I hardly need to establish my authority on this matter to write about it with full propriety, however, for the record I will. My professional and academic training is as a journalist. My career has afforded me ample on the job training and experiences in meeting people from all walks of life, from politicians to artist to everyday people facing extraordinary circumstances. They all had one thing in common; they trusted me to tell their stories with accuracy and respect. Besides being a journalist, I have also have the privilege to work with a well-respected publishing house and its writers in the field of religion, metaphysics and new age-oriented material to edit their books.
I have been editing books on the subject of Santeria and Afro-Caribbean religions for over 10 years. This has been an educating experience, and at the same time, one that has filled me at times with rage and indignation. I have come across manuscripts submitted to the publisher that were cut and paste versions of already published books. At first, when you start reading one of those manuscripts that potential authors are trying to sell as ‘new and fresh’ recently discovered collection of materials from unpublished libretas (notebooks kept by oloshas), you are excited and eager. Then suddenly you start to realize that these words are a touch familiar. A sinking feeling takes over me, then outrage as I walk to my personal library and find the book from where this ‘so called author’ has lifted word by word, chapter by chapter his/her new material. Of course, I make sure to document the plagiarism with the editorial house and the book never gets published because to do so is to honor a common thief, and of course a publishing house can be sued for plagiarism.
Why do people feel entitled to steal intellectual material and think they can get away with it? In the past it was easier to get away with this. Someone would go to Cuba and bring back a book published there, re-print it under their name and no one was the wiser. But today, we have the Internet, and at our fingertips a powerful search mechanism. Furthermore, it is easier to order books on-line in sources like Amazon from other countries.
Botanicas across the world are littered with books that are nothing but stolen materials from respected oloshas. I can name a few examples, but since I have not contacted the authors who have been victims of plagiarism I will stick to talking about my recent experience as a writer.
A week ago, a friend on Facebook alerted me of a page dedicated to business, a botanica from Houston, which had posted not one, but several of my articles from this blog and blatantly taken my name out of it and simply posted the name of the person who runs that page as the author. I will not give them publicity on my blog by mentioning their business or their names.
Once I verified the accuracy of my friend’s claim, immediately I wrote an email requesting to have the materials taken down, the email went unanswered for two days. However, on the Facebook page, their immediate response was to block me from the Facebook page and to challenge me in a very rude manner. Subsequently, I requested my followers on Facebook to request for those articles to be taken down. The manager of the Facebook page in question offered apologies to my readers on instant message, but not to me. Eventually a private apology was offered on instant message, but a private apology is tantamount to nothing. When a person is wronged, the wrong must be addressed on the same forum where the intellectual theft happened, on the Facebook page that was benefitting from my writings to push their products and establish an air of respectability and knowledge based on my experiences and my life.
When I pointed this out to the owner of the page, her reaction was to ignore it. Furthermore, this olosha dared to point out that because I am a good writer people are tempted to copy my material and thus, I should be the one protecting my blog from theft.
Ok, let’s look at this individual’s crooked logic. In essence the person was not sorry to have her Facebook manager stealing (plagiarizing) my material, it was being caught what caused the upset. Amazing!
The fact that as per their own admission my writing is valuable makes me guilty of tempting people who can’t write and thus feel helpless in the face of temptation and have to steal from me? Furthermore, I can’t trust the users of the blog to be decent enough and do the right thing, credit the source if they want to use the material after requesting permission. In other words, I have to make out of this blog a iron-safe to protect my materials because people are not trustworthy.
I guess that by the same logic, anyone reading this blog should feel free to walk into the botanica of these people and help themselves to the products on the shelves without repercussions. Why? It is because it is the owner’s fault in having materials that are simply too attractive for sale. By this logic also, it is the owner’s responsibility to install cameras security to keep the materials from being stolen.
Furthermore, this person implied in communications, which I have duly saved and documented, that it was not the first time someone plagiarize my materials. This person felt I was taken revenge in claiming my rights to not have my materials taken and published under the name of someone who never wrote a word of them. Someone who not only appropriated my ideas but the relationship with my godparent outlined in one of the articles! Wrong. This is the first documented case of plagiarism against my blog. I do not need to take revenge; I stay honest by speaking the truth because these are my values as an olosha.
This raised another series of questions. How can we trust an olosha who runs any botanica if they misrepresent their knowledge? Are Facebook and other social media forums the culprit of conferring instant knowledge status to just anyone, olosha or not? People who are hungry to consume information need to be careful not to choke on the greed for an instant banquet of orisha knowledge.
In general, what does plagiarism and intellectual theft says about our religions community people? I have personally visited dozens of botanicas with shelves filled of books and pamphlets that were blatant cases of plagiarism.
How can you trust a writer who steals materials and sells them on books that are nothing but regurgitated trash? How can you trust botanicas that sell plagiarized materials? They are directly supporting theft and making money out of plagiarism.
Plagiarism is not excused. There are laws against plagiarism and not knowing the law does not excuse anyone from breaking it.
As a writer I am able to defend my rights, and I will go after anyone who steals materials from my blog.
Since the culprits of plagiarism had the common sense to take down the materials I will not pursue a legal suit at this time, but I did consult a lawyer specialized in copyright law and the Internet and I am within my legal right as an author to take them to court.
Morally, I feel that these people behaved in an unbecoming fashion by not apologizing in public and by trying to play the victim and to deflect their guilt simply because they got caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar.
Where do you place your trust? In a source that pushes stolen knowledge to sell for profit? I leave you with the question.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá