April 26, 2011

copyright, crediting, plagiarism and blog ethics


( wow, I just noticed in my dashboard that this is my 100th post! apt, i think! )

You know how one thing can lead to another, and another, and another... This post is a result of a postcard I received from a blog buddy. I started researching the card, as I'm wont to do (I'm a facts junkie!), which led to a post about snail mail and Google Books, another post about Google Books and copyright, and now this post about copyright, plagiarism and blogging ethics. 

I'll start with plagiarism. I have several facts posts that rank very highly in Google searches, so they get a lot of hits. Many of my visitors are educational institutes, academics and students (I base this on comments and data from website trackers I use). It is possible my posts get copied wholesale (you can tell from the data when a viewer is toggling between your site and a document on his/her desktop).

My facts posts are not analyses. There are no original thoughts there. But I do spend a lot of time doing research, rewriting what I find and organizing the information into a format that makes everything more digestible and understandable, for instance by grouping chunks of information and data into bite-size categories. I haven't found any similar web pages for my facts posts on the Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis, my most popular posts. I'm happy my posts are of use to some, but it also irritates me that my content gets copied and pasted. Some blog owners go so far as to copy my html so my pages gets cached on their sites and they rank higher in searches even if there isn't any content relevant to the search words on their pages. Clever, that. Sometimes I want to just take my facts posts offline completely, but that seems seriously egostic and drastic since many people with no bad intent can also benefit, which was the reason why I wrote them in the first place.

I received this email last week about my Japan disaster facts post, did I do right?
from AJ (last name and email removed)
I am a thirteen year old boy from England. You have compiled a researched this article very very well and it is because of this that I am requesting that you let me copy parts of the article. I have a scholarship exam for Westminster School and the Japan Earthquake is very likely to come up and it would save me a lot of very precious time if I could copy and paste the article. I will only be sticking it in my revision book. I understand fully why you don’t particularily like copying and I agree. But please, just let me copy. 
My response
Dear AJ, I'm flattered that you think my post is so useful you'd like to copy it. However, I'm afraid I'm going to have to say no. I don't want to make exceptions for anyone, I wouldn't be able to draw a line as to whom I should help and whom I shouldn't. In any case, I don't believe in doing something I've explicitly come out against. 
A lot of the information is available elsewhere on the Internet. I have spent a lot of time and put much effort into researching, rewriting and organizing the info so that my posts are useful resources, and I believe they are as I get a lot of visits from educational institutions, educators and students, some of whom I'm sure have copied and pasted the information wholesale somewhere. If you don't already know, that is PLAGIARISM. It is wrong and as a student (or anyone, for that matter), you should know not to do it, and you could get into trouble if you did. 
If you only wish to use the information for revision purposes, you could always take notes, that is a form of studying. I don't think it would be wasting "precious time", as you put it. You'd be learning as you read or take notes. The only use I see in copying and pasting the article into a revision book is if you were planning to copy and paste it into some form of homework or essay. I can't stop anyone from printing or from copying/pasting, but I don't need to help you in doing so. Thank you for your understanding.

Then I received this comment over the weekend from an Anonymous: "I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work." I don't quite know what to make of this. Were my posts inspirational? Or had they become fodder for someone else's blog?

Yesterday, I found an excerpt of my Japan facts post copied verbatim and posted as homework on a site. It was not credited or linked.

I'm not sure I have the right to righteous indignation. It's so easy to draw the line where plagiarism is concerned, at least it is for me. Copyright is a completely different ball game. I have to admit I'm somewhat conflicted with regard to this. Of course I know it's wrong to steal, but can the use of images or works that don't belong to me ever be justified? Should I have not used the images of the magazine covers in my Google Books posts?

When I first started blogging about four months ago, I used a lot of photos of art, works and crafts created by other people in my posts. The more I blogged, the more I did my best to trace the origin of such works I used and to credit their creators and link to their blogs or sites. If I couldn't find the original source, I would link the works to where I had found them. I never claimed them as mine. Often, I used them when I wrote about their creators. I know that is no justification; flattery is nice but still constitutes a violation. So many people do it, though. In my daily bloghop, I come across countless sites where other people's photos and works are used, often without even a credit. Does it become more morally acceptable because it is so prevalent?

