Oh, don’t try to deny it. You know you’ve done it at one time or another in your life, even if that theft was something as innocuous as the really nice stapler you took from work.
But there are different kinds of theft, aren’t there? Different levels.
Yes, you can say stealing is stealing, but I would certainly never get upset about that stapler — I mean, really, who cares other than the company bean counter or the secretary whose desk you swiped it from?
I mean, we’re not talking someone’s car, right?
But stealing is stealing and it’s quite common in our society.
Kids steal each other’s toys. Teenagers steal music. Friends steal each other’s spouses. Or maybe borrow them once in awhile. Yet that’s still stealing in a way, isn’t it?
People who are particularly bold may walk into a bank and steal money from an unsuspecting teller. Or step into a Seven Eleven and force the counter man to empty out the cash register.
It happens all the time, and we crime writers make our livings because of it.
We can forgive the minor crimes — the stapler stealing — but the larger thefts, depending on who the victim is, tend to get us a bit riled up. Probably because they scare us. And if we’re the victim, if things are personal, we get very scared indeed.
We feel violated.
When I was in my twenties, my beautiful soon to be wife and I were living in an apartment complex in Santa Barbara, California.
Late one night, out of the blue, a work friend of mine showed up at the apartment, wanting to hang out and have a drink. He even brought the beer.
I was a little surprised to see him, but we sat down, drank the beers as we shot the bull. About twenty minutes passed and my friend abruptly stood up and said he had to go. And he never did explain why he had stopped by in the first place.
The next morning, I went out to my car, only to discover that it had been broken into and my tape deck and a box full of cassette tapes were gone.
And I had to wonder. Had my friend set me up? Could he have been distracting me while a cohort stole my car stereo?
These were, of course, questions that never got answered. Although I suspected him — didn’t want to, but did — I never said a word to him about the incident and we continued to be friends for a couple more years before my wife and I moved back to Honolulu.
But what never went away was that feeling of being violated. And I think that’s how we can measure the severity of theft. By how violated the victim feels.
I was recently violated in a different way.
The theft did not scare me. No tangible item was actually taken from me. But I felt violated nevertheless.
Nearly a decade ago, I wrote an article that was published on my website. That article was subsequently published many different places on the web, including here on Murderati and in an international print magazine I used to write a column for.
A couple months ago, I got an email from a reader who thought she had spotted some possible plagiarism of that article. She had read it and had stumbled across an excerpt from a book that was posted on the web and some of the content of that excerpt looked suspiciously familiar.
I investigated and lo and behold, the author of the excerpt had lifted entire passages from my article. Word for word.
With no credit to me. No link to my original article.
There wasn’t a huge amount of theft involved, just a few short passages, as well as a way of describing a writing concept that I feel is original with me, but when you see your own words being credited to someone else — in a published book, no less — that tends to make you feel a bit victimized.
I won’t go into any details. I’ve had exchanges with the author and the publisher and came up with a solution to the problem that I think is fair, and I feel no need to go public with the details.
But for the life of me, I can’t understand how someone can do something like that. I can see inadvertent theft of someone’s work — a lot of ideas are similar, and sometimes we borrow without actually realizing we’re doing it.
But word for word? I just can’t quite get my head around the idea of copying someone else’s work and claiming it as your own. What kind of person does that? It just makes no sense to me.
So I feel victimized. And, yes, I’ll get over it in time, but no matter how much time goes by, I’ll still be shaking my head at the audacity of it all.
If you’re going to take credit for something you didn’t write, for chrissakes, at least don’t be so blatant about it.
Have a little class.
Or stick to staplers.
Today’s question: Have you ever had anything stolen from you? If so, how did you feel?