Thou Shalt Not Steal.

There are more than 800 blogs at this site, and many thousands of photos. THOUSANDS of photos.

I love these old kit homes and I love this piece of our history, but I’m getting mighty disheartened and discouraged.

Today, I have discovered (for the umpteenth time) that my work – my photos – have been lifted en masse from my site and placed on someone else’s website without a speck of attribution or credit. In this lengthy essay, my name does not appear.

Photos yes – name NO.

The person (or people) who lifted my photos didn’t even bother to edit out some of the flaws in my photos, but simply copied and pasted them.


With few exceptions, each and every photo is the result of a great deal of personal expense and effort. And that doesn’t even touch on the amount of time (years, actually) it took to learn and memorize hundreds and hundreds of kit house designs. But, as I’ve said before, this is a labor of love and for the most part, folks seem genuinely grateful to be learning more about this piece of American architectural history.

Heaven knows, I don’t make enough money from this gig to keep body and soul together. In fact, I frequently have to throw my own money at this venture to keep it going.

How is it that people can think it’s okay to take someone’s work but not give credit? Did no one ever tell them that it’s wrong to take things without asking? When they were in school, did no one ever tell them that it’s wrong to copy the answers from someone else’s test? Have they never heard of the Ten Commandments?

Or do they simply lack the sophistication to understand that violation of intellectual property is just as wrong as stealing lawn furniture or bicycles or televisions? Or maybe they don’t realize that the laws governing intellectual property apply to internet content as well?

Tomorrow, I’ll return to happy, happy posts, but today, I’m so very disheartened and disappointed by these so-called historians who take other people’s work, and don’t put a single word of credit or attribution with their posts.

It’s enough to make a person abandon historical research altogether.

To read Part II, click here.

*Images from pre-1923 publications are now in the public domain, which means they can be reprinted without permission. And there is a difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. Copyright infringement is taking copyright-protected intellectual property without permission (such as is now happening regularly with my photos). Even if a work is out of copyright (public domain), it can still be plagiarized. If I copied every word from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1910 best-seller, “The Secret Garden,” and published it under my own name, that would be plagiarism. If I copied every word from Orson Scott Card’s 1980 best-seller “Ender’s Game,” that would be plagiarism and copyright infringement.

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Heres an example of one my photos that was borrowed with no attribution from my website. Thing is, its easy enough to find these photos in

Here's an example of one my photos that was "borrowed" with no attribution from my website. Thing is, it's easy enough to find these photos in an old Sears catalog. BTW, this is an advertisement for the Wizard Block Maker. I loved it because it looks like a mirror image of the famous evolution graphic, where man goes from being stooped over to upright. Then again, I'm pretty easily entertained.



The Wizard Block Maker was hugely popular and it's easy to find pictures of it in early Sears catalogs. I guess it's much easier to just lift it from my website?


This is another image that has been borrowed time and time again with no attribution. Let me tell you about this image.

This is another image that has been "borrowed" time and time again with no attribution. Let me tell you about this image. It also appears in my book, "The Sears Homes of Illinois." To get this photo, I left my home in Norfolk, VA and traveled 1,000 miles to Illinois where I spent three weeks driving from Chicago to Cairo doing research and photographing houses. This photo (above) came from a Sears house near Champaign, IL. And that's the thing - there's a story of work and effort behind almost every photo I've published here. I have reconciled myself to the fact that people will use these photos without first asking permission, but at least put MY NAME with MY PHOTOS!! Please!


And thats why, with my new book on Penniman, Ill be putting my website name on each and every photo that I post online.

And that's why, as I do research on Penniman, I'll be putting my website name on each and every photo that I post online. BTW, these are the "Ethels" in Penniman about 1918. (Photo is courtesy Hagley Museum and Library.)


Because, this really does take the fun out of the thing.

And I'm on the cusp of resorting to this, but it really does take the fun out of the thing.


To read about the kit homes in Clifton Forge, click here.

To read a happy, happy post about my “Atomic Kitchen,” click here.

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  1. Karen Marmaras

    The thing about historical research, though, is that we are addicts.

    So we might SAY it’s enough to make us throw in the towel, but we will continue to research. Because we have to.

  2. Rachel Shoemaker

    I agree! I too am tired of it. I have not just hundreds of dollars invested in catalogs and such, but more like a few thousand.

    If you scan each image then crop or edit and often clean up the really bad ones it becomes time consuming.

    Until someone has done this from start to finish they have no idea what is involved. Freelance writers and bloggers are the absolute worst lately.

    To give people an idea of how much time it takes, I very recently scanned a 1923 Wardway Homes and uploaded it to flickr.

    From the time I opened the catalog to the time I had straightened, cropped and edited the last image it took me 9 hours total.

    I actually timed it! To make 100+ pages presentable took an entire workday including lunch hour and I didn’t get one dime.

    Multiply that and see how much time Rosemary has in to her images and photos!

  3. Sears Homes

    Good point, Karen.

    I do love the old houses. I really do. And I enjoy writing the blogs.

    I had better focus on that for now. LOL.

  4. Sears Homes

    So true, Rachel. Scanning those catalogs is incredibly time-consuming and cleaning up the images takes even more time!

    To see my work lifted and used with no attribution is a tough thing to see.

    Thanks for your comments. 🙂

  5. Shari D.

    Maybe time to start “calling” these thieves on their theft of property publically ~ like on their own pages.

    Even if it gets taken down by the “owners” of the pages after a time, if it’s been up on their pages long enough to be read by others, it might get the attention of others that they are not reading original work, but that which has been stolen from someone else.

