“Never without my permission!”~ on consent, copyright and general good manners.

Never without my permission!”~ on consent, copyright and general good manners.

If you have ever seen the film The Fifth Element, you’ll remember the scene when Leelou, the beautiful alien “Supreme Being” is kissed when semi-conscious by Corban Dallas (Bruce Willis) and she responds by uttering a few words in her own language before kicking his ass all over the place. Those words, when translated by the character played by Ian Holme, mean, Never without my permission.

Consent is a big one, you know. Whether it’s for kissing, copulating or other things, it’s important. Most women (and some men) know what it’s like to have your consent ignored and even your right to consent/non consent disputed. But it goes beyond the physical. Intellectual property can be stolen, or misused, and that’s what I’m writing about today. I wanted to put into some context quite why it can be a huge deal for creatives to find their work used without their express consent.

A number of times most years I get an email or a message, asking if such and such a piece from this blog might be used for something. Sometimes it’s for a magazine, sometimes for a website. My answer is generally a positive one, asking only that my full name and my blog details be included, and that the piece is not altered in any way. I don’t ask for a fee; what I tend to hope is that the person asking will have the good will to perhaps buy a book or something of that sort. I don’t ask that they do, but I would have thought that common decency would suggest that there is a gentle quid pro quo involved. After all, they have been allowed to use my work for no money changing hands.

However, having recently discovered that a piece of poetry has been used and set to music, I was concerned. I had not been asked before it was done. I’ve had a poem set to music before; the Celtic Podcast Show asked me if they could do so, and I agreed. The Winter Queen was beautifully performed and the correct credits given, so all was well. But they asked BEFORE they did so, not after. It’s far better to seek permission than ask for forgiveness.

To some this might seem foolishness on my part, to be bothered by this. Perhaps it is. However, I sincerely doubt that anyone would nab a poem by Mary Oliver and do something with it, because the likelihood is they would find themselves in the hottest of waters and be lucky to get away with just a cease and desist notice. Because I am not a big name in the world of poetry does not mean I can be treated like I don’t matter, simply because I would not have the means (financial or emotional) to pursue breaches of copyright. Some would argue that I shouldn’t care because it’s exposure. Yes, sure, if they have included my name, perhaps there is some benefit possible. But it’s actually quite limited. Imagine a hundred people heard a poem performed. How many will actually register the name of the poet, go home, look up that poet and start to follow their work? And what if the poem had been changed to suit the musical needs or the philosophical stance of the performers? It’s a very thin line indeed.

Creative artists have a hard enough time of it anyway; theft on the internet is rife. That’s one reason why I have the No Pinning badge on the side bar. When Pinterest first popped up, I soon found several photos of mine from here had been nabbed, posted on Pinterest (admittedly, there’s a route back to here) and they’d put their own spin on the pictures. I don’t do searches for my name and my work because I’d die of exhaustion sending out cease and desist notices, I suspect. From time to time I know some school somewhere has been setting homework asking for “A poem on X,Y,Z” because that pops up on the search terms section of the blog dashboard. That’s one reason I’ve put up far less of my own original poetry and fiction here, because it’s unprotected.

Too many writers are getting so heavily discouraged by lack of sales, lack of reviews, general lack of interest, being pirated, that they have given up. To get a book out there one needs at some level to consider return of investment, even if, like me, they don’t consider themselves to be business men or women. I’ve had to stall my next collection of poetry because I realised it needed to be reformatted, and the back matter needs rewriting. It needs rewriting because I had included a short quote (well within fair usage policy guidelines) from Mary Oliver; I then realised to use such a quote on the back matter or in the blurb is dishonest. It misleads, implying that she has somehow endorsed the book. In fact, that short quote was a flashpoint that inspired one of the poems in the book, but even so, I cannot use it or her name like that. But because I have little energy to spare, this project is completely stalled. It’s frustrating because the business with the poem set to music suggests that someone (or many) loves my poetry but didn’t have the understanding needed to actually ask me before they did what they did. It’s not as if I am hard to find. There’s a contact me page at the top of the blog header; I have a Facebook author page. It means I have even less incentive to publish poetry or short fiction here, even less incentive to go through the work involved in getting a book together, because it would seem somepeople are happy to read, to “borrow” but are reluctant to support a poet in one of the ways that will keep them writing (buying a book, reviewing, telling others are just a few)

I wrote a poem today, too. But I won’t be sharing it any time soon.

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17 thoughts on ““Never without my permission!”~ on consent, copyright and general good manners.

  1. Hear, hear. Just an observation: I like your no pinning thing – but can I point out you have to scroll way past the end of the article to see it! Higher up on the sidebar might work better?

    • I did look but it seems more important now to have other things higher, since the no pinning thing is advisory and not more than that. There’s only so many things one can put at the top and one needs to prioritise.

  2. I share your pain. My books keep popping up on free book sites all the time. My publisher says that there is very little I can do about it. Most people would not walk into a bookstore, pick up a book and walk out, so why is stealing my book online okay, and not considered in the same light?

  3. It is an ongoing issue… I do find myself boggling at the number of apparently honest, nice people who feel it’s FINE to go onto pirate sites and read the books offered there for free. Thank you for sharing this issue.

    • I know what you mean. People are…entitled, I think. “I want it to I’ll take it,” is the order of the day for most. *head desk*

      • Yes… I think most artists feel much the same way at this HUGE blind spot people have about books, music, photographs, paintings, etc.

  4. It is theft, simple as that. And you have every right and reason to be angry. At the very least common decency says ask first and they did not do that.

    • What is worrying is that lacking a conscience here may indicate a lack of it elsewhere. Most do behave well and with respect. The few that don’t are driving creatives to give up.

  5. Well said, Viv! I always credit pictures, attribute quotes, am careful not to use anything in a way that implies endorsement if that wasn’t the writer’s intention. If we make something visible, that doesn’t mean we’ve invited people to take it. I wouldn’t dream of taking a picture or quote I wasn’t entitled to use. – any more than I would uproot a plant from someone else’s front garden. As you say, it’s basic manners. But some people just don’t see it that way.

    • I know of folks who will nick stuff from a front garden like that; my neighbour alerted me to someone doing that to ours a while ago. They came along and simply took a plant.
      I generally now only use my own pictures (either photos or paintings) on my blog because I know I have a right to use those and don’t need to worry about getting it wrong. I am still feeling upset about the recent incident but my emails remain unanswered and I don’t have the energy to fight more.

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