Stealing and Distorting Content for Your Blog
One of the most frequently asked questions in my social media training sessions is, “What constitutes stealing content?” It’s simple … taking what isn’t yours and passing it off as yours. Actually, it’s a little more complex than that – and I AM NOT AN ATTORNEY, but I can help you with a few broad tips about how craft your own content after gathering research on the Internet.
PHOTOGRAPHS AND IMAGES
- Internet does not equal Public Domain. The copyright to an image generally belongs to the person who shot the photograph or created the graphic. Photographs taken before 1988 go into the Public Domain after 50 years. Photos shot 1988 and beyond go into the Public Domain after 70 years. So even if photo images are on Facebook, or websites or blogs doesn’t give us the right to snag them and reuse them… even if you give the author / photographer credit.
- Get permission in writing. I’ve had so many of my images lifted and when I discover them, I ask the person using them without my permission to do one of two things: Credit me with a link to the page where the image was lifted, or take the image down. In 90% of the instances, the user will give me proper credit and insert the link. Most people have no idea that they’re doing anything wrong. Before you lift an image, get permission from the author preferably in an email. Also insert a link back to the author / photographer’s web page where the original content is published.
- Difference between Academic and Publishing Worlds: Because I write a lot about things linked to history, there are people in the academic world that have reprinted my content and images and given me credit only in a footnote (with no link) . This is not considered this suitable credit for content published on the Internet, while it is proper for most college papers. The difference lies between submitting a paper to a professor or collegues for academic review and hitting the PUBLISH button on your blog for general public consumption. Publishing is the difference. When you provide content to the public – even when it’s posted to Facebook you are publishing. You are reusing content that is owned by someone else and making it public. You must have permission to do that.
Permissions and Copyrighting are complex legal subjects full of precedents. So it’s always best to check with an attorney if you can. I love this blog post Photography and Copyright Law on Ken Kaminesky’s site taken from his interview with attorney, Carolyn E. Wright. It’s a good quick reference with answers to the most frequesntly asked questions.
EMBELLISHING STORIES & PUBLISHING LIES
I’ve written over 100,000 pages of stories that have been retold by others. Mostly folklore and ghost stories, these wonderful and entertaining tales can be a bit risky to publish because of the reference to actual, living people. It’s so tempting to read a (true-life) story and then write about it. It’s also tempting to give it a little literary “flare” … and how much harm can that do?
Take special care when characters mentioned can be linked to the descendants of living people who 1) know the truth and know that your story isn’t accurate and 2) can be offended and embarrassed because of you story. Otherwise, you could be publicly discredited or worse. Here are a few tips about retelling stories:
- Do some background work researching newspapers, books, folklore collections, genealogy boards and do some personal interviews -even if it’s just a quick email or phone conversation. Gather as many facts as you can about a story and the characters.
- Double check and triple check facts when writing about murders, suicides and violent crimes. The subjects and perpetrators may have living descendants. And though you can’t defame the dead, a living relative who takes offense can taint your reputation as a writer if your facts aren’t correct.
- Build your own story from your facts and research. Let the facts tell the story.
- Welcome feedback and new information by giving an email address or allowing comments on the blog. This not only allows descendants to help you get your story straight, it often provides amazing twist to your existing story.
- Cite resources if you can …”The Washington post reported in 1918 ….” and “ interview with Judge Hayman in 1962 revealed ….”
CHICKGEEK — WHAT NOT TO DO
When I was looking up information on Wish Sheppard, the famous spirit who allegedly haunts the Denton jail in Caroline County, MD, I came across a blog post by ChickGeek entitled Haunted Maryland. In this post, she tries to retell the story of Wish and the haunting of the jail, but I think it is a good example of “what not to do” when it comes to using other people’s published information as a source for your blog.
Of the 380 words in ChickGeek “Haunted Maryland” ghost story. She devotes only two sentences to anything related to haunting. The remainder is the backstory. Who was Wish and what happened. I’m pretty certain that she checked no facts, and embellished my stories published on the Internet through my blogs, googlebooks and publications I’ve written for.
She retells the story in such a way that it is inflammatory, absent of facts and a misrepresents not only what actually happened, but also gives almost no information on the haunting – which is the real entertainment. And while bastardizing folklore and embellishing a ghost story is no crime, damaging character and legacy is.
You can read the story on her blog – but here are a few of the inaccuracies.
