This is not okay

I discovered an e-course today that has used parts of my Unravelling course description in its own – some sentences have been changed to fit with the theme of the course, but other sections has been copied word-for-word. Full sentences of mine have been lifted. I have emailed the creator of the course and am hopeful we can get this resolved – I asked that this person rewrite their text to remove the Unravelling parts.

Here’s the thing: all this has made me really sad today because this isn’t the first time it has happened. I’ve seen my uncredited images all over the place and just let that go, but when it comes to the courses I feel I need to take action. Each time I have had to check in with myself to make sure I wasn’t being over-sensitive, but when whole chunks of my work are taken and used by another it really gets me down. I actually don’t think this particular instance was done with any bad intentions – just unthinking – but i am still disappointed.

I know what it’s like – you’re creating a course and you look to others’ work to help in the brainstorming of your own idea. When I was changing my real-life evening class into an online format I knew of only one other online class at that time; i didn’t take the class but I did check out the website and made sure that the words i used on my own site were markedly different. Because I wanted my course to be MINE, and not a watered-down version of someone else’s work. Authenticity and integrity are extremely important to me. I understand how easy it is to cut’n’paste a chunk of text from a website, change a few words et voila! A page of text is written. But it hasn’t come from your heart – it came from mine.

Finding our own voice and creative path takes time. It’s taken me YEARS; a lifetime, really. As I work on my book I’m making a point of not reading any books about creativity/memoir/inspiration because i don’t want the rhythm of my words to mimic someone else’s. I’m trying to keep my head as clear as possible to ensure my words have room to breathe and be themselves, keeping my ear tuned to my story and not another’s. At times this is frustrating as there are some new books I’m dying to read! But for now I’m sticking with poetry and business books (how’s that for a combination?)

Marisa and I are looking forward to finally starting work on our guide next week, and I really hope that the info we share will be useful to anyone who’s putting a course together. We have so much we want to talk about, and I know that authenticity and honouring our own voice will be one of the key topics we’ll tackle. I’m also pushing forward with the series of Blogging Beautifully workshops I mentioned a while back – photography and writing will be covered and I’m hoping this is another way I can give back to the blogosphere. Stringing words together isn’t always easy, so i’m going to share my best tips and ideas – I reckon they’ll be useful for writing e-course descriptions too :)

* UPDATE: I received an emailed apology and the text has been changed, so everything is okay now. Thanks for all your support, loves x

41 responses
  1. Jade Sheldon

    I am so very sorry: having your words, your images, you art taken is so violating. You keep on being you and fighting for what is yours.

  2. Ruth

    I hope you get the issue resolved. I’ve had designs copied in the past and it hurts.

    I’m really looking forward to your new blogging course – it’s just what I need. :)

  3. Anne

    I know just what you mean and you are right to take a stand. Your words are your “self” in many ways and it is absolutely wrong for someone to pillage that from you (no matter how innocent it may have been in their mind). They are hurting you — and themselves, by depriving themselves of a chance to be authentic and discover their own voice. We are human beings. We create. We do not need to rely on successfully mimicking the good work of others but must be brave enough to try to make something of our own!

  4. Beth

    I know… is not okay. Somehow people think that writing, ideas and artist’s art are common goods, that anyone can use them without asking, without thinking. The greatest compliment is to be “asked” to provide art, supply words, to be credited for your hard work. People who have to “take, pilfer, grab” without permission are missing much more than the creativity they steal.

  5. Clara

    You’re absolutely right, Susannah. Such behavior is unacceptable, not to mention unethical and callous. I’m always amazed how someone who might not think of pilfering from a bricks & mortar shop feels perfectly comfortable stealing someone’s intellectual property over the Internet. Sending good thoughts on getting this matter quickly and successfully resolved.

  6. Debi

    This is NOT okay. And I hate it when someone says it’s the sincerest form of flattery. Maybe so, but it’s also theft.

