I stole something when I was eight years old. I wanted an Emmitt Smith rookie card from my friend, but we couldn’t come to agreeable terms to trade as I was refusing to separate with my hologram Michael Jordan card. Days after I innocently swapped my friend’s card into a plastic sheet within my trading card binder, his mom confronted me at church. Calm, she asked me if I had taken the card and replaced it with a different one. I had, and being in church, I openly admitted that for the fear of going to hell.
Even today, two decades after I originally D.B. Cooper’d my friend’s Upper Deck, I still feel a sense of shame. Sure, I didn’t know any better. And yes, I immediately righted my wrong by returning the card to its rightful owner. But it didn’t make up for the fact that I had lied, cheated, and stolen from someone in order to gain something I didn’t deserve.
I know my parent’s gave me a $5 per week allowance while I avoided doing any and all chores, and I definitely grabbed a few quarters out of my mom’s change jar in order to afford some sour gummy bears from the candy shop. I can only imagine that my parents knew I was doing that and they let me slide, because there was an innocence to it (and it was probably easier than hearing me relentlessly whine to them). But even though I was (by definition) “stealing”, I wasn’t deceitfully doing so from innocent bystanders for any sort of long-term gain — because that type of stealing is foreign to me.
Which is why I’m so perplexed by those that do in fact steal from others with the intention of benefiting either socially or fiscally, or getting some sort of edge or benefit from the fruits of their labor (or lack thereof).
Take, oh, I don’t know… Cosmopolitan Magazine, for example. They posted a Snapchat story regarding the Sunday Scaries, something I’m all too familiar with. After all, I started a website based on them that’s allowed me to have the job I have today. In 2013, I even created a simple Venn diagram to show what they are.
…which looks oddly similar to a Venn diagram posted by Cosmopolitan on Sunday, November 29th.
I know, I know, their diagram is different. The background, the typography, the juxtaposition of the words. But there are a myriad of similarities. From their header — “Sunday Scaries”, which looks similar to my original website’s logo — all the way down to, well, everything.
I don’t necessarily fault Cosmopolitan as a publication. I don’t even necessarily fault the person that clears all Snapchat activity, because they can’t simply see every graphic ever designed on the internet from The New York Times all the way down to lowly old Sunday Scaries. But I do fault whoever shamelessly transformed someone else’s content (mine) into what they attempted to pass off as their own. I could blame Cosmopolitan as a whole by claiming that the company is only as strong as their weakest link, but blaming the whole in this situation takes the spotlight off the one person who actually attempted the wrongdoing.
To be fair, Elite Daily used my exact same graphic on their Instagram account without permission and without originally including any attribution.
They kindly updated their caption with the proper attribution and all was right in the world.
Even after they righted their wrong, the fact still remains that the internet is a fucked up place. It’s a place where a guy like The Fat Jewish can get 7 million Instagram followers because he steals jokes from others and has a memorable (albeit dumbass) haircut. It’s a place where you can watch a steady cam of Shia LaBeouf’s emotions while he watches his own movies. And it’s the type of place where the same publication that ran stolen content can anoint the fucking Kardashians as “America’s First Family.”
— Kendall Jenner (@KendallJenner) October 5, 2015
But despite how fucked up and mindless of a place the internet can be, I couldn’t help but get upset regarding what I considered to be stealing. I was upset because I created that when I was genuinely trying to craft something that was mine in an attempt to entertain others. I was upset because it was the second time it had happened. I was upset because I have a sense of ownership over what I had done two years before some graphic designer in their creative department got their hands on something I had made two years prior.
Did I always feel this strongly about protecting the rights of genuinely made online content or intellectual property? Not a bit. I thought everyone’s complaints about Fuck Jerry, The Fat Jewish, and every other joke thief out there were petty and unfounded. It wasn’t until I became the victim of that thievery that I realized that even though the internet is akin to the Wild West when it comes to rules and behaviors, people’s creativity and ideas deserve to be protected as if they were material possessions. Like, you know, an Emmitt Smith rookie card.
Luckily for me, this fucked up place we call “the internet” is the same place where you can publicly skewer these assholes rather than let them ride off into the night, never to be seen again or punished for their actions.
— Will deFries (@WilldeFries) November 29, 2015
And for that, I’m thankful. .
Image via Shutterstock