly since I was a child. I write online; I write in journals nobody else ever sees; I write for business and for pleasure. I write every single day. Writing, like any other skill, takes practice. Even when it comes naturally, polishing one’s work takes time, effort and dedication.

Even microblogging is work, as much as people love to deride “Twitter feminists” and their output. The reason I get retweeted so much to begin with is that I have worked on my ability to reduce thoughts to 140 characters or less, a skill that not everyone has. It’s not too much to ask that other people don’t profit, monetarily or otherwise, from my skills, my work and the contacts and networks I’ve spent time cultivating.

Quoting me without attribution when you’re just quoting someone else who plagiarised me is an honest mistake. I’m sure it happens to me several times a day and I just don’t see it. In this case, however, I did see it, and I politely requested that the person who did it give me credit for my own words. She responded by mocking me, telling me I needed to learn my place and asking her followers to attack me. Suddenly, her mistake didn’t seem quite so honest after all.

This happens to content creators fairly often, but it happens to women – particularly women of colour and other marginalised women – most of all. When we protest, we’re told that our words are worthless and that we should be grateful people care enough to steal them. But I have to ask – if our words are worthless, why steal them at all? If you don’t consider our words and our thoughts valuable, interesting or insightful, why are you taking them and reframing them as your own?

My friend and heroine @thetrudz has spoken at length on Twitter and at her blog, Gradient Lair, about people who mine the content of WoC for things they can use in order to promote themselves and their own brands at the expense of the women from whom they’re stealing. If these people ever bother to defend themselves, their excuse is, “Well, everyone does it. It’s the internet, why do you care so much?” (Indeed, several people I don’t know made sure to tell me exactly that after stealing from me this morning.) But again – why shouldn’t we care? People consider our work worthy enough to steal. Why shouldn’t we care that something of value is being taken from us?

The fact is that our work – our words – do have value. If they didn’t, nobody would steal them in the first place. If people didn’t value my tweets, they wouldn’t go to great lengths to quote those tweets whilst giving as little credit to me as possible (or not crediting me at all). For WoC without large platforms, our personal brands and the networks we cultivate are the only way we have of making our voices heard. When you steal from us, when you deliberately use us as tools to increase your own worth, you are robbing us of the only platforms we have. Theft isn’t innocent – it’s done deliberately and it shows a lack of consideration at best and malice at worst. It’s done either to silence us or to profit off us or both.

It’s not hard to credit authors. It’s not hard to ask permission to use our words. If you think our words are worthless, don’t use them. If you think they’re worth using, don’t steal. Simple as that.

Further reading: @pixiemania started a great discussion about crediting creators on Twitter here.

207 thoughts on “If my words are worth nothing, why are you stealing them?

  1. I save all my content to my Google Drive. That includes my blogs for my website and all content I create for freelance and ghostwriting. If a customer does not pay for work or if I see my work not attributed or cited, I complain to Google. Google can then investigate, see my original creation date and time, then slap the person with a copyright infringement notification and the content they used of mine on their site is removed from Google indexing etc. Ensure you have a copyright disclaimer on your site that states you give permission to use material ONLY with citing you as the source or only with permission.

  2. I am with you all the way on this.These were your words,in a particular context,at a particular time,and we should all have enough integrity to remember this.
    Wishing you all the best with your career,I hope that you achieve the success that you deserve.Best to you.Adrian Smith.

  3. Great post, I’ve come across theft of actual posts and written onto another persons blog, I follow a blog written by a Saudi prostitute absolutely fabulous if you’re someone…….anyways on her ‘front page’ this prostitute listed 5 WordPress accounts that had copy and pasted her posts as their own, but what can you do? I added a page called plagiarism where basically I say if you wish to use a post link it to my blog…………frankly I’m amazed anyone would want to lol but I have no doubt something has been copied……I suppose the only way to look at theft is maybe be flattered and see it as live able.

  4. The thievery that happened to your valuable words is just that. if they had good intentions to begin with the hostile/negative response would not have happened. Woman power I can see that you have much of and use that strength through your words. They can always be reported for taking your words and using them as their own. I would not hesitate and you should not either. Using the excuse that this comes with fame is just that, an excuse as if we are to be punished for well written and widely read and because we have an audience. Bull slacka….You deserve kinder and respect comes with that r-e-s-p-e-c-t, especially since many of us write because we have to or cannot breathe without expressing ourselves. You fight that good fight, you my dear have arrived but don’t let them take what is painfully yours. Wishing you as always the best and write on!
    In peace, love & light— g.a.meeder

  5. Your words are shared or stolen because they pose something real.Reality is like any part of the body which usually hidden among people. And being real is still not a lifestyle opted by many. If they do not credit you while sharing it. Then they are faking it .Denial is also a condition like stress and depression in this era .
    i like your writings 🙂

  6. Do you have an IP lawyer? That’s so uncalled for and I am sorry you are going through this. I know that ultimately it’s a tweet, but even still that is your creative mind at work and you should always gain credit for that.

  7. Thanks for addressing this. I wish everyone would read it and think hard about it. I was plagiarized this week, and while my blog is not a highly trafficked one (yet?!) the offender has a much wider and broader reach, and the transgression felt very violating. I don’t think it’s an issue of color or of gender marginalization, but rather, it’s an issue of laziness and entitlement and a lack of education. It’s that people think that because they have the ability to copy and paste, and because there’s a high probability that they won’t get caught, then it’s OK. Just because online content is free to read and view and enjoy doesn’t mean it’s FREE. Back before we had online research and copy/paste and we had to look things up in books and rewrite them by hand, we had to actually think about what we were writing and who/what we were quoting.
    I feel your pain. But as a struggling writer myself, I just had to eat the plate of poo because I knew I couldn’t stand up to the big girls. But it still makes me sad. Always give credit!!!!

  8. Pingback: Narcissism in Cyberspace – Why Racial and Sexist Microaggressions Matter | Self-Care Haven by Shahida Arabi

  9. Well said, I don’t think anyone could’ve said it better. I’ve refrained from online sharing and after reading this, I have found a role model. “If my words are worth nothing, why are you stealing them?”, thank you for the article

  10. I cannot believe people were quoting what you said without referencing you – that is truly disappointing! I would understand if it was unintentional. But failing to acknowledge you on purpose…that’t not acceptable!

  11. I’m new on WordPress, and this caught my eye. It is sinking feeling when our words are shared without credit due to us. One thing I kept in mind was the fact the my work was enjoyed so much that a person copy/pasted it without giving credit due to me. In a small way this was flattering. However, the word thief’s style in no way mirrors mine, so it would be obvious that they plagiarized . I confronted the person about how I felt about seeing my work under their name. There was no apology, but it never happened again. Seasoned writers know the value of working with words. Amateur writers are the thieves, I think. I have to remind myself that anything I write, even traditionally published work, is up for grabs. It’s frustrating, but it’s also high praise.

  12. Well said and couldn’t have said it any better!! Thanks for even standing up with this article because I know some of us would have just let it slide. You should get more support than the toupee running for the top job!

  13. Reblogged this on ivanlea and commented:
    Every content publishers, own
    ers, writers, producers should read and thank her. It’s reasons like this that our trade will continue to flourish as an art and a business. Thanks Jay!

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