Sunday, January 13, 2008

Stealing Poetry

True story from out East: Poet's chapbook is published by a good chapbook press. Has a terrific poem in it that a high-school girl types up as her own and submits to young-people's poetry contests, such as Scholastic's. She wins top prize in THREE contests and $5000. Prizes help her get into a high-prestige school and rev up to become a writer.

Then the little scamp is found out. Publisher can't sue because after publication the rights to the poems reverted to the author. Poet hasn't got a legal leg to stand on: poet did not register a Library of Congress copyright for the individual poem, and probably couldn't have afforded to, at $35 (electronic) or $45 (on paper) fee per poem, a serious artificial difficulty. From the thief they got a written confession (to show her college dean!) and a promise to pay the prize money back to the prize-givers, and that is all.

This is not even an Internet-theft story! It would have been easy and quick to catch such a thief on the Internet; just Google! Want to protect what you have on the Net? Stamp it with your choice of one of the licenses available free from

Stuff you printed, that isn't online -- what this story shows is THAT is now the thing to sweat about!

Granted that this story is a very unusual one, because the poem made money. And it is one of only three poetry-theft stories that I have personally heard about in the past 30 years.

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