When I was a kid, “The Little Mermaid” was my favorite movie. If you aren’t familiar with the plot, the sea witch, Ursula, takes Ariel’s voice in exchange for legs and a working vagina so she can bag Prince Eric.
I’d give up a lot for Eric, but I’d never give up my voice. As a writer, it’s all I have.
But sometimes people take it without asking.
I’ve had this problem since I started blogging. I once caught someone literally cutting and pasting my Spartanette posts into another website and presenting them as hers. Luckily, the blog had an editor, and I was able to get them removed.
Generally, I deal more with people just quietly taking my ideas, ways of presenting information, and, well, everything that makes me, me.
Health bloggers are often guilty of being sea witches. It’s a hard type of blog to keep interesting, and so when someone comes up with a way to do so, and present the same information in a more creative way, everyone jumps on the bandwagon.
I saw a bunch of normally PG-rated bloggers refer to “getting their cherry popped” on a new type of exercise in the days following my Losing Your Virspinity video.
I see bloggers now trying their hand at writing on their photos (and bombing, because it’s really hard to do without the right software).
I see bloggers writing posts where they own it — but then give credit to the wrong blogger for inspiring them to do so.
And sometimes, I see bloggers just straight up ripping me off.
This week, I had the majorly unpleasant experience of seeing a friend — a friend whose blog I helped her start — take my words, my rules, my lessons, my voice, and try to pass them off as her own. She changed enough (like the whole “good grammar and punctuation” thing that’s also a part of my voice) to make it a bad copy. But still, reading it made me feel extremely uncomfortable. This is a person who has loyally read nearly all my posts and my book proposal — you’d recognize her name from the comments if I told you — and I found it more than a coincidence that she was instructing others on how to party like a sorostitute, wear a standing room only dress, and oh — there was mention of “our number one motto: don’t be ridiculous.”
And there was not a single link to me in the entire post.
Oh, and when I asked her to give me some credit, she responded in a cold, bitchy manner, refused to admit that this post (and others) was pretty heavily influenced by my blog, and took two days to put the links in…which she added at the end of the post in the most passive aggressive way possible, still refusing to give me full credit.
I don’t get mad very often. Annoyed, sure. But mad? It takes a lot.
Stealing my shit is the fastest way to do it.
And I know everyone will say, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” No. No, it’s really not. You know what is? A compliment. Forwarding the link to my blog to your friends. Telling me that you literally laughed out loud. That is flattering.
Ripping me off is violating.
I have spent this week feeling sick to my stomach, like something has actually been taken from me. The fact that it was taken by a friend whom I trusted makes matters worse, but seeing my style everywhere — and seeing it butchered in the process — really hurts.
It doesn’t matter if the blogger is bigger or smaller than the person from whom they are stealing. If they have one reader who has never heard of the original blogger, then that is one reader who is being tricked into thinking the other blogger created something she didn’t. And it’s wrong.
I started Hollaback Health as a way to inspire other bloggers to find their own voice for their blogs. If we all just copy each other, then it’s a boring blogosphere. I love reading blogs that find their own way to tell a story, whether it’s with themed days, regular features, or just using pictures, video, and words in a different way than everyone else. But as soon as someone else starts doing it too, both bloggers lose.
I don’t know if all bloggers consider themselves writers, so they may not understand why I’d so fiercely protect what it is I do here. They may not spend the hours that I do editing pictures and video, writing and re-writing, cultivating my voice, and building my blog. They may think it’s perfectly fine to go Ursula on me and other bloggers because, well, who cares? It’s the internet! No rules!
There are rules. There are copyright rules. And I have my rules too, and this is one of them. Don’t rip off people’s style. If you use someone else’s material, word, idea, theme, whatever — you link to them. You ask them if they are comfortable with it. You own what you do, not what other people do.
Like I said, I don’t get mad often, but I could barely sleep last night, I was so angry. I have a book to sell, a livelihood to make, and intellectual property to defend. My voice is all I have, and I won’t just blindly give it over to any sea witch who wants it.