The advent of social media in these careers should theoretically add another layer of immortality to their career goals. But what we've seen is the scale get skewed in many different directions that still cater to the big guy and allow people with not-the-best-of-intentions to profit from the creativity and property of the little guy who may or may not have the types of connections that the "big guy" has.
I've said for awhile that being a "blogger" is a dying art form (yes, I do recognize the irony as I write a blog post on it myself). People are eager for all types of content, whether video, photos or microblogs. Short, sweet, to the point in this electronic day and age where opinions and info are plentiful, and so is attention deficit disorder. The blogs that we see with tons of traction or followers usually have a built in following, and many people who try to build their brand organically have to have an unusual mix of luck, timeliness...essentially, being at the right place at the right time.
Majoring in English literature and minoring in writing/journalism, I wrote a lot of papers, as one could imagine. I always erred on the side of caution by maybe including too many quotes and attributing my sources to as many as possible in my footnotes. I had a professor try to counsel me, but far it be for me to get expelled over something as simple as misrepresenting a quote or a source.
On social media, the only people who threaten your way of life by non-attribution or "plagiarizing" are the little guy. And people can always get away with stealing digital property by claiming they "didn't know" or that "I thought we were cool and that I could use it."
I learned my first lesson long ago when I started my baseball blog. I had a friend who had sent me a picture she had taken, and said if I wanted to use it, just be sure to give her proper attribution...which I did in a blog post. However, I posted it as a link on my site too, where it wasn't really clear that it was hers. She wasn't upset; she just pointed it out. I quickly fixed it. No harm, no foul. I was lucky we were friendly; I was relatively new to the blogosphere, and this could've been career suicide for me.
A few years ago, I noticed a fine line of attribution occurring on Twitter. Twitter reactions are very real-time based, and I've mentioned several times on this site that I am a sports nut. During a game, two people I follow (and I am actually very close with) had almost identical tweets, creating a name for a player in the process. Later that evening, a prominent analyst on a sports network used the same line in his report. Both of the tweeters (while I am sure they were not the only two who had used this moniker, it was just unique and very timely) mentioned that this reporter had taken their content.
I've had several people use my terms and wit, that I have repeated several times and use in my daily vernacular if I'm talking about my sports teams. Sometimes people give me credit; some don't. I am not trademarked. It shouldn't bother me. For the most part, it does not. But recently I've had "discussions" with people who claim they were the people who came up with a line that I'm sort of synonymous with. And I know this because each time I've used it, they were the first to say it was clever. Now they're taking credit for it. Since this is Twitter, unless you're immediately trademarking it or using it in other forums from long ago, it's your word against theirs.
|"The Fat Jew" Josh Ostrovsky had a fallout this week.|
Not so fast. A few days ago, several media outlets, comedians, improv artists and other creative types started lambasting Ostrovsky in the media, claiming that his memes and shared items are not his property and that he has made his empire on the backs of other comedians with zero attribution. Essentially, we are going back to writing term papers in college, but this time with social media. Attribution is important, and not crediting the proper creator is akin to plagiarism. Except you cannot be expelled from the real world. (The worst that happened was a creative deal with Ostrovsky was apparently pulled from Comedy Central, though both sides claimed this fell through before the creative accusations were happening). The only claim he's had in the past with people claiming he stole their creative property was that an intern must have gotten it, or he simply "forgot."
With great power comes great responsibility. And regular Joe Schmoes like Ostrovsky are all of a sudden given a boatload of power in social media. And unfortunately, it translates into real dollars lost for those whose creative property is stolen without attribution.
I've seen this first hand in sports blogging. I've seen regular guys come to great power by creating online products that fans use religiously. Yet, if the owners of these sites are called into question with unethical practices, they'll use the same excuses thrown around by Ostrovsky, either blaming an intern, promising to take down the questionable item on their site, or using the phrase, "I'm just a fan like you" (meanwhile, they make money off the same fan machine their passions do). Meanwhile, with great power, the responsibility of appeasing someone who does not have same power they do is not something they prioritize. "Regular fans" do not have the back-up of millions of fan followers or more back-up in the form of profits that the people they steal creative works from do.
A passionate baseball fan and photographer I know who travels a lot to different stadiums has had several run-ins with powerful figures in the social media universe. She is very gracious about posting her work via social media forums; however, very recently she has taken to task several of their influences when they've taken property of hers and have redistributed it without proper attribution.
This has happened several times, and because of the influence of the user, her work was recirculated without her permission or credit to the original author. And as we all know through social media, it becomes very much like that old school shampoo commercial. "I told one person, and they told one person...and so on, and so on and so on!" It gets tough to give original attribution, and then we have cautionary tales like Josh Ostrovsky.
|And so on, and so on, and so on...(source: old shampoo commercials)|
For the original poster, it becomes a question of misappropriation, which happened to my baseball buddy.
As for the likes of Josh Ostrovsky or the powerful members of the sports social media whom I know, they'll walk away scot-free without a care in the world. Ostrovsky's scandal even got him MORE air time on the Today show, where he said he was going to make things "right." The reality is, he's barely lost any followship, and I'm sure his likeness will not disappear from the billboards that get his name around.
I'm not sure there is a reasonable and workable solution for this right now because the numbers on the Web are certainly larger than we can ever imagine. I'm a big believer that we should be a little more kind to each other, and the Internet has certainly served as a way for people sitting in their underwear in their mom's basement to grow a set of virtual balls that allows them to say things they'd never ever say in real life. Proper attribution is one way to do this. If I see a cool picture or funny meme, you better believe I'm going to be extra careful in giving proper attribution.
With great power comes great responsibility. That doesn't just occur in Peter Parker's world with his Uncle Benjamin, but when you realize a piece you are sharing doesn't necessarily belong to you, be sure to give credit where it is certainly due.
(And PS - it looks like Stan Lee might have pilfered that power/responsibility from somewhere else. How appropriate.)