  7. Coco & Lafe

    dozens of our original songs are on dozens of download sites without our permission. Plagiarism will get you kicked out of Harvard, theft gets you a prison of yours or someone else’s making. Some people just don’t think about it.

  8. tygerlotus

    First, I have taken quite a few e-courses in the past year or two, and very few have “stuck” with me. Why? Some just do not have great content, some do not have great connections with others, some have just not been ORIGINAL. I sometimes feel that the person running the course just isn’t the person who SHOULD be running it. Those make me uncomfortable. Why did I sign up? Perhaps because of wonderful text like yours…

    I’m going to say, though, that your Unraveling courses are excellent. I dropped the ball on this last one (seriously ran out of energy/time/etc.), but I’ve read the posts and listened to your videos, and you are inspiring in ways many only hope to be.

    It does make me sad to know people are lifting your words. They are deceiving anyone who might sign up for the course. These are the things that make me wary of signing up for any more e-courses! I hope those people don’t ruin it for all of those wonderful, original, and inspiring people out there (like you!).

  9. Amelia

    sorry to hear about this Susannah. It’s a tough one. I realise that as I work on the net there really is little protection in terms of copyright – work we put out there is also out there for the picking. I do hope you get it resolved. You are a great inspiration :)


  10. Shanon

    You are never being overly sensitive when it’s clear someone has stolen your words. Would it be considered overly sensitive for someone to be angry if they woke up one morning to find that someone stole their car? Or to find that someone dug up all the flowers in their garden?

    You are very generous to give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s not right, and they should know better.

    p.s. I’m pretty sure I want to live in that pink house. =)

  11. susannah

    me too :)

  12. Kelly Langner Sauer

    I just had a similar experience recently. I do hope you can get it resolved. It gives such a sick feeling inside, doesn’t it?

    You are brave, putting you out here. I am learning that it is a letting go, a giving away, and others do not always give back; it is not always so safe as I would wish. But when others slam the door on their own inspiration, I feel slapped. So thank you for opening the door, for protecting yourself and for giving yourself.

    I love your work, and your sense of self. I know what you mean about authenticity. I don’t read others either.

  13. Abby Kerr

    Hi, Susannah —

    I’m moved by the graciousness of your response to this person who’s plagiarized you. A part of me wonders if some people don’t understand that simply swapping *their* name in for yours doesn’t make the work *theirs.* As a former indie retailer with a bit of a voice in my industry, I had a site and a blog that was frequently visited by other shop owners. Many of them came there to interact with me, and a few times when I’d visit their sites in return, imagine my surprise to find copy from my site *heavily* approximated and sometimes downright duplicated from mine! And I was someone they went out of their way to *interact* with! As if I wouldn’t notice that they’d ripped off my words at some point!

    As I saw in someone’s Tweet yesterday, they can copy your features but they can’t copy your soul.

    I’m hoping this person cops to what she did, expresses remorse {although when I emailed the shop owners to let them know I’d seen the plagiarism and asked them to change it, 100% of them blamed it on “the girl who set up their website for them,” although not a one of them had a site design credit anywhere to be found} and agrees to change her content remarkably so that it bears no resemblance to yours. Let us know what happens.

    — Abby

  14. Nicola

    What really struck me about this was the contrast between your generosity in being willing to share your experiences with aspiring e-course creators and the small mindedness of someone who would steal your work. And what would it get them anyway? So many of us are inspired by you and what you have achieved but the point of it is that it is so personal. To walk the same path we need to find our own inspiration. Anything else is just continuing make ourselves small. I pity them that they don’t get it but I’m also mad at them for wasting their opportunity to do something authentic. Ah well…..

  15. DawnS

    That is SO not ok. It seems like it’s happening more & more lately…it’s very sad. I retweeted this article a few weeks ago about this subject:

    On a brighter note, I can’t wait to hear more about your new “Blogging Beautifully” workshop…sign me up!

