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When Strange Things are Afoot at the Circle K…

This weekend I learned a little lesson on what to do if you feel that your work has been copied without your permission.
On Saturday, I received an email from Copyblogger’s Brian Clark, telling me that he enjoyed MBToolBox’s riff on his post ’5 Signs Your Blog Post is Going Horribly Wrong.’ Also, he wondered what my thoughts were on the fact that a post identical to mine was up on a blog at the UK Telegraph–minus attribution or a link.
I looked at the site and was confused–it definitely was my post, including identifying features like the fact that I live in Chicago and listen to the White Sox on the radio. However, I was convinced that I was missing something, but I double, triple, quadruple checked the post and then realized that, yep–that was my work but without my name on it.
I was perturbed but don’t like to be known for being a jerk. So I addressed the source directly–blogger Melissa Whitworth. If it was an accident, I wanted to give her the chance to correct it rather than creating a total sh*tstorm by contacting her editors and threatening legal action. So I sent the following email:

Hi Melissa,
I’m very flattered that you picked up this blog post of mine:

http://www.mediabistro.com/mbtoolbox/writing_online/5_signs_your_blog_post_is_going_horribly_wrong_42442.asp

for your blog–your pickup was pointed out to me by Brian Clark from copyblogger (who I was linking to and refererencing.) http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/society/melissawhitworth/aug06/blogging.htm
I was wondering if you would mind please putting up a link to mbtoolbox.com indicating where you got the post from–I would appreciate it very much. It would be great to get the traffice and the credit.
Thanks for your time! Let me know if you have any questions.
Best,
Claire Zulkey
www.mbtoolbox.com

I copied my mb editors on this email too, as a heads up to them, and also to give them all the relevant information in case anything further did need to be done, legal-wise. While I did have a first inclination to start jumping around, making a big deal (that’s what happens when you have a lawyer for a father), I knew that that wasn’t my job–it would be taken care of if and when it was necessary.
In the meantime, some other blogs picked up the story and it turned into an interesting discussion about plagiarism and newspapers vs. blogs. Also, never missing a chance to cross-promote, I did a little tongue-in-cheek post on the situation over at my other site.
Yesterday the Telegraph had taken down the offending post, which was one way of handling the situation but didn’t exactly address the issue. Finally, yesterday afternoon I received a cordial email from Melissa apologizing for the mistake–which she then blogged about.
So, in the end it was a sh*tstorm in a teacup, albeit one that I think still yields some interesting discussion about plagiarism and the ethical reputations of blogs versus newspaper (or newspaper blogs.)
In the end, though, I am glad I have no regrets with the way I handled it. Mistakes happen, and if I were in Melissa’s shoes, I would rather somebody give me the benefit of the doubt than jump right in threatening legal action. So, as with all delicate situations in journalism, it helps to start at low, polite tones and save the screeching and threats for later on–or else you’ll never have anything to work up to.*
*I am paraphrasing from the excerpt I read from Camilla Morton’s How to Walk in High Heels in the latest Vanity Fair. It would be funny if I got called on plagiarism in this post. Not incredibly funny, though.

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