Google It…Or Yourself

At the risk of sounding like some type of perverse egotist, I confess that I make it a point to periodically type my name into the Google search engine window to see what type of results I receive. I began this practice at the suggestion of a friend – and fellow writer – who cautioned me that I could never be too careful and that I may be surprised by what I found. Well, folks, after following my friend’s advice for several years the results I discovered for myself have been largely unremarkable…until recently.

From the time I began searching for my name on the Internet I have been surprised by the number of times I actually appear. One of the chief reasons for this frequency is the participation of my bookstore in the independent bookseller’s programs that compile lists of recommended books for readers. The program works by independent booksellers sending in recommendations for titles they like to the American Booksellers’ Association, which then compiles a monthly list of the books independent booksellers loved and are recommending to customers in their stores.

So, when you search my name in Google, most of the results are “blurbs” I have written about a book I liked that other independent booksellers have posted on their websites. Rather boring…I know.

Of course, the Peninsula Pulse has a wonderful website where you can always find my most recent column and many of my columns from previous years in the archive section of the site. So, my name will pop up on Pulse related sites. And years ago, when I wrote a weekly feature on page two of the Vacation Guide, a few businesses asked me if they could use the story I wrote about them on their own websites and, remarkably, a few of these are still up on the Internet.

And then there is the book of poetry my father and I co-authored that is offered for sale from various used bookstores across the country (and, occasionally, internationally). It’s always interesting to see where these books are and to wonder how they found their way across the country.

But the most interesting result I have found when searching for myself on the Internet was a Christmas postcard featuring one of my poems I printed and sent to friends and family in the mid-1980s. The site listing the postcard was selling it for $6.50! I did not buy it.

So, as I said at the outset, my “self-searches” have yielded results that are largely unremarkable and, for the most part, not unexpected. Until my most recent “self-search.” Much to my surprise I discovered a site that re-printed one of my columns within their own essay. Prior to my “self-search” I was not aware that this column had been published anywhere other than in the Peninsula Pulse. Most confounding was the fact that it was a Door County business that re-published the column.

To the casual reader this may seem like a small thing: the company prefaces the publishing of my column within their own column with the following sub-headline: “EXCERPT FROM”DISCOUNTS” IN RETAIL BY STEVE GRUTZMACHER. ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE PENINSULA PULSE ON SEPTEMBER 10TH, 2010.” Unfortunately, since the “excerpt” is virtually the entire column as it originally appeared in the Pulse, this acknowledgement falls short of both the ethical and legal requirements of citations.

I recognize that not everyone is familiar with copyright laws and because of this recognition I have no intention of naming the business which used my column on their website. I am, however, going to take this opportunity to explain what is appropriate when you are quoting from another author’s work.

If you are simply quoting a few lines from another author, it is normally sufficient to acknowledge the author (as his or her name appeared on the work) along with the publication in which the work appeared. If the work appeared in book form, the title of the book, the publisher, and the copyright date should be listed parenthetically or as a footnote.

If you are quoting several paragraphs from another author, that author’s name (again, as it appeared in the original publication, the name of the publication in which it appeared, and – in the case of a magazine – the volume and issue number must be cited.

When, however, you are re-printing all or most of another author’s work you must receive permission from the author in either written or verbal form, depending on the author or publication’s preference.

I mentioned earlier that several Door County businesses have used articles I wrote about them on their respective website. Each of the businesses asked me directly for permission before they posted my stories. Your best course, if you want to use more than a few sentences from another author’s words on your website (or anything else you intend to print) is to check with the author and/or publication before you post an print.

What you read here in the Peninsula Pulse is material that is copyrighted by the Peninsula Pulse. Rights to the works revert to the individual author’s upon publication. In other words, the creative efforts of the writers, illustrators, and photographers belong to the writers, illustrators, and authors.

More often than not, most authors (including myself) will gladly consider reprint requests. There are times, however, where the request may be turned down. Using the author’s words to sell a product or business that the author does not necessarily endorse or to further an argument that the author disagrees with are two examples.

In my case, the unnamed business that reprinted by “discounting” column needs to either take down the web page or contact me to seek my permission in using my words. It may seem like a very small issue to some of you but trust me, as an author who has been publishing work for the past 37 years, it is – in fact – a very big issue.