No. But I still fight the constant temptation to use others' images, even if it's for the purpose of education or promoting their works. In the past month, I've tried to avoid posting any images that aren't my own if they are not retail stuff or free to share (eg as stated on blogs/sites, Creative Commons, Wiki Commons). I've written many emails to artists, photographers and bloggers to request permission to use their works. It takes time and it means I don't get to write about everything I would love to if I don't get a response (I haven't yet got a negative one, so most people do say yes if they don't ignore you!), and I may have to rethink the rationale behind this blog, which I started to catalog the stuff I like and the wonderful things I discover. And what about Pinterest and Tumblr, where I post/repost and pin/repin all the amazing things that are on the Internet? I don't lurk around there anymore, mostly because I don't have time and partly because I got frustrated after a while of looking at beautiful photos that are credited or linked to source, and spending hours trying to trace them. It got to be a bit too much and yes, it's possible to get tired of looking at so much beauty when you don't know where it comes from. I'm speaking for myself of course; I like to get to the bottom of things.

Bottomline: I'm not sure where this blog is headed. I have several half-written posts that I probably won't finish due to the copyright issue. I'm no longer comfortable with crediting sources without permission, although I suspect I may have lapses if I find something truly wonderful. I also don't know where the videos I post fall into all this. They aren't always embedment-coded videos that are provided by original sources.

If you're still here, I would love to know what you think. This post is not meant as a criticism of anyone's blogging approach. I think we all have to find what works for us individually, whether in blogging or in life. I saw this cool infographic during my period of Pinterest/Tumblr obsession; it is a good guide on the copyright/credit problem. I'm happy to say it's free to share.

 giving credit infographic by Pia Jane Bijkerk (enhance the everyday) and Erin (Design for Mankind)

Click the links in the credit to read the articles Pia and Erin posted on crediting sources. There are other great posts on crediting/copyright, I like this detailed one from Grace at design*sponge (a wonderful blog if you don't know it already): biz ladies: online etiquette and ethics (part 1)

Thank you for reading.
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More blog discussions on copyright/plagiarism
Shades of Gray (the long thread)

Related links
Why Do They Do It (The New York Sun)
Plagiarism lines blur for students in digital age (New York Times)
turnitin.com, an online plagiarism detector
link to resources on blog copyright and content theft (from geneabloggers.com) a very good list!
Patterns and how they are affected by copyright law (tabberone.com)

Understanding Copyright and Licenses (smashingmagazine)
Copyright, Part I: It’s Not Only About the Law (an interesting piece on using others' images in your art or crafting)
Small businesses warned against infringing on copyright (British Journal of Photography)
Copyscape, service that crawls your site to see if your pages have been copied
Tynt, a program you can install in your site’s header that inserts a credit tag/text every time someone copies a chunk of text or images from your site
TinEye can find an image wherever it lives on the Internet, even if the file name has been changed

by liberal sprinkles


Bluezy said...

Funny how when I was crawling around the blog scene I saw a blogger who used Copyscape. In this blog I saw a not credited picture from a roller derby team calendar. I knew this because I manipulated the picture with photoshop to create a MySpace background for my niece who was dabbling in local roller derby.

I have an awful feeling when the internet claims to close up and ask demands for usage.
If people are making profit, then I can understand.
Non profit bloggers are just posting journals or posts on interests. If a blogger is interested in say what YOU wrote about and shares it with minimal copying, crediting and praising your view then linking it...THAT IS THE ULTIMATE COMPLIMENT. It is not stealing. If anything more, it is free and appraised advertisement.

I just wrote a blurp about how I liked Anne Rice over Twilight, and when I searched my blog on the internet I found my trite little post with youtube embed in a British search engine under the topic Anne Rice and Twilight.

I also noticed that if I was a hit monger, then the most famous topic pictures in art are then also hit makers on your blog even if you got them from the author or artist and linked them it still puts your blog into the search. I posted about Banksy and actually posted a slideshow of his work. It gets the most hits ever just for image searches. I had 5000 hits since Feb. and only 1 percent are actually the 7 people who follow me. 3 of the people who follow me are known and 2 just check up now and then.
Someone out of the blue thanked me for a topic I decide to give and idea upon...(out of millions in the worldwide web)

I even noticed when a blogger said she had read my Barbie Altered blog post in her own blog was in the google search. I felt like "oh how nice of her to mention".

I post in my sidewall a media usage rationale and a fair usage disclaimer.

I am just having fun, searching for what I call treasures in the Virtual Dumpster I call the Internet. Millions and millions of possibilities in a search and on a day I crawl and think of what I might be interested in, something is worth sharing beyond a facebook like or a share link. I have more words on it. To share all that I want would be like spam on the facebook news feed.

I also am older and after my husband died, I wanted to journal my interests and thoughts on a blog as a digital imprint on how I think. He died so suddenly with little of himself but possessions. In a sense, when I blog I am putting my soul on digital.

I figure if it offends someone that some small nobody is impressed on what they have to say or create, then that somebody really just wants to talk to themselves or is hoping for some greater eye that possibly NEVER uses the internet anyways.

