The High Cost of Copying & Pasting That Story on the Internet

pencilYou’re perusing the Internet when you spot it. An article that you just have to share with your friends. So you select all. You copy. Then you paste it onto your Facebook page for all your friends to see. So technically you’re sharing something that you didn’t write, but hey, the writer put it on the Internet and made it easy for you to copy, so it must be OK, right?

One day later, you’re in the grocery store when you spot it. A box of your favorite cookies, the cookies you just love to share with your friends. You grab the box and walk out without paying. So technically you’re taking something that you didn’t pay for, but hey, they put it on the shelves where you could access it, right?

Which of these scenarios doesn’t seem like something you’d do? I’m willing to bet everyone reading this was horrified by number two. It’s stealing; don’t I know that stealing is wrong?

As a matter of fact, I do. I know that stealing is wrong whether it’s a physical box of cookies or intellectual property.

Unfortunately, I seem to be in a minority in this country. Take some of the responses when I noticed someone had copied a recent column – in its entirety – and pasted it on the wall of a popular Facebook group. Because the column is typically hidden behind the newspaper paywall, and because it was pasted in its entirety and without a link back to its source, I politely asked that it be removed or at least cut down with a link provided to read the rest.

Many of the responses to my simple request were too colorful to share in a family newspaper. Others simply couldn’t see the problem, asking “whats [sic] the issue” and blaming the victim with comments such as, “you want money for copy and paste , [sic] then dont [sic] post on line [sic]

I wonder if I’d asked them about the box of cookies lifted from the grocery store what they’d say. What you would say? Would you ask “what’s the issue” if someone walked out of the grocery store with something they didn’t pay for?

And yet, copying and pasting of copyrighted material is rampant on the Internet because creative pursuits aren’t given the same weight by the general public as others. Pinterest is rife with photographs used without photographers’ permission. Entire websites are devoted to the ripping and sharing of songs.

And why?

Because intellectual property theft is largely seen as a victimless crime.

After all, when you’re taking a box of cookies from the grocery store, you have to skulk past the deli clerks and the cashiers who you know would be out of a job if all the food was given away for free. You rarely have the face the typesetter or the proofreader who would be out of one if a newspaper went out of business.

They are victims nevertheless. As are the writers, the editors, the secretaries, the billing clerks, and the dozens of other people who make a newspaper — or any other publication — run. We are people just like you who expect a paycheck every few weeks, who use that paycheck to hit the grocery store and pay for our cookies – and our milk, our eggs, our bread  – to feed our families.

But it’s getting harder for us to get those paychecks, harder because the Internet is rife with folks who think stealing cookies is bad but stealing content is, well, just doing what they learned to do back in kindergarten – sharing! But to quote the FBI’s website on intellectual property, “All told, intellectual property theft costs U.S. businesses billions of dollars a year and robs the nation of jobs and lost tax revenues.”

Yes, billions.

Another, more focused, statistic from the National Crime Prevention Council claims intellectual property theft costs our country $250 billion in lost revenue and 750,000 jobs … every year. And the Council of State Governments estimates the U.S. economy loses $58 billion each year to copyright infringement alone.

But you don’t think you’re a part of that, right?

You paid for your subscription to a newspaper, you say, just as you’d pay for a box of cookies and then share it? How is it not the same thing?

Because when you buy a box of cookies and share them, the cookies are eaten. The company still has a chance to sell you more cookies. Not so with intellectual property. There is no limit to its use, no final cookie to be eaten. It could — ostensibly — be passed on and on and on and on and on.

Hence, when you copy and paste something that was written by someone, edited by someone, posted to a website by someone, however, you are taking the hard work they did and passing it off as your own — for free — and removing their chance at getting paid for what they did. Maybe that pay will come in the form of subscriptions to get beyond a paywall. Maybe that pay will come in the form of clicks to a website which can then be leveraged to make advertising sales. Either way, once you take the property that doesn’t belong to you off of that site, you’re damaging their profitability. And when you damage profitability, you put jobs — and lives — at risk.

So next time you see something really great on the Internet, and you want to share it with your friends, think about this. The person who wrote it, the person who edited it, heck, the person who answers the phone at the place where it was written, they all have families to feed too.

So how about copying and sharing the link to their story instead of the whole thing? It’s really that easy …

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