It happened by chance. As a maths teacher I was always on the lookout for new ways of teaching mathematics, so as a new writer I wanted to see how other writers explained concepts. If I could see how s/he broke a concept down and helped rebuild it with the reader in mind, it could improve my writing. So, when I had to supervise year 9s inside because it was wet, I sat browsing the internet, and that’s where I found a whole chapter on fractions.
It was good, it was well written and I thought, ‘that’s exactly how I would do it’. I went on and then said ‘well done dear writer because I would do that as well’, and then it struck me, I HAD! The whole piece was lifted from one of my books. A National Charity, whom I will not name to spare their blushes, had lifted word-for-word sections from one of my books, Understanding Maths (with a foreword by the late Sir Arthur C Clarke). Where the book had given teenage contexts, the thief, because that is what he was, had changed this to adult contexts.
But I was unsure, was I making a mistake? I did not have the book with me but by the twice I was suspicious. I couldn’t wait for school to end. I raced home with a print off from the site and compared it to my book and it was virtually word-for-word. And to make matters worse they even quoted me in the reference section.
Now think for a moment of how you would feel. Every evening after school, I had come home and spent 2 to 3 hours planning and writing the book. No Holby City or Match of the Day for me, just work. No days out on a Saturday, no Sunday family days. I dedicated the time to get the book written. After the first draft I went through it with a fine-tooth comb. I then wrote a second and a third draft. Yes, I wanted it to sparkle. I used it with some of my own students to make sure it was good, they were happy (and I was delighted). The book worked well, the sacrifice was worth it and then there was this sick feeling, - my work had been stolen.
My work had been stolen and I had just been listed in the references. I was furious. Imagine me coming into your home and calmly walking out with your tv and home entertainment system. That, for an author, is what it feels like and it is horrible. You feel violated, your work has been stolen and you think that no-one else cares. The irony was, if they had contacted me I would have written them their own version for free, after all they are a charity. Authors are human, of course we want to help when we can, but we do have rights. I have just contacted an Australian website for permission to use some of their photos in another book, not only have they said yes but the guy said, 'don't take them off the website, tell me the ones you want, and I'll send you high res copies'. That is all it takes; most authors will be delighted to help you as long as you do the right thing.
That is all we are asking, for you to do the right thing.
PS We settled out of court, honour was restored!
About the Author
Dr Graham Lawler is now a publisher, author and broadcaster. He regularly appears on the BBC around the country and daily on the internet station Solidgoldgem.am