No Compassion for Plagiarists

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Nothing is sacred on the internet, not the words you write and publish in your blog nor the pictures you take and upload to Flickr.

I’m talking about plagiarism:

Plagiarism is the passing off of another person’s work as one’s own, whether deliberate or accidental. Accidental plagiarism is usually the result of poor citation or referencing or of poor preparation or a misunderstanding of plagiarism. Deliberate plagiarism is an attempt to claim another person’s work as one’s own. An unacknowledged use of words, ideas, information, research, or findings not one’s own, taken from any source is plagiarism.

The Boston Globe has a feature about online plagiarism with blogs. There’s even a blog about plagiarism, not surprisingly called Plagiarism Today. And who hasn’t heard of the high-profile (and unsuccessful) plagiarism lawsuit against The Da Vinci Code’ author Dan Brown?

In the business world, there’s the recent example of Raytheon CEO William Swanson who has admitted plagiarizing another’s work with his book on management tips (and who was actually outed by a blogger).

I have a long-held belief that you should regard anything you put on a website as literally being in the public domain, no matter what copyright notices or conditions on use you might attach to it. People will steal it or otherwise use it without recognition of the originating source as these stories indicate. So anything you view as valuable to you, don’t put it on the internet.

Writing in New York Magazine, David Edelstein has a thoughtful feature about plagiarism which includes this great view:

[] I have no compassion for plagiarists. They don’t go into trances. I think they sweat and lay a book next to the typewriter, and copy. I take the disclosure of their crimes as personally as possible. Words belong to the person who wrote them. There are few simpler ethical notions than this one, particularly as society directs more and more energy and resources toward the creation of intellectual property. Plagiarists have desecrated my profession and given every reader cause to doubt all I write. They have torn down the scaffolding of trust-from writer to editor, from publication to reader-that is the essence of journalism.

Not only journalism, of course – anyone writing and publishing anything is fair game.

The final word from Edelstein:

In this world of Google and Nexis, in which you can pick and choose among so many words written on a given subject, you can’t be sure that anything you read is original. Even this.

In the interests of acknowledging “use of words, ideas, information, research, or findings not one’s own” (see definition above), let me cite my other sources of background for this post – Andy Lark, Steve Rubel and Rex Hammock.

I wonder how and where this post will show up on the internet somewhere. Will highlighting the Creative Commons license that applies to this blog make any difference? And how would that really apply when I claim intellectual property ownership over my original writing, not that of others that I may cite under fair use, such as in this post?

Just asking.

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Neville Hobson is the author of the popular NevilleHobson.com blog which focuses on business communication and technology.

Neville is currentlly the VP of New Marketing at Crayon. Visit Neville Hobson’s blog: NevilleHobson.com.

No Compassion for Plagiarists
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