Friday, April 13, 2012
How theft by newspapers affects professional writers
guest essay by Lawrence Gooley
I make my living selling what I write and publishing books for others as well. If you have a job, your healthcare, gas money, mortgage, heating, electricity, phone, internet, TV, groceries … all of it and more comes from your paycheck. My “paycheck” comes from stories and books that I sell. I create each one and have to sell each one.
Many of my stories appear in full or are excerpted on Adirondack Almanack and NY History Blog as per my agreement with those entities, and those works also appear as chapters in my books. My recent book, Adirondack & North Country Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love, is an example, containing 51 of my original works. Before summer, I’ll be releasing a similar collection of true murder stories. When those stories appear online, it is not for public reuse. It is copyright protected material, and is my livelihood.
A few years ago, I exchanged emails for two months with a newspaper editor (representing several newspapers and editors). The discussion was about hiring me to write history stories for their publications on a weekly basis. They reviewed samples and expressed great interest (and I retain copies of those communications). However, in the end, the economic downturn was given as the reason they couldn’t hire at that time.
Recently, two of my pieces in their entirety appeared in those same newspapers, both in print and online. My name is mentioned with the articles, but there were no links to me in the online version and there was no other mention of my input. Nothing … just “by Lawrence P. Gooley.” I received no payment, and wouldn’t even know I had been “robbed” had I not found it myself by searching online. The editor obviously knew that Lawrence P. Gooley had not sent them that article for publication, and they in fact include mention of the person who sent it to them. Due diligence, and it’s quite simple, is to contact the author. His name, after all, was on the piece. In this case, the person who alerted them to the piece received as much credit as the actual author who did all the research and writing.
In an instance like that, I’ll contact the source, explain my position, and open the possibility of paying me. If that doesn’t work, I’m prepared to go to small claims court, where I will present the evidence and ask for damages encompassing payment for the article, PLUS the time required to communicate in sometimes lengthy emails, and the cost of gas to travel back and forth to court. I often work 12-18 hour days, and time is money. Dealing with theft of materials carries a financial cost for me.
Taking my material for their own use is no different from taking $200 out of my wallet. It is my work, and considerable expense is involved in producing it, including memberships to a number of newspaper archives, genealogical sites, and history sites. For one story, often 50 or more sources provide bits of information, after which the story has to be composed and written professionally. It’s then up to me to market, sell, and protect my work, a very time-consuming and difficult process.
I have three such cases to deal with at the moment. I’ve worked at various jobs over the years, and this is nothing different than someone else getting paid for work that they did not do. What’s worse is that often the people doing this are writers and editors, the very people who are fully aware that it is wrong and illegal. They KNOW a particular piece is not theirs, but decide to take it anyway, and it is used in their publication for financial gain, whether by selling the newspaper or selling advertising. There’s a word for that: theft. Sometimes it’s called “an accident,” which actually means the editor didn’t bother to check the source. In my case, I’m pretty easy to find. In other cases, it’s intentional, which is just plain wrong.
Lawrence Gooley operates Bloated Toe Enterprises, offering book publishing and web design, and features the North Country Store, an online vendor of regional books and other products. An award-winning author, he will soon release his eleventh book, and is a weekly contributor to the Adirondack Almanack and New York History blogs.