    Watermarks come to mind as well, like that shown on Rosemary’s Penniman picture above.

    Takes more time, but maybe it will discourage the theft of your own wok into which you have poured hours of your work and dollars from your pocket.

    Contacting the thief personally with a well-worded “cease and desist” type correspondence might also get some action as well.

    You never know, but doing nothing will get exactly that in return ~ nothing. I would not put up with it for one minute if I had that much money, time and work involved, and people without scruples or the first inkling of character come along and just take it for themselves.

    Blogs are often written on websites that provide the writer with space and bandwidth on which to do their creating, and have clear rules about doing such things.

    How about contacting the source of the blogspace and let them know they are hosting the theft of intellectual property?

  6. Shari D.

    Post the names and website locations right here.

    Create a “Wall Of Shame” and list the theives on it, like posting “most wanted” pictures in the Post Office!

    Having it, and making it visible might discourage some, but it would also direct the rest of us right to them, where we can all participate (voluntarily, of course) in bombarding the miscreants with posts/emails/messages that we know who they are, and where they stole what they are illegally calling their own.

    I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to be first in line to start writing them!

  7. Kathryn

    Definitely need to watermark. Most lazy lifters won’t crop it out.

  8. Sears Homes

    @Shari D.
    Shari, I like the way you think! 😀

    Unfortunately, I am constrained by many things, most notably, my marriage to “an old work-horse trial attorney,” who advises me that such actions may result in messy litigation.

    The other thing I’ve learned about the law is that even if you are 100% right, it may cost you tens of thousands of dollars to PROVE that you are right.

    So, I will start the arduous task of putting watermarks on every single photo that I do not wish to have “lifted.”


  9. Sears Homes

    Kathryn, I think watermarks are the way to go. I’m spent. Cooked and done.

    Thanks for the kind words.

  10. Dale Haynes

    I know I have used three of her images from Sears houses in Carlinville outside Standard Addition (and I did get her permission).

    Under the photo I posted “Photo courtesy of Rosemary Thornton and more about this house can be found at her blog” with the word blog hyperlinked.

    I could take my own pictures but thought that leading people to this blog would get them more interested in Sears Homes.

    Thanks for all you’ve done Rosemary and keep up the good work even when the commandment breaker get you angry.

  11. Dale Wolicki

    I want to know who stole your work so I can fill up their mailbox with spam!

    And I have college computer wizard working for me that once got a lecture from the FBI, so I might have him do some “editing” at this offensive website!

  12. Rachel Shoemaker

    What many of the bloggers, free lance writers, website owners etc do not realize is that by crediting you as their source search engines will pick that up.

    It is actually to their benefit to give you credit every chance they can because I believe your name and blog is most always the first one to pop up on a search of Sears houses or kit homes.

    Using your name will draw blog hits and website hits! Leaving comments at blogs, like I am doing right now for example 🙂 , will draw hits to their website or blog as well.

    If they were smart and knew how SEO works they would credit your research and photos.

    And … it’s just the right thing to do!

  13. Shari D.

    If they were smart, they wouldn’t need to be stealing other peoples’ work to begin with. They would already know that giving attribution where it’s due would be the “right thing to do.”

    It’s always the ones who are NOT smart ~ i.e., thieves, the lazy and the ignorant, the “criminals” of other types ~ who make it so difficult for those of us who DO know the right things to do, and who do it, and who do appropriate recognition for work borrowed from others.

    Funny story regarding “plaigarism” this reminded me of my Eighth grade science teacher in a 5-year high school assigned a written research project to about 20 students. (This is back in the days when “computers” in the school existed only in the Senior Business classes and involved the use of “punch cards” by the way, just to set the stage.)

    All research for such things required the use of things like pencils, pens, paper, report folders, science books, encyclopedias and physical trips to libraries. Report was due in 10 school days ~ 2 weeks. The smart students did their research and report construction using the aforementioned tools and references.

    Their reports were done in advance of the deadline. However, a couple of “not too brilliant” students procrastinated, and did not get their reports done until the night before (or perhaps the morning of.)

    Time came to hand them in, and the teacher pulls a fast one, announcing that she was going to give the students the opportunity to display their report-producing skills, and read them ALOUD to the class before handing them in. OK, cool. No problem. The first few students read some fair-to-good-to-above-average reports on the assigned topic.

    There was suddenly some extreme hesitancy and stammering, as well as some sudden paleness on the part of one student when called upon to read his report. Did he have his report? Yes, ma’am, I have my report. So, what’s the problem?

    After some further hemming and hawing around, the teacher asks to see this report. He hands it in to the teacher, red-faced and hesitant. She starts flipping through the pages, skimming through the contents, and starts to smile to herself, while looking with a raised eyebrow not only at that student, but also at the one who had just read his!

    She hands it back to the red-faced student, and requests again that he stand and read his report.

    He was obviously not enthusiastic about doing this, but stands and starts to mumble and stammer through it. The teacher tells him to speak up so ALL of us can benefit from his research! It suddenly sounds very familiar – so much so that the student before him dropped his head into his folded arms on the table, and the rest of us suddenly realized that they had BOTH copied the exact same information word for word out of the exact same edition of the World Book Encyclopedia!

    So, there were not one, but TWO “F”s given as grade on that project to two students that class period! The way the teacher reacted though told me that this was not the first time she had run accross that situation! Both papers went up on her bulletin board in her very own “Wall Of Shame” section…….