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Bloggers are the New Plagiarism 326

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-think-i've-heard-that-before dept.
mjeppsen writes "PlagiarismToday offers a thought-provoking article that frankly discusses concerns with plagiarism and rote content theft among bloggers. In the section entitled "Block quotes by the Dozen" the author mentions the so-called "gray area". That is PlagiarismToday's classification of the common blogger practice of re-using large blocks of text/content from the original article or source, even when the source is attributed."
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Bloggers are the New Plagiarism

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  • Bzzzzt! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Monday May 22, 2006 @01:49PM (#15382061) Homepage Journal
    even when the source is attributed.

    Its not plagiarism then is it?
  • by enitime (964946) on Monday May 22, 2006 @01:51PM (#15382082)
    Not that it's Slashdotted or anything, I just thought it'd be funny.

    ---

    The Investor Relations Web Report calls it "the new plagiarism". Dan Zarella from Puritan City call those who engage in it "the best plagiarists". Others simply call them bloggers or, as Zarella also put it, "Human Aggregators".

    They're a new breed of content users that walk a gray area between that which is clearly fair use and what is obviously content theft. Their blogs are marked with large swaths of block quotes and heavy content reuse, but also proper attribution and at least some original content.

    These sites, as they've grown in number, have created a great deal of controversy among bloggers who are left to wonder if they are nothing more than content thieves in disguise.

    Block quotes by the Dozen

    These sites, which for this article I'll simply call "gray", are generally identified by a large number of very short posts, with much of it in block quotes or otherwise directly lifted content. Though they meticulously credit their sources, bowing to more traditional rules for blog attribution, and work to add at least some original content, usually over half of their material comes from other sources.

    This has caused many bloggers to worry that these grey blogs might be trying to get away with content theft under the guise of legitimate attribution. The idea being that they can create a much larger volume of content if they only have to write a small portion of it. Users will simply visit the gray blogs since they are able to provide so much more information and, due to the use of liberal quoting, the user will then have no reason to visit the original source. After all, they already have most of the critical information.

    While certainly grey blogs don't pose the same threat or raise the same concerns as spam blogs and other content scrapers, the cause for concern is clear. Even though blogging is about sharing and reusing information, excessive sharing threatens the authors penning the original content. The tale of the goose laying the golden egg springs to mind as, quite simply, greed can be the blogging world's biggest enemy.

    A Separation of Degrees

    What makes this issue so difficult to address, and so difficult to write about, is that it's not so much about gray blogs, but rather, various shades of grey blogs. The difference between someone simply quoting blogs and someone trying to tweak the system is not a clear cut matter, but a separation of degrees.

    Quoting, even liberal quoting, is expected by blogs. It's a part of researching a story and covering ongoing stories as well as sharing information. If done properly, it can not only be used to create a new work, but also drive valuable traffic to the original site. In the blogging world, being the source is often a badge of honor.

    However, basing your entire site, or even a larger percentage of it, on quoted content is viewed differently. Being a source in a larger article is one thing, but having your content be the majority of the article on another site another. What distinguishes one from the other is unclear at best. There are no math formulas or systems for determining what is right or what is too much.

    More confusing still, everyone has a different idea of what constitutes content theft. With Creative Commons Licenses being very common, it's obvious some feel that copying an entire work is acceptable so long as attribution is affixed. Others would place the boundary well within what is usually considered fair use.

    The challenge becomes to strike a balance and set some kind of guideline that is compatible with copyright law, acceptable under the current code of blogging ethics but also able to appease the concerns many bloggers share over grey sites.

    A Proposed Solution

    When I first looked at the problem, I was tempted to set guidelines by which a blogger should not get more than X percent of their overall content from other sites or use more than Y lines from another entry.
  • by JSBiff (87824) on Monday May 22, 2006 @01:59PM (#15382181) Journal
    Parent is correct - plagiarism is claiming as your original work, someone else's work. If you attribute the work, it is clearly not plagiarism, and not a 'gray area'. The only 'gray area', I would say, would be copyright violation. It is fair use to quote someone else. But, at what point of copying large blocks of someone else's copyrighted material do you cross the line from fair use to copyright infringement?

