A Delicate Situation

ginny12January 13, 2005

I am a garden writer with expertise in a particular area. From time to time, I get inquiries from writers, graduate students, undergrads and others asking me for rather extensive information on my subject area. Often, what they want is something I have not yet published but have spent years in developing.

It has happened again. A friend, in all innocence, gave my name and email to a grad student who wants to know "all about" my rather large topic. I am in a double bind. Of course, I just want to say, "Go do your own research, hon, and earn your degree the hard way, as I did." But I would never be so rude.

I can never think of polite refusals and would be very grateful for any suggestions from the rest of you. This particular occurrence is all the more difficult because it came through a friend. I don't know how to tell her that I cannot oblige this request and fervently hope there are no more like it. Any ideas?

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inkognito

I don't think it would be rude to send them to the source of the information so that they can study it for themselves, in fact this would probably be the right thing to do. To point them in the right direction is helpful but beyond that it would surely be counterproductive to their education.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 11:18AM
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eddie_ga_7a(8)

INK is correct. You could further add that yours is proprietary information that you plan on publishing and it can't be given out at this time (or ever). You might explain to your friend how long and hard you worked for the knowledge and information you have.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 11:32AM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

Eddie is right. Tell them [politely] that it is proprietary information and that you are not, at the moment, free to share it because you are negotiating with a publisher. Then tell them they're in luck, because they'll soon be able to read the published version.

Sad experience has taught me that fellow writers ruthlessly steal stuff, try to get it onto print before yours does, don't give you credit, and try to copyright your material and wording so you can no longer use them. It's a jungle out there.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 11:47AM
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ginny12

INK, alas, the source of my information is my own extensive research, amassed bit by bit, year after year. I have published a number of articles on my work and of course am delighted to see that work cited. As John pointed out, however, there are a surprising number of people who are ignorant/unscrupulous and who publish one's work with no citation. I could give you a couple of very big names in our field....but will limit myself to reminding you of historians Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose, to name just two recent examples.

My problem is how to say NO politely, firmly, and finally. And how to tell my innocent friend not to send me any more graduate students! She has been very kind to me and I am sure she does not understand "proprietary." It will sound just like "selfishness" to her. Intellectual property is not an everyday concept to most people and there is no reason it should be.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 12:23PM
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anniew(4-5/PA)

You could explain to your friend that if she were a retail store owner, she would no more give away her products than you would yours...intellectual material...although like a box of cereal, it does have a price...and you would be willing to sell it for a reasonable fee...if asked, just make the fee worth it for you to NOT publish whatever you are working on.
Ann

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 12:58PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

Just take the easy ay out: tell them your publisher told you you can't.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 1:48PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

Oops. Make that "way out."

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 3:42PM
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ginny12

I knew what you meant, John. If I put it that way, however, the next question will be who the publisher is and when the book will be out. I've had lots of articles published by different publishers but The Big Book awaits. I have to give an answer that leaves no wiggle room. I have, in fact, in the past said to someone else that no publisher wants rehashed material and if I gave the info to them, I couldn't sell it myself. Didn't faze that particular person at all. She wrote me a nasty letter!

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 3:56PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

Ginny:
I have found that people like that are not nice to know. They have no right to treat you like their drudge. Of course they'll abuse you verbally or send you nasty letters, since they're not bright enough to do the work themselves they might as well try to extort info. Over the years, I have lost quite a few "friends" like that. Good riddance.

And there is no reason for why you have to tell them who your publisher is. Tell them you're not divulging the information to discourage claim jumpers. Last year, I went to a press party where I thought I was among friends. When asked about my current projects, I incautiously dropped a hint. Two of these "friends" wrote to my publisher and tried to take a project away from me. Fortunately my publisher told them where to go and sent me a note about the incident. Since that episode, my lips have been sealed. (But I've considered making up fake projects to send the nerds on a wild goose chase. Just to keep them occupied and out of my hair.)

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 4:19PM
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inkognito

Before we get totally paranoid and imagine that someone is looking over our shoulder each time we sit down to type let's see if we can find a positive solution.
You have no obligation to the student. Your only problem is with your friend who you don't want to upset. For some reason telling her what you have just told a bunch of strangers on the internet would be rude. Mmnn. I don't mean to be rude Ginny but....

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 7:55PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

"Paranoid?" It's happened to me and cost me thousands of dollars. I guess taking the theft of intellectual property serious separates the pros from the dilettantes.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 8:05PM
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inkognito

This thread is not about you John, it is about trying to help Ginny and I am sorry that you found it necessary to insult me in retaliation for something you imagined I meant by what I wrote.
I am aware of the difficulties surrounding intellectual property but this was not the issue Ginny brought up and we seemed to be loosing the track.
D le Tantay.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 10:37PM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

Inko:

I do believe I addressed Ginny's point and hope I was able to help her see the situation more clearly.

As for insulting you? Where? I do not recall directing any words at you.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2005 at 11:07PM
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ginny12

The problem was/is a two-parter: saying no definitely but politely to the student; explaining my action to my friend. And INK, it is a lot easier to explain something to a group of non-involved strangers than a very involved supplicant. That's why this forum is so helpful. Ya'll don't have a dog in this fight, as they say down South.

Anyway, you have provided me with moral courage and I will email the politest, firmest refusals the language can muster. Thanks to all--and I will pay attention to any further discussion of this topic, which affects many writers, I am sure.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2005 at 10:10AM
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John_D(USDA 8b WA)

Ginny:
I'm glad you're putting your foot down, albeit gently.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2005 at 11:17AM
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