( 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 responseDear 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)
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