In January last year, two of my blog posts were used in a leading British Chinese newspaper without my consent. Luckily, this copyright violation issue had a swift solution and a happy ending.
Following the publicity of the Chinese Tiger Mum, Amy Chua, with her controversial book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, my friend Shi wrote a brilliant post – Tiger Mum, Chinese, and Sense of Security (虎妈，华人，安全感). I also wrote 2 posts – Chinese Tiger Mums in Britain — are we too anxious? (英国的中国虎妈 －－ 我们是不是太焦虑了？), and What do the white British kids do during their spare time? (英国白人小孩休闲时做什么？)
A week later, my friend Shi discovered that the three posts above had been used in an editorial in a British Chinese newspaper, UK-Chinese Times. However, the editor of the newspaper had never contacted us for consent and they had never interviewed us. In the editorial, our blogs were never mentioned. In the original published editorial, we were referred to as a Madam Shi and a Madam Zhang.
How was this matter resolved?
My friend sent a letter to the journalist, highlighting our intellectual properties. Shi did some math and she calculated that the editorial contained 11.28% from her writing, and 25.1% from my writing, without proper citation and references.
We received an instant email with a sincere apology. The journalist explained how she only had one hour of sleep the previous night due to her workload and, on that particular occasion, normal procedures of checking and seeking consent were not followed due to the intensity of her work. She apologised for her mistake. She sought our understanding and accepted full responsibility for the mistake.
She was so apologetic and felt so ashamed that I almost felt ‘bad’ about making such a fuss. However, my friend and I did the right thing by voicing our complaint about the violation of our copyright.
I could have made the same mistake
I also understood how the mistake was make — and everyone has the potential of making the same careless mistake — not out of malice, ignorance, stupidity or laziness, but out of mental exhaustion and heavy workload.
The newspaper updated their online edition immediately, citing their references and highlighted our great contribution to the editorial. They also volunteered to pay for our writing fee. I received around £20 for our joint fee. This matter had a happy ending.
Johann Hari: the price of using unattributed quotes
Later I wrote another blog post – How serious are the consequences of plagiarism? (剽窃文字，后果有多严重？) In this post, I used Johann Hari, journalist of The Independent newspaper, as an example.
“I did two wrong and stupid things. The first concerns some people I interviewed over the years. When I recorded and typed up any conversation, I found something odd: points that sounded perfectly clear when you heard them being spoken often don’t translate to the page. They can be quite confusing and unclear. When this happened, if the interviewee had made a similar point in their writing (or, much more rarely, when they were speaking to somebody else), I would use those words instead. At the time, I justified this to myself by saying I was giving the clearest possible representation of what the interviewee thought, in their most considered and clear words.”
“But I was wrong. An interview isn’t an X-ray of a person’s finest thoughts. It’s a report of an encounter. If you want to add material from elsewhere, there are conventions that let you do that. You write “she has said,” instead of “she says”. You write “as she told the New York Times” or “as she says in her book”, instead of just replacing the garbled chunk she said with the clear chunk she wrote or said elsewhere. If I had asked the many experienced colleagues I have here at The Independent – who have always been very generous with their time – they would have told me that, and they would have explained just how wrong I was. It was arrogant and stupid of me not to ask.”
Has your content ever get stolen? Do you know your legal rights when someone steals your writing, or your images? If you would like to know what to do if someone violates your copyright, you must read Lorelle’s new post today – How to respond to a copyright violation. It’s clear; it’s sharp.
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