Recently, I was scrolling through Facebook and I came across a post in a closed support group for those us living with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) that really resonated with me. As I read through the post, I realized that it felt really familiar and by the time I got to the end of the post, I realized that the post was an article I’d written and published on another platform with a few personal details changed. There was no mention that the post was anything but the poster’s own words. A dear friend commented, tagged me, and included a link to my original article and a conversation ensued. Turns out, according to the poster, my words had apparently been shared elsewhere by others also without attribution and the person who posted this latest iteration as their own words did not express any concern that they had not shared where they obtained my writing and posted as if the words were their own, even after it was brought to her attention.

I confess to a certain amount of ambivalence about this.

First of all, since writing is something that I do primarily for myself as catharsis and to leave a record behind for my kids, I’m still often taken aback when others react to it. I always hope that my experiences will resonate with others and am grateful when that happens. When people share what I’ve written to help others, I think that’s pretty great and also quite flattering.

On the other hand, it is hard to describe how oddly violating it feels that people within the MBC Community would take my words and pass them off as their own. Other than a few articles I’ve written for publications that charge, everything I share on this platform and most others are free and available to anyone. I prefer that, frankly. Sharing the information about my experiences in order to assist others in their own means that it needs to be accessible and as widely as possible.

But my work is still mine, even if I share freely.

Not being able to point to a specific hardship or damage caused by people taking my work and passing it off as their own means that it has been somewhat difficult to articulate how what has happened has affected me. I usually see plagiarism in the context of published work or perhaps when a paper is submitted for academic credit. While someone posting my work on social media isn’t getting paid or getting academic credit, its still wrong to take the words of others without attribution. Period, full stop.

Taking work arising out of personal experiences/stories is, I think, maybe more damaging than if the article is for another purpose. As a patient advocate, the stories I tell are often about my deepest pain, the most difficult experiences and how that affects me. To appropriate work shared from those struggles feels like a significant personal violation, even if there are elements of the shared experience present. For instance, the article I’m referencing is about how triggering it is to have to be tied to the treatment facility and how I manage that. Certainly everyone who has been through chemotherapy will probably experience many of the same things, but how I wrote about it is still mine.

In the broader scheme of life and living with a terminal diagnosis, I realize this is not such a huge thing. Taking two steps back, this experience hasn’t affected my life in any discernible way; at the same time, it worries me that there isn’t an automatic understanding that stealing from another person is just wrong. Personally, I would be mortified if I took another person’s words and would immediately edit to include attribution. The fact that a response was entirely lacking disturbs me greatly.

I did choose to report the post as “intellectual property” to FB and also to take steps to not be connected to that poster directly. I’ve learned over the last 5+ years of living with MBC that I have to take steps to protect my peace. Who knows if these efforts will effect any change, but it make me feel a little better to take some steps to address the issue.

Let me add too that I am often asked if someone can share something I’ve written. I’ve never said no. If I’ve written something that is helpful to someone else, I am happy to say yes if someone asks to share that information on another platform. Every time I’ve seen this happen, the poster/blogger has graciously given credit and often links back to the original post, even if they’ve updated my original post with their specific details. In my view, this is exactly what should happen.

Be kind. Don’t plagiarize and speak up if someone else does.

32 thoughts on “Attribution

  1. I’m just sitting here shaking my head…why would someone do this? It would be so easy to credit the source and then just add one’s own thoughts or experience. It’s particularly hurtful within a community that shares so many of the same hurts, sorrows and struggles. I’m sorry my friend, and also grateful for your maturity that is able to step back, put this in perspective and take the available actions to address the violation. You are setting beautiful example for your readers on two levels – what not to do and how to respond when the “not to” happens. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Attribution should be of utmost concern when sharing anything. If I choose to re-share something, I always attempt to learn who the original poster and/or author. The fact this happened within the MBC community is particularly disturbing and I hope it’s just a case of ignorance but, since she remained silent after it was brought to her attention, that’s doubtful. I completely understand the dilemma of being able to voice how it has affected you in the big picture, but the fact it robs you of peace is significant, beyond it being plagiarism and just not cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Abigail – attribution becomes even more important when you discover – as you did! – that your original work has been stolen!

    I had a similar experience – I once had four (FOUR!) of my original Heart Sisters posts lifted word for word by a California journalist who was on staff at her local newspaper! I only found out after a routine Google search for a topic I’d been writing about. Surprise!

    When I contacted her (after I called the paper’s publisher), she immediately confessed and apologized profusely. She lost her job – a small consolation. I suspect that these thieves are counting on blog article authors as an easy source of ready content – most of whom are unlikely to ever learn what they’re doing.

    Take care, stay safe. . . ♥

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s awful. I’m so sorry that happened to you and by a journalist too! Yes, I think there is a certain pecking order with bloggers landing somewhere pretty low in priority. I’m so glad you addressed it and that you received a response commensurate with the violation.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There is a whole industry of it now. It is called pink-slime journalism. The thefts mentioned here are drops in a pond. Art which is what you create needs to be free. This humble thief feels you should be flattered that your story was so much better than their own. To me that is the deeper sadness.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m sorry that happened. It happened to me a few years ago. I actually now have a Copyright on my blog. I registered online, sent copies of a few pages of the blog , sent a small fee. Not sure if it has prevented any of my writings from being passed off as someone elses but I figured it wouldn’t hurt. I always ask if I can share others articles or graphics before using it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Stealing content? That’s gross. It happened to me twice here in WordPress and I called their attention and blogged about those two who stole my work. Pretty annoying isn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a lazy and spineless thing to do! Common courtesy dictates checking with the author before re-posting anything they’ve written. Your writing touches people in very personal way so this individual hasn’t just stolen your words, she’s tried to impersonate you and that’s just wrong on so many levels. So very sorry someone in the cancer community has so little regard for others and you’ve been the victim of their theft.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wow, that’s unbelievable, Abigail. I don’t understand why someone would do that without contacting you for permission. I’m sorry it happened and glad you found out about it. It might be happening to a lot of bloggers without their knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect it happens more often than we are aware and I am also still flabbergasted at what happened and the response. I’ve never said no to someone sharing what I’ve written — after all, if it helps even one person, that’s amazing! But to pass off the article as their own and then not to respond to correct the oversight is still just unbelievable.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I found myself thinking how could anyone who’s going through all this not realize the violation? Then I realized I was assuming that person had a sense of decency that she may never have possessed. It’s still shocking to think someone could be so dishonest and petty. But as others have noted, you have both the maturity to place this unpleasantness in perspective and the wisdom to use it as a teaching tool.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was shocking to me too and it has taken a lot of thought and reflection to process what happened. My gut instinct is to usually to confront, which happened very naturally by other people. Left me to be able to share that the lack of attribution hurt me personally. When that wasn’t effective, I used the option to report the post as intellectual property. If the person had responded with an apology or at least an acknowledgment of the effect of her behavior, I probably wouldn’t have reported her.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m so sorry Abigail, especially since your work speaks of your personal experience. I get how you feel – to a certain extent – as I often have my online work stolen and used on other websites, including professional company websites. It’s very annoying.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. That is wrong and we learn it’s wrong in grade school. They should know better. You’re right to feel offended. That said, how awesome that your words were powerful enough that someone wanted to claim them…? Quite a compliment, though offensively executed.

    Liked by 2 people

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