The Problem with Borrowing Tweets or Memes You Did Not Write

Some of you might have seen writers making comments under memes or other posts on social media now and then, asking for credit for work they’re seeing other people use. Some of you might have even seen the hashtag ‪#‎JokesArentFree‬ on Twitter.

In short, there are lots of us writing quick jokes on Twitter (or memes on Facebook and Instagram) and a LOT more people taking our original jokes/words to use without permission or credit.

Some do this because they simply don’t know better. Many others do this to pawn them off as their own in order to gain followers/fans, or to put on merchandise to sell/profit from.

SPOILER ALERT: those of us who actually WROTE those words never see a penny from them, and lose out on both fans and career opportunities when this happens.

How Borrowing a Tweet of Facebook Status Update Hurts the One Who Wrote it: A Lesson on Kindness and Credit for All of Us on Social Media | by Kim Bongiorno

Example #1:
In 2012 I wrote a one-liner on Twitter that said, “Coffee: A warm, delicious alternative to hating everybody every morning forever.” Since then, I have seen it used on hundreds of items from mugs to tees to wooden signs on Ebay, Etsy, Amazon and other shops. The people who run those shops earn money each time they sell something with MY words on them. I try to message these people, but mostly my requests to remove the items from their shops are ignored. Uuuuugh.

Go ahead and put that tweet into the search box on Twitter and look at how many people copied/pasted it to use as if they were the ones who thought it up, then scroll through 4+ years’ worth of people who have the cajones to promote items on Twitter that they sell with my words from Twitter on them. Again: UUUUUGH.

I am not the only one who this is happening to. It is a VERY common practice that needs to stop.

Example #2:
I have also written tweets that other people/companies used to make memes and put THEIR names/tags on them. So each time the memes were shared, the people who took MY words without permission got new fans, got eyes on work I did. I lost out on gaining new fans. I lost out on my work getting in front of the eyes of people who might hire me to write for them (which is, in fact, my job).

Let me repeat: I am not the only one who this is happening to. It is a VERY common practice that needs to stop.

So in case you honestly didn’t know, copying the words someone else wrote—like a funny or relatable tweet—then pasting it into a tweet, status update, or meme of your own is actually stealing (and very uncool).

Please, instead, use the Retweet option on Twitter, Regram Instagram posts (or share the image without the credit cut off and tag the creator in the post), the Share option on Facebook.

There are a lot of people out there who are professional writers (like me) who use InstagramFacebook and Twitter to share short pieces of writing to entertain and engage our fans, build our fan base, and get the attention of people looking for writers. I have had my work make its way in front of the eyes of people who like it and are in the position to pay me to write for them, so reach out to hire me because they saw a snippet of what I can come up with on social media. THIS IS AWESOME.

My career as a writer depends on people sharing my words and people wanting to pay me for my words. So, please, think about that before taking the stance that it’s no big deal to “borrow” the words you like on social media. It’s so easy to share it in a way that ensures credit to the writer, and doing so makes them love you. And I can tell you from experience that feeling the gratitude of a writer who loves doing what they do is a beautiful thing.

Steve Hofstetter #JokesArentFree on Twitter

Here’s a link to what happened on Twitter, if you’d like to show your support by liking or retweeting: #JokesArentFree

The Problem with Borrowing Tweets or Memes You Did Not Write by @letmestart | How using someone else's words to build your audience can hurt their career (and make you look like a jerk).

Kim Bongiorno is an author, full time freelance writer, and the blogger behind Let Me Start By Saying. You can find her on InstagramFacebook and Twitter, hire her to write for you or speak at your event, or buy her a tall soy vanilla latte because they are delicious. 

17 thoughts on “The Problem with Borrowing Tweets or Memes You Did Not Write

  1. I am not famous or a writer or usually one to look for “likes” or comments, but last year when we were fighting to save my college (#SaveSweetBriar turned into #SweetBriarSaved) I came up with a few things I thought were provocative and created a hashtag (#VixensNeverSayDie – yes, I borrowed from The Goonies). I searched for people using the hashtag frequently (wasn’t used much by others) and found one alumna who kept copying and pasting my words and getting many accolades for her brilliant comments, even from friends we have in common. I wrote to her and explained what she was doing wrong and she was rude and left them up with her name on them.

    However, when I made some funny memes my friends shared them and always credited me, which was nice.

    I hate mean people.

  2. THANK YOU! My words are “borrowed” all of the time without crediting me. I have a facebook page and a blog for my writing and it’s infuriating. My writer friends have this issue all of the time.

    I’d like to add a point about some people have taken quotes and poetry and uploaded them to sites to sell on merchandise, casetify is the worst one for this, as is and a lot of etsy shop owners like to take our words and make money off of them as well. It’s not cool, not cool at all. Thank you for writing this.

    Also, if digital romance steals your stuff and takes your name off, I have the founder’s email address if you need it. He did it to me too.

  3. This assumes it is stealing for every comment on Facebook or tweet on Twitter to be repeated. Well then should they all be copy righted? What about all the thing on Bing, Google and Twitter, Stumble Upon. BUZZ FEED, etc.etc. Isn’t it unreasonable to say any sharing of any of this is stealing? Sometimes the point of origin isn’t even known? If a clever statement about coffee drinking was made without the visible notice that it was a poem, sacred, copyrighted or otherwise protected why would the reader feel compelled not to repeat it?

    1. This is taking it to an extreme in order to excuse theft, and is an attitude I find frustrating, especially in a situation where it is so so so so so so so so easy to simply accept this information and move forward in a kinder, more thoughtful manner.

      My coffee saying was original, unique, and written in a way this is very much how I speak and write. That EXACT phrase, if you type it into a Google search box, can be traced back to me as its originator. But people see something funny, see something they like, and copy it and paste it and move on, not considering what that takes away from the person who wrote it. This behavior is unfair. Many do it without understanding the ramifications. Many others do know the ramifications, but simply don’t care because it benefits them.

      My message is aimed at those who do not know better. Now that you have read this, you know better. You now know that there are many of us out there whose livelihoods, income we support our families with, are hurt — or at least stifled — when people take our work away from us. Quality tweets taken and rewritten as memes with no credit to the author, then shared on very large Facebook pages spread like WILDFIRE all the time. I have something that has been shared millions upon millions of times that someone deliberately cut my credit off of. How many opportunities for paying work did I miss because that ONE person did that? They liked what I did — how is it a compliment to then take it away from me?

      How can people who read this article here, see the damage it does, and not err on the side of kindness and credit moving forward?

      I am asking a very very simple thing: if you like a tweet or Facebook status update, share it in the way it is intended via the share buttons on that social media outlet. BOOM: it takes a second. Do not, instead, highlight that tweet’s text, copy it, paste it into a new box or a meme template, and save it and share it as if it were your own. If you’re paying attention, the request I’m making saves you time and helps others. Why WOULDN’T you do it?

  4. I would never intentionally use someone else’s words to my benefit. I have a poetry website and have seen my poems pop up here and there with no mention that I am the writer so I relate to what you are saying. My only issue with it is the broad spectrum you are trying to apply this philosophy to as being almost impossible to achieve. If I have a poem I don’t want pilfered I don’t put it out there for the taking because unfortunately people are not very conscientious. Sad I know.

    1. I’m not requesting we police everything on the internet. I’m educating people who don’t know about this, and suggesting a kinder, more helpful way of moving forward. Call me an optimist, but I don’t think any of our work should be taken, and it’s unfortunate that so many people don’t see it the same way.

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