Lawyers Using Bots to Hassle Busy People, or: How I had to waste time giving myself permission to quote and paraphrase myself, really

It’s all just so bleepin’ INSANE.

Here’s the deal. Two, no three, years ago a buddy of mine, who shall nameless so he’s not associated with this mini-quagmire, asked me to contribute a chapter to a book he’s editing on a subject near and dear to me. Fine. Glad to. So, over a year ago I put some of my work in progress online at The Valve, a group blog where I have privileges, in order to get feedback on my ideas.

Which I did. Thank you very much, interwebs.

Time goes by, I turn in my final chapter. My buddy likes it, his editor likes it. And then the publisher sends some bots out on the web to compare text in their book-in-progress to whatever’s on the web. What happens? My chapter gets flagged because, hey! some of my prose is out there on the web.

And you know why some of the prose in my chapter is out on the web you clueless bot-masters? Because I put it there! That’s why.

Anyhow, my buddy sends me a note explaining the situation and asking me to send him a note explaining that, yes, I put that stuff out there on The Valve. Here’s my exact message: “Some of the prose in my [name redacted to protect the innocent] chapter first appeared online at The Valve — where, for example, I’m quoting [some worthy]. So I’m just re-using my own prose.”

My buddy passed that on to his handlers and we figured that was the end of it. But, no, not good enough. His handlers got back to him, this time with the very passages the bots had swiped from the web.

Now I had to read those very passages and swear on a stack of virtual Non-denominational Multi-cultural Sacred Books that each and every one of those words were mine and I wrote them both on The Valve and in my book chapter. Really and truly in the names of a Supreme Force in the Universe Including Intelligent Quantum Fluctuations and Digital Devices, yes, the prose is mine.

Thus I swore. So it is.

And, you know what? They accepted my word. This time. But next time, who knows?

What I’d like to know is just why it even got back to me. After all, my name is on my posts. But, I suppose the Bill Benzon on those posts could be some other Bill Benzon, you know, the one from alternative universe sigma epsilon 37,901 delta delta. When my editor buddy sent me the suspicious passages there was no name attached. Maybe the bot didn’t return with names, just prose.

Well, why the BLEEP! not? Is it so hard to program a bot to do that? Would it be so hard for someone to check the name of the passages delivered up by their bot? Maybe someone checked and they didn’t believe their eyes. Maybe they did believe their eyes, but just had to make sure that we’re all in the same universe, the one where the land of the free and the home of Tang (a benefit of the Apollo moon shots dontcha know) has insane copyright laws.

Maybe they’re under orders to do meaningless ritual acts so as to appease the restless spirit of Sonny Bono that’s wandering around in the ether just waiting for an opportunity to materialize and tell someone that it wasn’t his idea, it was the diminutive rodent with the cheeky attitude and the greedy corporate daddy (who’s a person, dontcha know) that did it.

Originally published on QuestionCopyright.org.

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1 Comment

  1. You think that’s bad? When I was in university, I had a personal website where I posted my essays (and my short stories, and my paintings…). To streamline the process, I was in the habit of posting my essays as soon as I finished them, which was sometimes before I even handed them in.

    One day, after class, a professor asked me if I could talk to him in his office. He said that he hadn’t reported me yet because he wanted to get my side of the story first, but he had googled some of my essay and found an identical copy online.

    Now, where I really went wrong was that I rarely post online with my real name, so I had a rather tough time proving that the poster was actually me. I ended up having to log in to my server dashboard to prove to him that the website was mine and, therefore, I hadn’t stolen the essay.

    Crisis averted, he believed me, all was well with the universe. But imagine if he’d gone straight to the dean? I could have easily ended my academic career then and there. I did learn my lesson and, from then on, only posted my essays after the course was over.

    But it is tricky business!


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