By Amelia Harper
In February of 2012, a North Carolina father took a handgun and leveled nine shots into his teen daughter’s laptop, recording the whole event in a YouTube video that went viral on the Internet.1 The crime? His daughter had posted disrespectful comments (complete with profanity) about her parents and the chores she was being forced to do around the house. This incident has ignited a firestorm of controversy about the situation, but the father, an IT professional, made the point that he intended: Anything that you post on the Internet can have a far greater impact than you realize.
For writers, especially aspiring ones, the Internet can be a wonderful place to hone your writing skills, publish your thoughts in a public forum, and receive feedback from others. So often, writers, especially teens, are frustrated because they do not have anyone to read their words. By starting a blog, posting notes on Facebook, or simply writing emails, you expand your audience and your purpose in writing. However, there are several aspects of cyber writing that you need to carefully consider first.
• Anything you write on the Internet may be read by others.
As the story of the irate father proves, cyber writing can cause unintended consequences. The daughter in that story posted comments on her “protected” Facebook page, thinking that her parents would never see them. But it is often possible for one person to take a “screenshot” of a protected page and forward it on to someone else via email. Most pages are not protected and can be linked by anyone with a simple click of a button. Friends, enemies, relatives, potential employers, and the media may be able to gain access to comments that you meant to be private. Therefore, you need to be careful what you say in any Internet post.
You also need to be careful about how you say it. There is a tendency to take a lot of shortcuts in Internet writing by reverting to cyber lingo, ignoring punctuation and capitalization rules, and relaxing your grip on grammatical guidelines. While some situations, such as texting, can require shortcuts because of character limits in messages, there is no real reason that most Internet communication requires such assaults to the English language. Yet we are rearing a whole generation who think U can only LOL with your BFFs in truncated code. Your words on the Internet and in emails are still a reflection of yourself and deserve the same attention to excellence that all of your writing deserves. The literary style of your blogs, notes, emails, and posted messages can mark you as a person of intelligence and wit while helping you hone your developing writing skills.
• Writing on the Internet may help you build an audience base for future publications.
The ease of distribution on the Internet can be a real advantage for an aspiring writer trying to build an audience or exciting an interest in his or her work. In writing circles, there is much talk today about “building a platform” for your writing.2 Agents and publishers prefer writers who have already developed a consistent following of people who are likely to purchase works that you write. This “platform” is not marketing in the traditional sense; rather, it is built by consistent efforts to draw others to you and your works by establishing yourself as an authority—or at least the kind of person whose opinion counts to your audience.
Blogging is one of the best ways to build this platform, though there are other ways, such as cultivating Facebook relationships and starting your own website or email list of those who want to hear more about what you have to say.3 The Internet is essentially a public square, and the more people you have gathered around your “platform,” the more likely others will be interested in your written works as well.
• Cyber authorship is still authorship and legal rules apply.
As a budding writer, you should understand that copyright laws protect your work as soon as it is written.4 However, you should also be wary of violating those laws yourself. It is not acceptable (or indeed, legal) to take the written words of one person and post them on your site without permission unless the copyright has expired (as in the case of many of the older classics). Neither can you paraphrase the words of others closely without properly quoting and giving attribution. Even when you quote works that are out of copyright, you still need to give credit to the author for his words.
So, even if you see a great poem or paragraph on someone else’s website, you can’t just paste it on yours without that author’s permission. If you really want to draw someone’s attention to it, the best way is to link to the site where that work was originally posted. That way the audience is drawn to the author’s work in the context where it was intended or for which it was purchased.
Many people violate these laws, either out of ignorance, desire for profit, or sometimes, with malicious intent. As an author, you should not only be aware of the laws but also abide by them. They are there to protect you and your intellectual property.
• Posting creative works on the Internet may prevent you from selling your works or entering them in competitions.
Many people do not understand that posting something on the Internet is a form of publication. This is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, people who would never read it otherwise can read your work. On the other hand, you probably cannot sell your work to a publisher if it has already appeared online. In many cases, you cannot even enter these works in writing contests.
Most publishers want “first rights” to a publication. If your work is published on the Internet or self-published in another form, then first publication rights are no longer available, because you have used them yourself. Therefore, you need to be careful about what you post. Save your “good stuff”—your potentially marketable works—for prospective buyers such as magazines or publishing houses.
The realm of writing is constantly evolving as the methods of communication expand. Those who know how to communicate gain a great advantage in the Internet age. However, before you drive your intellectual property down the Information Highway, it is essential to know the rules of the road.
Amelia Harper is a homeschooling mother of five and a pastor’s wife. She is also the author of Literary Lessons from the Lord of the Rings, a complete one year literature curriculum designed for secondary-level homeschooled students. In addition, she is an English tutor and a freelance writer who contributes regularly to newspapers and magazines. For more information, go to www.homescholarbooks.com .
1. www.wptv.com/dpp/news/local_news/water_cooler/today-show-interviews-facebook-dad-tommy-jordan-daughter-hannah-marie-after-youtube-laptop-shooting, accessed February 2012
2. janefriedman.com/2012/03/13/author-platform-definition/#.T2NA1ISEvz8.facebook, accessed February 2012
3. www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/build-a-platform-start-blogging, accessed February 2012
4. mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/copyright-internet.htm, accessed February 2012
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.