  16. Angie

    Trust your feelings – it’s so upsetting because they did a very bad thing! I hope it gets resolved and that they stop being so unoriginal and underhanded (not great credentials for somebody wanting to teach others)!

    You rock! They do not rock.

  17. Sylvia

    This is one of the scary/sad things about putting yourself, your words and your images online. Eventually, someone comes along and disregards copyright, and common decency. I hope you can get it resolved to your satisfaction. Some of my favourite photographers has taken to only uploading smaller watermarked images, which is a shame for the rest of us who admire the work.

    I think the internet has changed perceptions about what is “public domain” over the past decade. I’ve seen newspaper articles where information has been taken word-for-word from wikipedia!

    I look forward to reading more about this e-course though; finding the right balance between words and photos has been difficult in my little corner of the universe.

  18. Thursday

    This is so wrong to lift someone’s work. You’ve clearly put so much effort, heart and soul in to what you’ve created, to see someone pass it off as theirs must be ghastly.
    I’d rather the blue house :)

  19. Karen D

    It looks like there is a magical beam of light coming from that pink house.
    You are an original and though people might try to use your words they can never be you..

  20. leonie

    babe, that totally sucks. i remember having conversations with you about this before and i am pleased that you are doing all that you can to ensure your work isn’t stolen, or to deal with anyone who thinks it’s okay to do so.

    i think too that anyone who thinks creating an e-course is “an easy way to make money because they’re so popular right now” really needs to have a long hard think about what they are motivated by. my concern is that they will not be teaching from a place of integrity and that you (and others who do) will be tarred by the same brush.

    but then again, your reputation is awesome. because you are. because you live this stuff and as you teach it you also learn it over and over and over again.

    a pox on anyone who steals from you. like you say, you have lived those words and breathe your own life into them and they will NEVER have the same power when stolen and used by anyone else.

  21. Brandy

    That is awful to hear Susannah. I hope it doesn’t get you too down. It is unfortunate that some people just don’t get it, but don’t worry karma will catch up with them.
    Keep being amazing!

  22. Heather

    I am so sorry to hear about that.. I think that is not acceptable, I just launched an online workshop that I have been working on for months, so I know how much work and how much of your heart can go into it. I took your amazing unravelling workshop, in the midst of still creating mine, I had been wanting to take it since last year when I read about it ;-D I was most certainly inspired by your course, but would not lift anything from it as I would never want someone to do that to me. People have to learn the line from being inspired by and where to leave that.. And do not worry you wont see any feet shot assignments in my course ;-D Though if you look at my personal photos now there are lots, thanks to you! I hope that when you contact this person this situation can be resolved in a calm and good manner.. And remember no matter what, you bring something to the course that nobody else could ever duplicate.. yourself , fully and completely.

  23. bella

    oh, babe…. so sorry to hear this happened again.

    this is such a common thing in the blog world and on the internet- entire identities have been stolen and impersonated – and it is absolutely not right! posers.

    sending you love. xo

  24. sas

    poetry and business books make for a wicked combination x

  25. jennifer r

    I’m sorry to hear this happened again Susannah. It made me sad to hear it, but I know you’re an original and authentic and your voice always rings so.

    I never properly thanked you for my copy of the redesigned (pretty!) unravelling course guide. I’ve been bad, bad, bad and didn’t finish on my own from last summer as I’d planned so I’ve decided to restart from the beginning with your beautiful class.

    you’re one-of-a-kind doll…stay sexy ;)

  26. Zarina Ávila

    It really is unfortunate that this happens … Abby tells how, we must make it known and to have this deal with this disappointment that the essence of people may not be copied, and in that sense you are unique. Thanks for your blog! is truly inspiring!

  27. Alexis

    I’m so sorry! Who does something like that?

  28. jane

    i am sad that someone had to have the lack of integrity to impinge on your creation like that….honouring your integrity to go in and sort it out!!!

