Earlier this week I had a shock when Google Alert sent me the latest news on our name. An author whose book had been favorably reviewed recently had copied the entire page on which the review was posted and pasted it (including the writer’s bio) into her blog. Minus the formatting, every single part of it was there.
I get it. She was excited. The review was outstanding. It will bring some attention to her book. But her willingness to steal our property in its entirety astonished me. Then it made me mad.
This is not a good thing.
Reviews of books, movies, theatre productions are often used in promotion and marketing. How many times have you seen sentences but more often phrases and words that praise or appear to praise—ellipses can work wonders—the referenced work? A lot. It’s impressive for a publisher to be able to say the New York Times loved the work, but they don’t use the entire review. The reason is copyright. The original article belongs to the publication or writer. It is as much theirs as any physical object they own.
So why then do some authors, most of whom I am sure would never steal material from other writers, feel that using a review is not really intellectual theft? Because it’s a review? Because it’s about their book? Because it’s not “real” writing. (If reviewers could really write, why would they write reviews of others’ material?)
I believe that this kind of thing happens for several reasons. But the most important in my opinion is that reviews are not perceived in the same way as other types of writing. Nonfiction demands (ideally) good research and factual accuracy. Literary fiction requires characters that engage the reader. Commercial fiction is plot-driven. But what are book reviews? Just someone’s opinion? After all, anyone can put up a “review” on Amazon, right?
That makes me cranky. Leaving aside book criticism, which is a highly specialized form of writing about books and difficult to achieve, writing reviews is or perhaps I will say it should be a written art form that demands curiosity, a background in literature, and the ability to explore a book in depth with an eye to its role in its genre and sometimes within its author’s oeuvre. So why is it accorded so little respect? And why is a review not viewed with quite the same perspective as other intellectual property?
I didn’t wait around to answer my own question, which was rhetorical anyway. I promptly sent a stern e-mail to the author (and copied the publisher) stating that our copyright had been violated and requiring that the piece either be removed or edited back to what could be considered “fair use.” The author contacted me within an hour, and was apologetic. She cut it back while providing a link to the full article so this particular problem has been resolved. But the question still remains.
Two of BiblioBuffet’s writers are authors. The rest love writing about books. Just because they write about others’ books rather than write their own does not mean their work is less deserving of respect than the books they are reviewing. Novels, nonfiction, poetry, short stories, essays, op-ed pieces, magazine and newspaper articles all have their place in the world of writing and reading. Not a single part of any of them deserves to be stolen by another writer regardless of the reason—and that includes promotion and marketing. If we at BiblioBuffet enjoy your work and say so, then quote us. (We love that!) But do it within the bounds of copyright law and respect for our work. You worked hard on your book. We work hard on our reviews. It’s a two-way door, and no one wants it slammed in her face.