My Essay Was Stolen

On January 27, I wrote an essay and published it in this space. "I Write Letters" was a piece about how Hillary Clinton doesn't owe us anything more.

Within days of its publication, the essay had gone viral. It is still, at this point, the top individual piece driving traffic to Shakesville.

Then, something else happened. Someone, somewhere, decided to copy and paste the text of my entire 1,200+ word essay and publish it at Facebook, without attribution. No link to Shakesville. My name nowhere on it. And reformatted so it was no longer a letter, and my signature, which was part of the original piece, removed.

That was then shared over and over. Tens of thousands of times. Some iterations looked like straight-up plagiarism, with no indication the poster had not written the essay themselves. Some started with ridiculously insufficient nods to their lack authorship like, "Not my words, but my feelings exactly." Some ended with an even more cynical attempt to conceal my authorship: "Not my words, but written to be shared." As if the author wanted to remain anonymous.

I started getting messages from readers and friends who saw the essay replicated without attribution. Some of them were sending it to me because they recognized it and wanted to let me know it had been stolen. Others were sending it to me because they thought I'd like to see it because it was so good; I had to respond to them, "Yes, I wrote it."

I reached out to people who were reposting it. Not a single person was kind about it. Most refused to take it down; some begrudgingly added the direct link to my original piece at Shakesville, but refused to delete the text. I tweeted about it: Many people were supportive; many were shitty. I got a whole lot of unsolicited advice about what I should do to try to prevent people stealing my work, instead of solidarity in telling people not to steal.

There is more, much more. I have been tweeting about it for the past couple of days, and I Storified those tweets. Please read the whole thing, because the whole story is there, including the way Facebook abets this kind of theft, how Facebook publishers are fundraising off of my labor, and how this thievery undercuts writers' ability to make a living from our work.

What I will just say here is this: If you find someone's work valuable enough to share, then care enough about the human being who created that work to credit them.

I often see people sharing uncredited work with commentary like, "This is exactly what I have been thinking" or "My feelings exactly" or "I couldn't have said it better myself." Good writing—writing that is good enough to share—is a talent. And a writer who not only writes well, but also captures and puts into beautiful words that thing you've been feeling but couldn't articulate, is a special writer indeed.

Those are the writers I appreciate, and that is the type of writer I try to be.

And it hurts my heart when that ability to connect with readers is exploited and then summarily dismissed with some shit about how, because the writing is so validating, it doesn't need to be credited. Because, hey, you were feeling it, too.

Not everyone can afford to donate to the writers they value. But giving credit where it's due is free. It doesn't cost you a thing.

But failing to give credit to those writers costs us a hell of a lot.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus