Saturday, May 07, 2005

Let's Talk about Thievery

Grrl over at Chez Miscarriage, one of the cleverist, most honest and worthwhile sites I've found, has been plagiaraized. (Go read it now because she has taken her archives down and it won't be around much longer. Don't let the thing about the toothpicks disturb you.)

I've been plagiarized before. So has Husband. In fact, lots of people who write for the world at large have had their writing stolen. So, I did a little searching and found the CBB Plagiarism Resource Site. It has a weblog with entries on how to properly attribute online content and incidents of content thievery, and some other interesting things. I also searched for how to prevent such plagiarism. My personal solution is to never write anything anyone would want to say they wrote, and it's working pretty good so far.

However, I started thinking about the whole plagiarism thing. Why do people do it? I come up with a short list of reasons.
  1. Rampant, unbridled ignorance. Some folk just don't know any better. They are stupid and should not be allowed to breed, much less wander around unescorted on the Internet. Give them Atari game consoles and keep the world safe.
  2. Creative paucity/laziness. Someone sees somethign good and it looks like something they'd kind of like to have said. So they swipe it and pretend they did say it. They might even change a couple of the nouns with a "find and replace" function in their word processor. They know they are doing somethign wrong, but it seems such a little thing. Who are they hurting and who's gonna find out anyway? I'm tempted to recommend corporal punishment, but I think public humilation is a better deterent. Have public readings of the poetry they wrote in highschool.
  3. Meanspirited defiance. These are the folks who see rules and limits only as something to defy, get around, subvert or ignore. They steal because they want to steal. They revel in the badness of what they do, thumbing their noses at others who are so foolish as to want to live cooperatively and peacefully. I think object lessons are the best solution here -- they should have their computers stolen, and perhaps their identity. That might change their thinking, possibly.

Now, the 4 or 5 of you who read here are, I am quite certain, completely aware of what constitutes plagiarism. It is not the same as copyright infringement, but they are related. I would like to note that I declare this site to be a copyrighted site, even though it is not feasible to register everything in it that I write. Such a right is granted automatically. It's mostly concerned with who can make money off what. Plagiarism is more about who originated what. That is when someone, either directly by deception or indirectly by omission claims to be the originating entity of some piece of intellectual property when in fact they are not. They just copied it and pasted it without attribution.

So, what if you really like what someone else wrote and you really want to include it as part of something you wrote, specifically in and/or from the weblogging world?

  • You can ASK PERMISSION. Most of the time, if you ask nicely and honestly, a person who originated something will happily bask in offered adoration. Make sure you are clear about where you got the content.
  • LINK. Link link link! Most of the time a link is not a problem. However, should someone to whom you have linked request that you not link to them, honor that. You may represent something to which that person does not wish to associate, or that person may be using the material in some other way that will require exclusivity. Remember, they always have the option of removing or renaming their content URL so you end up with a dead link, so be gracious about it. When in doubt, ASK PERMISSION.
  • Quote and quote properly. No, I'm not talking about all that stuff about indenting and putting in periods you had to do in highschool or college. It's really simple. When you want to use soemthing someone else wrote, start off with "I got this from so-n-so's weblog and they said..."insert quote here". It's easy, it's quick, it won't hurt, and you can look smart by association.

You attribute. YOu state where you got it. You give the person who created what you like some choices. Stealing someone's thoughts, words, writing ability or expressive choices is just bad. It is wicked and deplorable and has no redeeming quality. A person who plagiarizes harms not just the source, but everyone who is deceived, and occasionally him or herself. It's just as easy NOT to do it. Don't add to the evil miasma of lies and deceit in the world.

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