It’s been a good year for my apple tree. I have more than enough than I can eat, more than I can can, so I put them outside with a sign. “Free Apples”. It’s clear that they are yours to take, as many as you want.

So, if you take one of my apples from the box, are you stealing?

Rolling back the twitter stream to this morning…

Greg writes very nicely about the idea of a “backstage” blog, something he has taken up with much more than just a fever. He writes

I steal from Alan Levine quite often.

I am most proud of hauling away a backstage blog from an open course he co-facilitated as part of #YouShow15.




Once again stole from cogdog…

That’s three admissions of apple theft, plus an incriminating poster


Not long after in a comment on my posting of the Rhizome Cowboy song, Sarah Honeychurch writes:

I wanna steal this and add a track

Sarah later comments “Steal was a Rhizo14 word” so maybe it has an alternate meaning.

You can say it’s just language, but language choices matter. They often signal something larger.

I am not perfect, I have said it before. More than once.

But never again.

So I found myself confounded– among people I consider practitioners and advocates of open sharing, why do they keep using language of “stealing” what I have published? I clearly apply the Creative Commons stickers of free apples.

Why do we think of ideas as things that are stolen? Just like the notion (was that Lessig?) of when content goes digital, you can copy what I have, without taking it away from me. If I have an idea, and you copy it, I still have that idea.

And mostly, I did not fabricate that idea on my own. The concept of the “back stage narration” Greg is admitting he stole from me, is something I have in turn stole got from Jon Udell’s notion of “narrating the work we do”. I’ve only written than like 100 times in this blog. I have no idea where Jon stole it from. He admits it is from Dave Winer.

Stealing is the stuff the MPAA wants us to think its what we do when we remix a movie clip.

Ideas are not stolen.

They are part of the everything that is remixed.

So do me and many other people who are trying to grapple with the world of open content — stop using the word “stealing” when ideas are all free apples.

It’s not stealing.

And stop using that verb.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. I very much like your remark about language. how we name things really metters! and usually people don’t realize in that. If you say i am an open learner, but you think you can steal an idea, it means there is something in the ‘backstage’ that is not really assimilating the idea of openness… I think we could be more analytic with the way we express something… and, i you think you are able to steal an idea from something, wouldn’t that mean that you think someone can steal an idea from you? it is really think “open” to say “i don’t care if someone steal ideas from me”?… i think being open is not being generous, is believing in that you don’t own the knowledge, because anyway you were building it on top of others’ contribution as well… it belongs to all of us anyway, it belongs to anyone who can be part of it and ‘steal’ it will mean to contribute to enhance it…

    thanks for the opportunity of reflecting on that… language is something that very much worry me, we are populated in education with words the have multiple meanings and people seems to don’t care about sometimes: assessment, curriculum, instruction, teaching… and the star and more multifaceted of all “LEARNING”… i would say we should think what we mean by learning when we use it, overall when we use it as a complement of ‘teaching’… it looks like teaching can not exist without learning… it is teaching changing its meaning in open learning or should we simply change the word for the role we have?… i think you have inspired me for a post.. i hope this time it is not just sitting on my to do list :(… thanks…

  2. I think “sharing” or “sharing with some edits” would be more appropriate. I think “stealing” is definitely a negative word and should not be used when we are trying to promote a more positive atmosphere. Great post!

  3. I think what we have here is…oops I am stealing from “Cool Hand Luke”. I think that the folk you call out in your post understand the difference between stealing and ‘stealing’. I do. I think we were playing with the idea, perhaps even undermining it. At least I am ( In the end we are doing whatever we want with your words and ideas, both contingent. I know I am. So the word ‘theft’ is more than a little disingenous don’t you think. Perhaps even a little joke that does way more good than harm.

    I think The Band got it right in their song “Jawbone”–I’m a thief and I dig it. In the words of some other dude, “Understanding is made, not found.” Whatever I ‘steal’ I eventually make min.

