On Originality, Blogging Content and Copying

Something recently happened to me that spurred this post.  I have kept quiet about this to remain respectful and ensure everything has been smoothed over but in light of transparency, I wanted to share with everyone.

This month I was contacted by an editor of a newspaper (to remain nameless). I was complimented on my blog and writing. I was then called by the editor (I gave my number, they said they wanted to talk). They proceeded to tell me a young journalist of theirs said some of my blog posts replicated the writing from the column she wrote – many of which, were word-for-word, matching my posts.

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I was floored. I could hear my heart beating. My mouth was gaping. I hadn’t heard of this newspaper until now and I later found out this journalist was young, at least younger than me. Quickly, I gathered my wits (still on the phone) and with firm assertion I spoke how each blog post was my original content. I often speak of specific personal experiences in my life and many of my ideas for posts also come from other bloggers, writers and journalists. However, I always properly cite, mention the article, author and include quotations.

Long story short, the editor believed me and knew I was telling the truth. Some of the posts she mentioned that were word for word came from series I was asked to participate in through other blogging friends. The truth always surfaces. I was able to prove every single one of the blog posts that this young journalist on their team had ‘taken’ or ‘borrowed’ from me for her columns.

At first I was angry. I don’t like to be accused and played the fool, but then I found out later that the motive wasn’t to point the finger, but rather help someone learn a lesson.

I told my friend about all this and he said, “Take it as a compliment.” Maybe. Yet, even deeper into the issue is that this happens a good deal. There’s no one really regulating this. It’s not like in college where Professors keep tabs on plagiarism. In fact, annotated bibliographies and MLA format greatly influences my blogging (in a positive way, thanks to college thesis papers and professors who taught me to write). In this case, I had no idea my work was being ‘borrowed’ – the newspaper was in print and is based out of another country.

Therein lies the idea of originality in content. Like I said, I will read a well-written article from my favorite blogger(s) or even the New York Times and immediately be itching to write about a similar topic. That’s how inspiration works. We feed off each other and bounce ideas off each other. Can you name a writer who isn’t inspired externally from something or someone which in turn, fuels their work? This inspiration will come on and offline. Sometimes it’s clear when we cite another blogger, another time it has to do with a conversation we had with a friend in real life.

Where Does Original Content Originate?

Carlos Miceli talks about original content and “How to Avoid Echo Online.” He explains how a fellow blogger posted on the same topic he was currently writing about but hadn’t posted yet. Carlos decided to not post and referred his readers “to the original content,” (the fellow blogger’s blog). Carlos simply stated had nothing to add, so he didn’t want to paraphrase. Makes sense.

Yet, I argued, “If someone writes about an idea or topic, should you not write about it from your point of view? If that were the case and you scoured the millions of blogs out there, maybe many of us wouldn’t have ‘original’ content or have a source…no two people think the same.” I could probably find a handful of bloggers who have all written about that very topic. Who is the source? Is there one? Would that make Carlos unoriginal if he went and posted on the topic as originally planned? No. It would make him a contributor. A blogger. A purveyor of thought.

Near the end of this experience with the newspaper and editor, the young journalist actually e-mailed me to apologize. She said we have similar views and even writing style. Although I couldn’t see the writing samples (they’re in print and her column had been terminated) I didn’t disagree with her. I’m sure we do have similar views, experiences and writing style. That’s not my problem. The line is fine especially since she’s within my general age group. The part that stands out is she didn’t just take my topics, she took words and ideas.

Forgiving and Moving Forward

This was a good experience to go through. I’m not salty. She was forgiven and I even offered insight to the young journalist as she asked for my opinion and thoughts on the matter. I told her to learn from her mistake, always be honest and this shouldn’t stop her from writing.

My writing has always been copyrighted, but it doesn’t protect me from the ‘borrowers’ of the world. That’s okay. I can only hope to continue to pave the way with my thoughts and beliefs, learn from others, share topics and give credit, where credit is due.

What do you think about originality and blogging? Do you reference your sources or do you  become lazy in the process? Have you ever had someone copy your work without properly citing it?

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