  29. Jude

    So sorry to hear! It’s sad when people can’t find their own voice :( Glad you got an emailed apology, but I would’ve felt the same as you.

  30. Charlane Killough Griffith

    i came in after the fact but i’m so glad that it was all resolved with the best of everything. xo

  31. Tina

    sorry to hear this happened to you, I know how hard you work on your e courses and how important they are to you. glad to hear you have gotten an apology and the issues has been corrected, but still, people should knew better.

  32. Shell

    I’m glad you got an apology. Seriously, people need to trust their own creative gifts and do from their own minds. Instead of stealing.

    You did right and bravo for standing up for yourself and your creative work.

  33. steve birkbeck

    All I need is an address and I can send the boys round! Big love Pappa Bear xxx

  34. Ingrid

    i’m so sorry, love. glad it has been resolved.

  35. susannah

    LOL!!!! xox

  36. Danya

    This is a distressing situation! And I know how you feel. Once, some notes that I had generated as part of a training course I presented were presented back to me (on a different occasion, by people from the same company) as if they’d been written by someone else – a bizarre and galling experience.
    My boyfriend and I were talking about this very situation recently, triggered by a perceptive sentence in a novel we had both read. I’ve just asked him, and he thinks it was in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna; I don’t have the copy of the book right now, but it goes something like this: It’s much easier to take and then apologise afterwards than it is to ask permission first.
    I don’t think ‘taking’ is acceptable in any case, unless the originator or creator has given permission for the material to be reproduced. And the person who ‘took’ your words affixed a judgement to them – they thought your words were better than theirs. This goes to show how significant and valuable language is as a method of conveying our distilled thoughts, rather than being simply a tool of communication.
    Good for you for resolving the issue amicably.

  37. Gwyn

    So glad this was resolved. You are an inspiration!

  38. Catherine Just

    I am so sorry to hear this. it’s upsetting to me on many levels as well. I am figuring out my own workshops and e-courses as well and I am finding my voice and what is REALLY me and not what I WISH was me. I’m so proud of you for standing up for yourself and sharing how you felt with the people who took your words and course ideas. I feel fear when I post any photos on my blog, website, and flickr oh and facebook too. But I keep sharing my work as I love it when people share their work with me. I think it keeps the lines of communication and creativity open and I know you feel that way too.
    It’s tricky isn’t it. xoxoxooxox

  39. Dawn

    You are so creative and I do understand people coming to you for inspiration for their own courses…. But whole segments of your writings and not using their own pictures is fraud and very bad karma. Good think you found out about it.
    I understand your sadness unfortunally so many people are unevolved and go through life unconscious. Blessings Dear!

  40. Lucent Imagery

    Your post is so elegant and written with such a level-minded attitude. I’m not sure I would be writing quite so well amidst the anger of learning my creation was copied.

    It is so sad that as a relatively new blogger, I am reluctant to let myself go in sharing myself or my images due to knowing things like this do happen more than they should.

    It does make me wonder two things… are there many other bloggers out there who hold themselves back for this reason?

    And also, what are the younger generations learning at school? Is the importance of copyright no longer drilled into their heads as it was in my secondary education some 11+ years ago? Whilst I accept that new technologies present new issues such as copyright and speed of dissemination, the principle of something being created by someone else, to me, is still very clear.

    Thank you for sharing Susannah.

  41. Shannon

    I seriously don’t get it! In college there were entire classes devoted to following copywrite & to properly giving credit & references!

    I do know that in high school it was actually acceptable for students to copy information off the internet. & I know the teachers knew what was going on. Is that where this problem starts? In the high schools?

    I put a watermark on all my pictures, so the referencing is done for them!!! I WANT them to repost my pictures and share share share!!!

    But what I love is when they CROP out my watermark.

    Amazing. Seriously????

    I don’t understand why copywrite is not common knowledge!

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