I recently complained about web sites that print all the lyrics and music of a song and either ascribe them to no one or only to the singer who performed them. Even if you try to find out who the composer or lyricist was, no one will provide that information. As I was complaining about it in a post on this site [6-23-17] the phrase “theft by neglect” popped into my head.
I suspect that is because daughter Mary Beth gave me a copy of David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding. It’s an English phrase. If you have found something, say a briefcase with a thousand bucks in it, it doesn’t belong to you. No, “finders keepers” is not an adequate legal rationale. Your find is yours to keep only after you have made an honest attempt to find the real owner. Otherwise, you are guilty of “theft by finding.”
I’ve never been quite sure how and when to give credit for something I am saying or writing. “Love is the most important thing.” I’m sure someone said that first, but I don’t think I’m guilty of theft by neglect if I make no attempt to find out who did so, if I just say so without trying to cite a source. On the other hand, if I use a few lines of “The Hound of Heaven” like “I fled Him down the nights and down the days…” and don’t acknowledge that those are the words of Francis Thompson instead of my own, I’m doing theft by neglect. On the third hand [writers can have as many hands as we need] if I ask “Will you still need me, will you still feed me…” I probably don’t have to say Paul McCartney or even Beetles, because everyone knows who is responsible for those words.
It’s important to acknowledge a source, but it’s actually annoying to listen to a speaker who constantly does so, at great length, with something like “It was the great poet, Dilbert Pickel, whose works I enjoy in the original Hindi, who said, ‘Life is hard.’” Well, duh! A bit too much info. And Dil Pickel probably wasn’t the first person to say it.
Writers have little excuse for not acknowledging sources. We can do so in footnotes or endnotes without interrupting the flow.
Ideas are precious. So are songs and poems and stories. It’s important to share them. It’s also important to give credit where credit is due.
Maybe the most important acknowledgement, though, the one that should not be stolen by neglect, is… Well, try this: On the Cincinnati Reds TV broadcasts, every time it is a crisp night, Thom Brenneman says, every time, “My grandpa always said, This is good sleeping weather.” That’s not acknowledging a source. That’s acknowledging a grandpa. That’s acknowledging love.
I tweet as yooper1721.
Katie Kennedy is the rising star in YA lit. [She is also our daughter.] She is published by Bloomsbury, which also publishes lesser authors, like JK Rowling. Her latest book is, What Goes Up. It’s published in hardback, paperback, audio, and electronic, from B&N, Amazon, etc.