|Image: stephanyfolsum.com Used with permission.|
The infinite monkey theorem doesn't have anything to do with what I'm going to blather on about here, but it makes me giggle and, if twisted a bit, I can make it fit.
I can't be bothered to look up the exact quote, but it is something along these lines:
"A monkey hitting keys on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare."
In this instance, I'd change it to read:
"A million bloggers hitting keys on a laptop for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type something similar."
I'm not naive. Nor am I full of myself. In the blogging world, there are many people who write about the exact same topics. You have your parenting bloggers, homeschooling bloggers, fashion bloggers, DIY bloggers. And each of those niches has smaller, more defined categories: single parenting bloggers, parents of multiples bloggers, special-need parent bloggers, plus-size fashion bloggers, budget-conscious fashion bloggers.You get the gist, right?
My little niche is divorce blogging. Divorce isn't the only topic I write about, but it is one I revisit frequently. Because I'm divorced and it has affected not only my life, but the lives of my kids. Five years ago, when I first started writing here, there weren't a ton of us. My favorite divorce/single parent blogger was Single Mom Survives. I loved reading her stuff because our stories were ickily (it's a word now, spellcheck) similar: husbands who left us for, and married, coworkers. Hers even got remarried on their old wedding anniversary date, which I was pretty sure had only happened to me. She's no longer writing (or Tweeting, I just discovered) which is a shame. I miss her.
Over the years, more blogs about divorce and what happens after divorce started popping up. When the editors at HuffPost Divorce reached out and asked me to write for them, I squealed with joy. Once immersed in that world, I was officially a Divorce Blogger. And I wasn't the only one. To quote Chandler Bing: "Doy".
We all write about the same things. Divorce, dating after divorce, parenting during and after a divorce, the financial aspect of it, etc. Being divorced can touch just about every facet of one's life, and boy do we like to write about it.
The thing is, while we may all write about the same topics, we all do so in our own voices. We have our own opinions, our own quirks. Our own style of writing. Our words are like fingerprints: uniquely ours. We are indeed special snowflakes. Special divorced snowflakes.
I recently stumbled upon an essay written by a fellow divorce blogger. It was divorce-related, and as it so happens, it was subject I've written about. One of the essays I wrote about this particular subject went on to become one of my more popular posts, both here and on HuffPost. Coincidence? Maybe. Then, as I read her post, I couldn't help but see the striking resemblance to the piece I'd written over a year ago. The cadence was almost identical. The flow was the same. There was even an exact turn of phrase used. It was like reading something I'd written, only not about my life. About somebody else and their life.
That brings us back to the monkey/bloggers. Sure, the other writer's post was very similar to mine. Including the title, yo. But, let's put ego and feels aside and remember: there are millions of people writing billions of words every single day. It was bound to happen. I wept upon the shoulders of a couple friends, friends who write and one who doesn't. They comforted me, they assured me I wasn't too off-base to think my words had been borrowed. I retreated into the bushes to lick my writery wounds and all the ragey water flowed under the blogging bridge.
Until I saw another article a few weeks later. Written by the same person. Covering the exact same topic I'd recently written about. She'd reworked it quite a bit, added a lot more flowery words and a few "mamas" here and there. But the bones of it were too close for comfort. Not only was the skeleton identical to the one I'd typed out a few weeks ago, but the message was a twin, too. Again, it was as if she'd read my words and then set out to rewrite them, rearrange them to her liking.
What was it George W. once misquoted? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...we won't get fooled again? Now I have to dig up that soundbite. God I miss that man's way with words. Anyway. What I was trying to say is this: one strikingly similar piece...yeah. Okay, it happens. And even if it was deliberate, what are you going to do about it? Go on the Blogger's Small Claims Court show and plead your case?
But twice? Two pieces, so very similar, by the same person? I call foul. And I also call plagiarism.
Look. I get it. You read something, it hits you, you're inspired to write about your own experiences. I do that ALL THE TIME. But the good thing, the right thing, the ETHICAL thing to do, is give the other person credit. Mention what you read and how it made you feel. Provide a link back to the person's site. Send a note or email to the author of the original piece, telling them how much you liked it and OMG you moved me to write about my life!
What you shouldn't do is read it, rework it just enough so it's not blatant stealing, and not only post it on your blog but submit it to a bigger site. Putting your name on it, presenting it to the world as something you created? I don't know how people can do that and look at themselves in the mirror. It's like cheating when you play Words With Friends. Yeah, you might win, but did you really?
It's a gray area, this blogging biz. We can make sure we put a blurb on our blogs, telling the world that these are OUR words and YOU can't steal them. But there is no way an idea can be copyrighted, is there? Imagine the red tape we'd have to swim through if one single person owned all the rights to the concept of blogging about any particular subject. It's like a jungle sometimes: it makes me wonder how...oops, sorry. Off on a Grandmaster Flash tangent. We're insane if we think anything we write about is truly original. But...how we write it is original.
When my kids were little and still in diapers, I confessed to a friend that in a crowd I was able to tell, by smell alone, if the source of a stinky odor was one of my little darlings. That's how intimate the relationship between a mother and child can be. The same goes for a writer, and their words. Gross analogy, I know. But it works.
Don't try to pass my shit off as yours. It's not cool, and I can smell it a mile away. A mama knows.
And now, for some comic relief, I will close with George and his quote.