Thursday, 13 January 2011

Detective Googling

I don't suppose I'm the only person on the internet who indulges in the guilty pleasure of Googling my own name every now and again. Actually, with a common name like mine it's fruitless merely to search under my own name. I tend to add one of my published titles, just to see what comes up.

I promise you, this is not just a vanity exercise, though I can't deny a frisson when there are a fair number of hits. I do it mainly to try and keep track of a) where my books and other works are being sold online and b) any reviews or snippets that I might have missed, as these can be recycled for promotional purposes. I've recently found a third level of usefulness in the activity, checking on unauthorised use of one's material.

A few weeks ago I was Googling specifically to check if one of my published plays was still in circulation. (I'm going to be deliberately vague on the details from now on as I think it would be unfair to point a finger too directly on a case of abuse that may have been accidental.) The search brought up a pdf document which, on opening, I found to my surprise contained a full reproduction of one of my one-act plays as part of a college examination paper. The college is not in the country where the play was published. The mystery deepened when I scrolled to the foot of the play to find my authorship fully acknowledged, but with reference to an anthology I had never heard of, published by an overseas branch of my original publisher.

My memory is pretty good, and my wife and partner in our writing business also keeps good records. Although the play was published quite a few years ago we still have records going back to that time. We could find no record of permission given either for the college examination paper or the publication referred to by the paper, and no record of fee paid for anything but the original publication in the UK, which did not cover overseas rights in a separate publication.

My next step was to contact the Rights department of my original publisher with all the information I had discovered relating to the college use and the overseas publication. In fairness, my publisher was promptly on the case, I was kept informed about the progress of the investigation, and eventually contacted by the individual dealing with the issue in the overseas office. The upshot was that I have just received an apology from the overseas publisher  who has agreed with me a reasonable fee retrospectively.

In this case, with a highly reputable international publisher, I believe that a genuine mistake was made, an oversight, but I had no qualms about accepting a fee even though the book is now out of print, because I'm only getting what should have been mine in the first instance.

The moral of this story, for writers and others with intellectual property, is that the internet is a very powerful medium, virtually free to use, and it can be worth spending a little bit of time every now and again checking what might be going on in your name or with the fruit of your efforts. It's true that even if you find something you are certainly not guaranteed to be financially rewarded for your detective work (the law of the internet being in many places like the law of the wild west) but at the very least you can make a nuisance of yourself to the discomfort of the plagiarists.   

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