Can I just borrow this?

Creating something is hard. There’s a quote from German writer Thomas Mann; “A Writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” which I think sums up not just the act of writing, but any form of artistry. The quote could easily apply to a musician or a painter. A blogger reveals a lot – some would say too much – about themselves in the things that they write, similarly a comic strip writer tends to reveal a lot about themselves in the strips they create.

So what do you do when someone steals it?

It’s a question posed to the creator of  The Oatmeal, an independent small web comic that recently discovered all of his work was being reposted to a site called FunnyJunk (I’m not going to link to it). Not only was his stuff being taken and re-uploaded somewhere else, but any references to the writer of the comic was erased, leaving anyone reading to assume that FunnyJunk had a team of talented artists who were putting out a weekly comic. As the creator of The Oatmeal mentions in his blog, he asked the site to remove his work and rather than grant the wishes of the original author an admin for the site decided to get the users (None of whom were likely older than 13) to bombard The Oatmeal with abuse.

Classy.

The issue has now, thankfully, been resolved. But it endemic of the current attitude not only of the Internet but of this current generation. If it exists it can be taken. I would be flattered if someone took my blog and passed it off as their own, at least then it would prove that at least someone found it interesting enough to rip-off. But I’m sure that feeling would subside soon enough. This is mine, I made it. Whether I spent six minutes or six hours writing it, it doesn’t matter. It’s something that I created and there’s a callousness to taking that work and earning ad-revenue from it.

But the truth is that this has been happening for years. Both sites like FunnyJunk and EBaumsworld have existed almost as long as the Internet has, stealing content and claiming it as their own. Placing their watermarks over it so as to ensure that if you found that funny, their site has ripped off a lot more people too. It’s just the nature of the Internet now, and it’s something that spreads amongst the current generation of users who’ve never bought anything from a shop. You take a look at your average teenager. Sure he probably has the same problems that all teenagers have ever had, but you’d be hard pressed to find a CD in his bedroom or a DVD on his shelf. Nothing that’s original anyway. Do you think the average teenager loads up his iPod with songs he’s purchased through iTunes? Or is it more likely that a few google clicks and he’s torrenting the new Lady Ga-Ga album (It should be noted this hypothetical teenager has terrible taste)?

In a weird way we’ve taken a step backwards. It used to be that back in the Music Hall days musicians and comedians would regularly steal from one another. If you go watch a comedian tell a joke there was nothing stopping you from using that same joke in another town. Sometimes you’d put your own spin on it, personalising it. There was no telling who performed it first so there were no consequences.

But James, you might say if you knew me, what about Youtube? Don’t you watch dozens or copyright infringing videos everyday? And the answer is yes of course I do. But here’s what someone on Youtube doesn’t do. They don’t take, say, a copy of Dr Who, remove all the references to it being a BBC show, slap their own watermark in the corner and call it Spaceman! 

The Piracy issue is something else entirely, and something I’ll pick up in a blog post at a later date. But the issue still remains that for all the great stuff the Internet has given us, it’s brought about just as much nefarious activity. Again, there’s a point to be made about how the easy access to Pornography means that teenage boys get a much more darker view of sex than perhaps any other generation before them. But I’m not sure I’m skilled enough to write that.

Of course what I will say is that every blog post from here on out will be deliberately unfocused so as to deter any word thieves.

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