- She writes “There was no evidence against Wish save for his black skin and poverty, but that was enough for the crooked Sheriff” But the facts are …. the testimony of the girl who was raped was the evidence presented.
- Crooked Sheriff? ChickGeek’s reference to Sheriff James Temple being crooked is just made up crap to bring the story to her made-up conclusion. I’ve never seen any reference like that, and there is plenty of testimony on this case. ChickGeek, if I’m wrong and you have a source, please reveal it and I will apologize and publicly eat my written words here. And please realize that the Judge decided on verdict and sentencing – not the Sheriff. There is actual testimony from a witness who said Sheriff Temple couldn’t put his hand on the lever to drop the floor of the gallows (Voices of the Land: A Caroline County Memoir, by Mary Anne Fleetwood).
- There is no evidence that Wish clung to the bars, no evidence that his mother was present (in fact, she likely was not present). I’ve never seen any testimony that said Wish clung to the bars. Some testimony says he clung to the wall next to the door, but there are numerous sources that say Wish Sheppard was very calm, never agitated – so calm, in fact that others wondered if he even knew the scope of what was happening to him. He was calm right up to the point of execution. And this quality matches the calm quality of the spirit that currently haunts the Denton jail.
- I’m sorry, but what the heck does “For most, even an unjust execution brings rest, but for not for Wish who is still imprisoned by the Caroline County Jail” mean? Really? “Most” of those unjustly executed find rest in their execution? I’m shaking my head here.
- And the reference about erecting a wall to hide the old wall with the handprint is just complete misunderstanding. They simply built over that wall and steel door because they were expanding the jail and it was easier to not remove a steel door and wall. It was easier to just “wall over it” so as far as ChickGeek’s statement, “To this day, the door of Wish’s cell refuses to open without a struggle…” The door has been closed off by that wall since the 1980s. No one has seen it or tried to open it.
THE PHOTO OF WISH SHEPPARD
ChickGeek used the only known photo of Wish Sheppard in her blog. She snagged it off of my blog, and because it was taken in 1915 we know that it is in the public domain. But the man who owns the photo, Sonny Callahan of Denton, Maryland, shared it with me and gave me permission to use it in my writings about Wish. I always give him credit for his kindness and willingness to share – even though I don’t have to. Plus, if anyone else want to publish it, they know who they can contact. It would have been a nice courtesy for ChickGeek to ask permission. They I’d have referred her to Sonny and he would have been glad to share. This makes for a nice respectful relationship between content owners.
CHICKGEEK IS JUST ONE OF MANY
Even though ChickGeek’s story might be a few minutes of entertainment for a reader who wants to know about haunted Maryland, Wish Sheppard still has relatives in Federalsburg as the not-s0″crooked Sheriff” Jim Temple who was represented by ChickGeek as a racist bigot, hungry for an execution also has relatives. It was a dark time – a time of segregation and enculturated racism, no doubt. But there is a consequence to the living when the facts are improperly delivered and embellished for the entertainment of others.
Besides that …and more importantly …. the truth is really scary. That jail is totally haunted by Wish even today. And the stories told about what happens inside to the staff are enough to keep anyone a little jumpy. But the staff (both African American and Caucasian) unanimously agree that Wish is not angry, not agitated and unrestful. One correctional officer told me, “Wish is here because he likes it here. And he reminds us to be nice to each other.”
I don’t think ChickGeek meant any harm. I’m guessing she lives in the Pacific Northwest based on an affiliate she mentions, and Maryland is a far away world to her. But her post illustrates the temptations that we have to snag and image or retell stories and news without checking the facts or citing the sources. The greatest damage done is done to the writer’s credibility and reputation. In this case, it doesn’t hurt ChickGeek much.
I feel a little bad (but not too bad) about holding ChickGeek out there publicly and offering my criticism, but I couldn’t contact her. She hides well. She refers to herself as “Kimm” a writer, cartoonist and computer engineer who has been working on the web since 1994, but she offers no contact information, no location, no real name, her Twitter profile is masked and she admittedly allows no comments on her blog citing …
“I will post solutions whenever I find them. There will be no rhyme or reason and no comments. I do not want to junk this site up with too many people whining or asking additional questions.”
So since she’s not letting us talk back and because I love the people of Caroline County and feel bad about the way they were represented in her post, I make my corrections here.