To have someone anyone say, "yeah I read that this dude on the internet said this and that" and it happened to be you and it got around to a group of people...that is a very big accomplishment considering the sized of this whole world wide network.

To you get what I mean here?

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Grace, wow. First of all, you have such great topics and you do so much research that your posts are incredible! I love that you do that, and I love your blog. I hope that you don't close it down.

If I am not using my own images, I usually just get my images off of Bing/Windows Live. It used to be that they were not linked up to anything. Now they are, so I have taken to writing a caption under the photo when it gets on my blog and linking it up to the website where it originated. But, you search out really cool stuff, so I see why you feel the need to ask permission, even though I am sure that most of those folks would be happy to get the plug you are giving them.

Last week, I was looking up on this subject, because I have so many photos, and I don't want anybody to take them. Like you, I read my Feedit and spot where there is interest on an older post; make sure that I have signed my names, and have several explanations on how everything that is mine is copyrighted.

If you can look up the guy who wrote an article on how that tiny giraffe on the commercials is fake; somebody copied his whole article and took credit for it. He took his camera, took a picture of the other website, wrote to them and said, take it off. Within a day, it was taken off.

Last night, I traced one of my tablescapes to another blog, but they did have "This maybe copyrighted" on my photo and gave my link.

I was searching blog bullying (my blog was on a list of who to dump ... about 20 bloggers in the same group had dumped me all at once a couple of months ago) and found an A-Z blogger who had copied and pasted my post of how I had taken off word verification and added "Randy's birthday" and other things from my label list and said, isn't that nice of her! Like she was spreading the word to target me, maybe? I went back the next day with my camera, but it was gone. She could tell that I had been there.

I know that I am straying off topic, but I'd hate to see you stop. Your blog is very valuable, Grace! At least that kid asked, but many are not. Have you searched on how others are handling this? I wish that I had saved the links. I am most worried about my photos, cuz some of them are pretty nice ... I use Picasa and don't share them, except on my blog.

If I find more problem solving solutions, I let you know. But like any other part of life ... stand up for yourself and confront. If you see you work someplace else, get out that camera, comment and email them and say that they are using it without permission and it is time for them to remove it. It will work!

Take care,

Kathy M.

Jordan said...

At least the kid asked but I would have told him no as well. To me, it kind of sounded like he wanted to copy your work, or basically, have you write his paper for him. I know what you mean about using other people's images on your blog. There have been a lot of blog ethics/etiquette posts floating around lately. They all basically say the same thing, ask permission and always link back to the original post. I used to use images from around the web but now I mostly write about my everyday life using my own images. Sometimes I do post photos from other people's etsy shops in a "what I love" type of post but always link back. I wonder, should I ask permission for that, even if I'm promoting their products? Probably.

Fifi Flowers said...

LOVE that diagram!!!

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Just one more thought ... because your posts are articles, maybe you could put your name and the date at the top of each one and say that this is copyrighted material, all rights reserved, do not use without permission, etc.

I think that people feel more free to steal from a blog post, more than they would from a newspaper article, but who knows?

Lynn said...

Nice post Grace. You are always so mindful of linking to the sites where you get your information, which I think is the proper thing to do. You do so much work and research in your blogs that it makes it easy for people to just use your links to get more info if they want, they shouldn't have to take your work. Like everyone said, I think most places are happy to get the plug, provided you are linking to their site and saying positive things about it.

liberal sprinkles said...

Thank you for all the feedback, I appreciate them! I have so many things to say in reply but haven't had the time because I've just found more of my content all over the web! arrrggghhhhh.

I will reply to the comments soon!!

liberal sprinkles said...

I think very few people would object to being "promoted" if their works (images, blog contents etc) were discussed or mentioned by other blogs or sites with due credit and a link back to them. However, their works being their creations, it's really their prerogative to deny anyone the right to use them in any form if they so wish, compliment or not. I don't think it's fair to say that if they're not happy to share, they just want to talk to themselves.

There is a huge problem in proper crediting, especially for photos. YOu can see this on a lot of websites, blogs and especially platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest and WeHeartIt. In the latter three, you'll find lots of photos for instance floating around that are not credited at all or linked to sources that are not the original sources. So people's works get circulated continually without them being credited at all. When you repin on Pinterest/WeHeartIt or reblog on Tumblr, very often all you're linking to is the last person who repinned/reblogged the photo. It's possible to link it to the original source (the creator) but very few people do it. I have spent ages clicking back to up to more than 10 previous sources for each photo without finding the original source. HOw is that fair to the creator then? The blogger you mentioned who used the roller deby team calendar, how do you know he didn't find the calendar from a blog where it was posted without credit as if it were free to reuse? I have come across so many popular Tumblr blogs whose owners farm Google images and post photos sans credit. They may not claim it as their own works but many visitors to their blogs actually think they are. After a few rounds of photos being reblogged or used in different blogs, often the credit gets lost completely.

