Recently someone I had never heard of before emailed me with the information that a poem which I had written in the 80s and which was published in 1996, had been plagiarized by a guy named Scott Ransopher. After a bit of googling, I found Mr. Ransopher's websites which numbered about half dozen. Sure enough, my poem, and hundreds of others from various poetry anthologies were listed on his sites with Mr. Ransopher's personal copyright. At first I was kind of angry - not real angry because I don't do poetry contests and rarely doodle with poetry at all anymore. Yet, there it was, my poem on his site with his name ...
Poems are just words. You know those common things that we use everyday. We all speak them, we all semantically are similar in our use of them. Poems are just words; words arranged in the cadence of an individuals voice: from experience, loss, exploration or longing. Poems are personal expressions of deep feeling that can often not be voiced in 'polite company'.
My poetry is no different; it matters not the subject of the poem, whether it be about a long lost cat, a mother, a father, a child, a lover ... My poems are just words. Cut the poem up in pieces so each word is on a separate piece of paper, toss those pieces of paper into the air and watch them come down and land in a pile of - just words.
The plagiarizm was extensive. One entire list of poems was the full contents of a book called "American Voices, Summer 1996" and published by Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum, Inc. Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum is no longer in business. They ran competitions for poetry; many poets entered, few actually 'won'. Those that won were featured poets in the lovely hardcover book. Those that did not win were offered publication for a sum of money. All poets who had work included in the book had to pay for the book. They were also offered space for a biolgraphy and photo. Since my poem was not new, and didn't really mean much as far as value, I did not have to pay to be published as it 'won' and was publised for nothing. Not being into vanity publishing, I did not opt to included my biography or photo. Sparrowgrass Poetry Forum actually went out of business due to a variety of reasons, one being that they could not get enough people to pay for what is known as 'Vanity Publishing'. My suspicion is that they compiled another anthology which in the end they could not pay to print. If they had collected money to do the publishing, and they did not publish, they would have earned the title of scam artist.
The anthology my poem was included in contained a lot of bad poetry. It contained some very good poetry too, but most of it was amateurish and even incuded the poetry of children. Children do not write professional poetry - does this give you an idea of the over all quality of the verse?
Enter Scott Ransopher, alledgedly an adult male, who has taken the poems, one by one, and in the exact same order they were printed in, has typed them all into a document which he then uploaded to his websites and copyrighted as his own.
In the amount of time it took him to type them all out (the publication in question was not online, therefore not available to a copy/paste function), Mr. Ransopher could have written very bad poetry of his own. Instead he stole the words of children, of grieving lovers and parents and children. Of the faithful, the bereaved owners of pets, the people who stand in wonder of nature ... All of these words - which expressed the many life experiences of the authors - and he stole their words.
While this entire thing was happening, I refused to even type this pathological humans name online. I was dead set about giving him any more exposure than I was sure he would already be getting. It is a week later and in the span of 7 days, Mr. Ransopher's own thieving voice has been silenced. I must say that the response from everyone other than Too Big To Care Yahoo was amazing. The number of other poets, ePublishers, editors, professors, and others that came out in defense of copyright was astonishing. And through it all, with careful consideration, Mr. Ransopher did not glean one bit of publicity that could be deemed useful to his purpose.
Many people speak of the internet as a vast wasteland of stay at home, introverted, shy people. Yet what I have found can almost be divided into two groups. True movers and shakers and then the stay at home subterfuge people. It is difficult at first to tell who is going to fall into what category. Believe this: the internet is full of some pretty amazing people as well as some pretty petty people. And I am lucky to have met more of the former than the later.
If you are a poet, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself.
One thing is to copyright your work and register it with the Library of Congress. The easiest way to do this is to accumulate enough work to make a chapbook, which can then be registered as one item. It doesn't matter whether you are registering a book, or a piece of haiku. The cost for registering something is $10.
If you write short stories, always register them. Especially if you are going to enter them into contests and competitions.
If you are a visual artist, always mark your work with a copyright.
There are websites devoted to copyright issues for the USA. And copyright is not the same around the world. If you live in or work in another country, check with an attorney or a copyright website to find the laws regarding copyright. You can use a search engine to check for the copyright laws in your country; Google has innumerable articles listed about copyright law in the USA and around the globe.
And frequently check the internet for your work. Goggle yourself, your poem's title, the title of a story, the name of anthologies ... Goggle away until your fingers hurt.
Don't' let anyone steal your words, your experiences or the expressions of your soul