    The bigger problem is that there are so many with power to harm who do believe that what folks have done is theft. I understand. We understand. Copyright/patent/intellectual property all define the world in terms of mine and not mine–a Venn diagram blind to the imperatives of cultural appropriation and the commons. In a way ‘theft’ is anathema to open. How can one steal what is effectively bread on the waters of ‘fair use’? So your point is taken, but there is a human need to thank, to reciprocate, to share and give credit to the nearest person at hand. So many thanks for all your gifts, thanks for sharing and spreading the ethic of sharing and thanks for letting me steal some of your free apples. I will continue to steal from you. I will continue to say that I am stealing from you. I can’t help myself.

    1. Steal away, my friend steal away. Yes, the people using the word have the nuanced understanding, but many around us do not, so what does it mean to people who have not developed the nuance to hear colleagues talk about stealing

      I am more curious about the reasons we use such language, and the implication that an idea is a tangible object. It also gets at (and I know this at least for me) some of the inner worries about our work being original.

      I dig your thievery.

    2. It is nice to make jokes, I like that as well 😉 but I do think that some joke can certainly harm, when no one is explaining that it is actually a joke, to those who might not take it as such, and instead take it as a confirmation of some not so clear beliefs…. Then I would think about the audience of those Jokes and if it fits with the audience of the rest of the message… I can imagine that when those two fits together, everything is fine and enjoyable 😉

  4. I too grapple with this abuse of words like stealing, even borrowing isn’t quite correct but better. That said, if I borrow something from you, it implies that I am going to return that something, I promise.

    And no, I didn’t borrow your hedge trimmer, stop looking in my garage for it Alan.

    I’m pretty sure that sounds like Lessig. I’m still struggling with the fact that it was 11+ years ago that I listened to similar words come out of his mouth telling us about the story behind Creative Commons back at OOPSLA 2003

    I can still see his slidedeck in my head, it was that good or at least I remember it that way.

  5. Stealing as an academic saying don’t give me any glory?
    Danger of being perceived as a thief?
    Poor attributiom?

    1. Lotta fear talk in academic circles mainly because they are a bunch of sheep farmers putting up barbed wire fence. You are free to use anything I make with impunity. It all comes from the commons anyway.

  6. I’m reminded of the commercial played in movie theaters to discourage pirating of films, “You wouldn’t steal a CAR would you?!” It’s become a running joke on places like Reddit and I think we as a society attempt to make humorous these things that we disagree with as a way to soften the blow of argument. I had honestly never given a second thought to the connotations of the phrase (see Please Steal Domain of One’s Own). I think for many of us the unwritten context is “of course this isn’t stealing and it would be crazy to think it is” much like the commercial. However I’m sure there’s probably a subset of people who do misinterpret the phrase and think something along the lines, even if subconsciously, that using someone else’s content is akin to stealing. Interesting thoughts!

    1. Good point Tim and I believe the community of people here that will:
      a) land at this blog entry and read it, and
      b) comment here

      Those people “get it”. But I also struggle with trying to get my colleagues to be present on the internet and create their digital identity/presence/trail. 99.32% of them give me the answer “I don’t want people to steal my X”.

      1. It’s a long road to travel as I am sure you know, Ken. I found it not useful when teaching students to start with a preaching moment in sharing and Creative Commons. It lands on ears lacking context and meaning. So what I do is subtly expose them to open licensed media sites and have them butt against the youtube takedown notices. Once they have an experience benefitting from using other people’s content, then the thinking about their own makes sense. And I make em watch Everything is a Remix and/or Remix Manifesto. The sharing economy becomes a forgotten place after kindergarten

  7. I feel like the use of the word “stealing” in this context helps to defang the word, and make it less powerful when it gets abused by those who would try to hoard and control the free flow of information.

  8. I tend to respond “You cannot steal what is freely given.” and then I bow sort of like a zen monk.

    I’m still working on disappearing in a puff of smoke.

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