I understand your point about doing "service" to others who find interesting information on your blog. When I write my posts, I try and make them useful resources and I've been complimented on that. Several of my posts - and not just the facts ones - also get lots of hits via search engines so I have quite a few random and unique visitors every day. BUT I don't think that gives me the right to use someone else's copyrighted images or content without permission. I've been more careful about that in the past month and all the videos I've posted recently have been posted with embedment codes by their creators so I think I'm OK there.

Like I said in my post, everyone has to find a formula that works for them. Personally, apart from the ethical issue, I would hate to be slapped with a lawsuit.

liberal sprinkles said...

hey Kathy,
Thanks again for being so supportive of my blogging! I'm sorry I didn't get to write my replies until now. I've been a bit overwhelmed by the issue and I also thought these great feedback needed serious addressing that I couldn't write without having some time to think things through.

You're so brave to post so many of your great photos online. I have to say I save my good photos for myself because I don't want to know where they might end up if I blogged them. I'm pretty paranoid, I watermark (well, really just put a sorta translucent text of my blog address) on some photos I post. I noticed the different way you're presenting your photos now, good luck to you!

Aww I feel bad for you that you got dumped en bloc. There are some nasty people out there! I can take negative comments and criticisms, if they're constructive. I don't see the point of being mean and malicious though I think we can't avoid people like that in the blogging world or in life. Best to just ignore them and move on. And know that there are people who appreciate the great stuff you do. I love your blogging, I don't read everything but there're stuff there that do interest me and impress me as well. You put it lots of nice details and history that I'd never know about or think to look up otherwise. Thank you!!

I just came across a post with great links on the copyright/plagiarism issue, take a look at resources on blog copyright and content theft (from geneabloggers.com). I haven't checked out all the links yet but those I have are pretty cool.

I think you're right about having to stand up for yourself when you have to but I have to say it's very demoralizing to see your stuff all over the Internet. OK I'm really exaggerating here heheh but I found at least 4 "sblogs" (I just saw this word in one of the linked sites from the post I mentioned) using my content that they seem to rip off my RSS feeds, so basically every one of my posts go up on their sites. Sblogs farm other blogs for content which they then put up without permission. Most of these sblogs have advertising on them and nearly all of them have zero original content. They use a few lines from your posts and they do put a link to your site but they have more or less the same high search engine rankings that you do if you have high rankings so it's pretty annoying. I also don't want to be associated with these useless sites. At least two of them take posts off of very limited number of blogs (for now?) so my posts make up about 10 percent of their content from the past week. That's pretty depressing for me to see.

I'm not sure how to fight them without spending too much time or effort (let alone money). I've written to them (they haven't published my comments) but I don't think it'll help much. Even if it did, there are thousands of other sblogs around so I suspect it'll be a neverending problem. Maybe I'm a victim of my own success (I have several posts that are in the top 5-10 of Google searches).

Oh, I did read about that giraffe story! I guess you saw it from the Feedjit newsletter too :) YAY to the blogger. For those of you who haven't heard about how this guy's scoop got "stolen" by a newspaper and how he fought back, read this post by Ian Dennis Miller on his giraffe saga.

liberal sprinkles said...

Kathy, (I had to break up my answer to you into 2 comments because I exceeded the character limit! whoever knew there was one!)

I did have a "please don't copy/paste, it's plagiarism" note in my Japan facts posts but I don't think it deters people who are anonymous to you anyway. I don't care much if someone uses it for their presentations or homework (because I'd never see it!) but I'd hate to see it on another website/blog of course. I'd hate to see chunks of my text copied even if they were credited, really. There's a thing as plagiarism which many people don't seem to know or care about. I guess the Internet really makes it so much easier to cheat and the more common it becomes, the more morally acceptable it gets to just use and take credit for someone else's work.

Hi Jordan,
thanks for taking the time to give me your feedback, I appreciate it! It looks like we feel the same about using images from the net, I'm trying to cut back on that or get permission for what I do use but it's very hard to resist from just posting when you see something really awesome!

The Design Sponge post says it's considered fair use if you use images from retail sites like Etsy to promote or discuss an object so I guess you're safe there!

hi Lynn,
thanks for commenting! You're one of my most loyal followers and faithful commenters. I really appreciate it!

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