Saturday, 8 August 2015

Copyright (Or: F*** you, my thoughts are my own)

This was the original header background. It's an image from the finale of the film that gives this blog its name
 - Nadie conoce a nadie / Nobody Knows Anybody (Mateo Gil, 1999).

A summary of the situation so far can be read in this earlier post.

    Technically, it's not plagiarism. Nobody is putting their name to my work in a proper sense. It's not one of those cases where someone at a bigger publication thinks that they can lift copy from a blog or smaller site because no one will notice. But nonetheless it's still my work (unattributed) being put to a use other than I intended.
    It's called 'scraping', which sounds clinical and vaguely unpleasant...possibly invasive. How long has it been going on for? I don't know, but the domain was registered in May, so possibly for three months. It's usually done via the RSS feed and often it doesn't replicate the entire post. Aside from the fact that the entire 4.5 years of my blog has been scraped, what's slightly more unusual is that in this instance the bot is overwriting certain phrases within the text and hyperlinks in a way that obscures my identity as the author. That's a bit odd because my full name has never appeared on the blog itself (although it has long been straightforward to find it out, especially since I started writing for other places and linking to them from here) and, in terms of the intent behind scraping, the content is largely irrelevant apart from keywords (I won't claim to understand quite how this works but I think that when you click on links within the scraped site it redirects you through advertising - I don't know how you would end up on the scraped site to begin with). So I could be writing about shoes (unlikely, to be honest) or squirrel baiting (is that a thing?) as much as Spanish cinema. But given that the replacement phrase is 'film exhibition', it's not a coincidence that they've chosen a cinema blog. However, there is a joke to be made about someone who thinks that they can make money through the combination of film exhibition and Spanish cinema.
    The general advice seems to be that as long as malware isn't involved (it doesn't seem to be), you should just ignore it and continue to post - the logic goes that the scraped site will end up directing traffic back to you, especially if you interlink to more of your own posts within each piece. Well, I interlink a lot and that's not going to work because this bot has been programmed to overwrite the URLs with the scraped site's equivalent link. I spent Friday rewriting hyperlinks throughout the blog (not all of them, obviously - there is too much material on here - but popular posts, guest posts, links to my writing elsewhere, and ongoing projects) with the aid of a URL shortener (introducing a random element that I hope will elude the bot). For the time being the scraped site now links to the 'correct' places, but that may be only temporary (I don't know if such bots get reprogrammed). I have added the banner at the top of the page because I knew that it would be automatically replicated on the scraped site - as the information is contained within an image, the bot cannot read it and therefore cannot overwrite it. There is a legal route that you can go down but the domain of the scraped site is registered in Russia (that's not necessarily where the person responsible is located), so I don't know that it's worth the hassle. If someone were passing off my writing as their own in a professional context, I would pursue the matter (and them), but that isn't what scraping is about. But I am going to continue to think this option through.
    I started this blog in February 2011, almost a year after I had been awarded my PhD and more than a year since I had done any writing. Writing is like a muscle - if you don't use it, you lose it. I was not doing a job that challenged me in any way and I could actually feel my brain atrophying and my vocabulary shrinking. It has only really been in the past year that I've begun to feel that I'm not having to stretch quite so far to find the word or expression I'm grasping for, and that I'm regaining some of my former dexterity or facility with language. Back in 2011 I only put my first name on the blog because I wasn't sure how it was going to go and I was embarrassed by how clunky my writing felt to me. I set up a separate twitter account in an attempt to put my identity at one remove - but I closed that account last year (detailed here) and someone else has since taken the Spanishcineblog handle, so please be aware that it isn't me (that it tweets in Russian should be a giveaway - yeah, I know, a coincidence no doubt). Writing has never been 'easy' for me; it has always been something that requires effort. The best personal reference that I have ever had was from the person who supervised my undergraduate dissertation - he wrote that my academic accomplishments were 'more the result of application and organisation than natural brilliance'. A friend of mine at the time said that she would be seriously insulted if someone had said the same about her - but I took it to be a compliment. What comes easily is never valued - what I value and enjoy about writing is the effort that it requires me to make, that it stretches my brain and challenges my thinking (plagiarism as a concept or strategy for getting ahead genuinely baffles me because where is the sense of accomplishment? What do you get out of it as a person?). I think through the act of writing.
    But I I often have done on here. Going back through older posts as I was rewriting interlinked hyperlinks I retraced thought processes that had unfolded across months (or in the case of that Javier Bardem article, years - summarised here and here, elaborated on further here, before finally resulting in something quite different). This blog has been a way of thinking out loud without writing 'formally' - there are some posts on here that I regard as 'proper' writing, but most of that kind of writing I have published elsewhere. Obviously a blog is not a private setting, so these thoughts aren't private - while there hasn't been a great deal of conversation with other people on this site, I know that what I write here is read by others (hopefully you're not all bots). But I don't feel comfortable continuing to post my unstructured thoughts (or my structured ones for that matter) when I know that they're going to be replicated elsewhere unattributed. Reading other accounts of this sort of thing happening, it is this feeling of having your voice appropriated that generally upsets people. It's not that I believe that what I've written on here is startlingly original or insightful (although it's still the case that the things that I personally find interesting within Spanish cinema - and that feature as recurring strands within my writing - are not written about in English by many people), but it's mine and the result of my efforts.
    Back in February 2014 I mentioned that I also wanted to write about non-Spanish cinema. I started doing that when I began writing film reviews for other sites, but reviews aren't the same thing as analysis (in my opinion) and I haven't managed to address that distinction satisfactorily in terms of finding somewhere to write in that way (or developing a line of thought about non-Spanish films by writing about them). I have been thinking about that while AWOL and - taken in conjunction with this current situation - I think that this blog may have served its original purpose and that it's time to start again somewhere else with a broader scope. I will not be closing this blog down (whatever this scraping is doing, it can't do anything to the actual contents of this site - my writing on here is staying here, and it now has my name on it) - maybe it should be considered a hibernation of sorts. I will continue to have a focus on Spanish cinema (it is my specialism and I am still interested in it) but whatever I do next will not be exclusively based around Spanish cinema. I have several outstanding projects / ideas that I will continue with - Spanish documentaries, 'el otro cine español', and the (intermittent) Carlos Saura Challenge are the ones I intend to develop and see through to 'completion' (and there are other things that could be revisited). 
    The new site will not appear immediately - I want to take my time to think through what I want to do with it and what form it should take, and I'd also like to have some writing lined up for posting before I reappear. In the meantime, you can find me on twitter. I know that not everyone is on there - when I have the new site, I will flag it on here as well (and I will continue to receive notifications if anyone comments on a post here).
Hasta pronto (and thanks for reading)!