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Write From Home
Kim Wilson
P.O. Box 4145
Hamilton, NJ 08610

E-mail: kim @ writefromhome.com

by Meredith Warshaw

It all started quietly enough. I got an e-mail addressed to someone I'd never heard of, whose name is nothing like mine (as opposed to the e-mails I occasionally get for Melvin Warshaw). I politely informed the sender that she had the wrong e-mail address and thought nothing of it. Until it happened again. This time, my curiosity was piqued. I wrote back and asked where the sender had gotten my e-mail address; he replied that it was on my Web site. When I asked for the URL, he sent me one that I'd never seen before.

A quick visit to the Web site showed me the problem. Somehow, my e-mail address had been put next to the site owner's name. I sent her a polite e-mail pointing out the problem and went back to work. After a while, I revisited the site and realized with a shock that the reason my e-mail address was there was because the site owner had copied my site and just made a few modifications. I'd been plagiarized.

I wrote to some friends, "If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then I should be flattered—but I don't. I feel violated." I'm sure that everyone who is plagiarized feels this way. We all work hard on what we write, and our words reflect ourselves. In my case, this was especially true since the plagiarist had copied my bio, just changing details but keeping the form and much of the wording. I kept thinking, "She's stealing my life!"

At first I was just in a state of shock. Then I got upset and angry; I felt almost the same way I'd felt when my apartment was robbed and when my car was stolen. Of course, thankfully, I didn't have to face the feelings of fear and loss of physical security. However, the other feelings were there—loss, disbelief, anger, mixed with annoyance at the time I'd have to spend dealing with this.

Unlike the previous robberies, I knew who the perpetrator was—I had a real person to direct my feelings at. It took a great deal of self-control to be calm and polite when dealing with the plagiarist, especially when her response to my initial e-mail was rather disingenuous: "Gee, there do seem to be some similarities—what a coincidence?" I knew that it was important to stay cool and rational, but at times that was not easy!

I was amazed (and gratified) by how furious my friends were. It actually helped me feel calmer, as if they were taking some of my anger and allowing me to be more level-headed. In addition to sharing their outrage, people sent helpful advice: copy the Web site, including the source code; print out copies to have a record; contact the plagiarist's Web host to ask them to remove the site. Friends even did the sleuthing to figure out who the Web host company was and how to contact them.

Eventually, the site was changed. The plagiarist never responded to my last e-mail in which I made it clear that I wasn't buying the "coincidence" line, but a few hours later I found that the site had been rewritten. It was a relief, though I also felt the slight letdown one gets after gearing up for a battle that never occurs.

Now that I have been plagiarized, my feelings about intellectual property theft have changed. While I always knew that plagiarism was wrong and should be avoided for reasons of honesty, I now understand that it damages people even when there are no financial repercussions. I did not lose any money when someone copied my page—no one was going to pay to read my brief biography—but the feelings were as strong as when I'd been robbed of valuable physical property. In some ways they were even stronger, since what was stolen was not just an object, but part of myself.

Meredith Warshaw is creator of the Uniquely Gifted Web site and a contributing editor for the 2e:Twice-Exceptional Newsletter.










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