West Orange's Continual Lack of Grasp
About Copyrights

Here We Go Again

Once again, I've encountered copyright problems.

In this day and age, the assumption by the general public would be that the problems originated in China or Russia since, in today's news, intellectual property theft seems to always arise in either of those two nations. But once again—just as every time before—those problems originated in my hometown. Such problems have been ongoing for 30 years. Over those past 30 years, these incidents have topped out at over one hundred and entail multiple lawsuits which have determined that I am entirely correct in my defense of my copyrights. Still, the repetitiveness becomes exhausting and I stop infringements immediately because allowing such things to continue creates a domino effect which puts my work in jeopardy.

As a professional artist and author, part of my toolkit is owning copyrights on my work so that I can control how that work is used and credit is properly given. Copyrights to an artist and an author are just that—tools. A carpenter has a variety of hammers and saws. A plumber has a variety of wrenches. An electrician has a variety of meters. Owning copyrights in no way makes an artist or an author think that he is any better than anyone else just as a carpenter or a plumber or an electrician doesn't think he is any better than anyone else just because he owns specific tools. If any person considers that copyrights make an artist or an author "better", then the person doing such assessing surely has issues of self-esteem.

What copyrights do is establish an artist's and an author's ownership. That ownership stems from talent and hours upon hours of work to create the copyrighted product. To simply take that work without the common courtesy of asking and then making sure not to attribute the work to the person who created it, is theft plain and simple. It is protected by law. It's just the same as stealing someone's paycheck or jewelry or car.

I first learned about copyrights in fourth and fifth grades when we began writing research papers. It's an easy concept. You learn to ask permission, use quotation marks, and attribute the source—the person who did the original work. At nine and ten years of age, that made perfect sense to me and my entire class.

Just because you live or lived in my hometown, the products of my labors involving the history of that hometown does not mean you can use my work without the simple courtesy of asking. You'd be surprised how asking usually grants your wish. But if you want to hit a stone wall and all the obstacles involved with that, you take without asking permission.

I recently had such a theft occur from a high school class starting to organize their 40th reunion. All they had to do was ask and permission would have been granted. Instead, they took my material and got huffy when they were caught. Protecting or valuing another person's property is not in the mindset of my hometown. Because they didn't ask, I denied use of my material.

In response, I received an e-mail—anonymous, of course, and using a made-up e-mail address as though it couldn't be traced (warning: everything on the internet can be traced). This e-mail used the usual unintelligent approach of shifting the blame for the theft of my work to me because, apparently in this person's view, I thought who I was to actually own copyrights. Trying unsuccessfully to be humorous and condescending, this person's response was so deranged that my attorney informed me that if this ever became a court case, the first thing the judge would do was order a psychiatric examination of the person sending that e-mail. The most embarrassing thing about the childishly obnoxious e-mail was that it came from someone who was at least 57 years old. Properly, this all should have just begun as: "We're a class from your old high school planning our reunion. May we please use your material?" Instead, they are willing to expend energy waging an argument which they lost the nanosecond that they posted my material without permission.

My late agent, fellow authors, and even my attorneys have always wondered in amazement exactly what is wrong with the people in my hometown and why simple courtesy is so utterly beyond their grasp. Apparently, when one has talent, one is expected to have that talent seized and not credited by the vast majority who possess no talent. I'm sorry to say that I've never understood any of it so I can't explain it but I am always stunned at people's inability to say "please", "may I",  and "thank you". Those three phrases are a salve which can prevent all sorts of problems and grant all sorts of wishes.  


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