    Personally, I would err on the side of fair use - particularly if the bloggers are adding significant amounts of criticism/commentary (for example, Groklaw recently commented on the blog of some ZDNet analyst, and PJ included almost the entire text of the blog entry - but that is because she was doing a point by point rebuttal of his tripe - that should be considered fair use, because it's almost impossible to rebut in entirety, if you cannot quote in entirety). If they copy 5 pages of article text and add a 3 line summary/critique at the top, that, to me, would not be fair use.
  • Re:Bzzzzt! (Score:5, Informative)

    by DarkOx (621550) on Monday May 22, 2006 @02:04PM (#15382229) Journal
    Well no... If you cite the source it is not plagiarism; so much as it simple copyright infringment.
  • Re:Bzzzzt! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Monday May 22, 2006 @02:05PM (#15382239) Homepage Journal
    That's plagiarism, whether cited it or not.
    Plagiarism: [reference.com] n 1: a piece of writing that has been copied from someone else and is presented as being your own work 2: the act of plagiarizing; taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own. [emph mine]
    No, its not plagiarism. I'm not arguing about the ethics of what you describe. Just saying that plagiarism neccessitates passing off the work as your own. If you site a source, its no more plagiarism then copying a music CD is plagiarism.
  • Re:Bzzzzt! (Score:3, Informative)

    by robertjw (728654) on Monday May 22, 2006 @02:06PM (#15382251) Homepage
    In this case, while the citation may be there, enough of the text is taken that there's no point in consulting the original article (so it's not like aggregators such as slashdot, which point to the article). The blogger adds no additional content, and effectively profits (whether in "community kudos" or adsense) from unauthorized reproduction of someone else's content.

    That's plagiarism, whether cited it or not.


    Do you have a reference for this definition of plagarism? The definition I found is more like this:

    plagiarism, which is the uncredited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else's words or ideas. [purdue.edu]

    A cited reference, regardless of size, is not an 'uncredited use'. What you describe may be a copyright violation, but doesn't appear to be plagarism.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 22, 2006 @02:10PM (#15382287)
    If you take content from an article and credit it, that's not plagiarism. Dictionary.com (from WordNet) [reference.com] describes plagiarism as: "the act of plagiarizing; taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own". If you stick someone else's name on it, it's clearly not your own! (Of course, the web is Content + Markup, so depending upon how the citation is visible or not is a whole other discussion...)

    Small excerpts of text are usually considered "fair use". Large excerpts or wholesale copying is usually considered "copyright infringement". If you profit by taking someone else's content, properly citing it, and putting it on your blog, you will be guilty of copyright infringement[1], not plagiarism.

    All of the profs in college said the same thing: If you cite your references, you'll never get in trouble with the Honor Code (i.e. College's plagiarism/cheating policy). You [the student] may get no credit if you use JUST other people's work, but you'll never get in trouble for plagiarism.

    -- Qubit

    [1] Assuming that the person retains full copyright and doesn't use a Creative Commons license or similar...
  • Re:Bzzzzt! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Neil Blender (555885) <neilblender@gmail.com> on Monday May 22, 2006 @02:21PM (#15382385)
    No. Most often, scientific papers cite other papers to back up an assertion in the manuscript. Simply stating that protein X is involved in pathway Y is not always enough. You have to back it up with a citation of an accepted manuscript that shows data supporting that assertion. You don't really see directly quoted material.
  • by shark72 (702619) on Monday May 22, 2006 @02:39PM (#15382529)

    "When a news story breaks, and you see a report raw from a wire service feed, watch as practically every news outlet copies and pastes that report verbatim."

    Perhaps you're joking, and it flew right over my head. But FWIW, news outlets such as newspapers pay the wire services for the priveledge of doing so. There's a pre-existing arrangement, and this is how the wire services make their money.

  • Re:RepublicanBlogs (Score:5, Informative)

    by DaveV1.0 (203135) on Monday May 22, 2006 @02:48PM (#15382609) Journal
    It works for both sides.

    I hate Democrat hate blogs that are out there and focus on half of one side of a story to make it look as bad as possible for anyone other than themselves.

    The worst part, is that they link to themselves over and over and over and over and over and over worse than a hick family tree were all the grandmas grandpas, children and grand children descended fromt he same 2 people.

    Take a recent look on google for "stop iraq war" and you will see hundreds of Democrat blogs on the subject, all citing other Democrat blogs as the definitive and truthful source, when in the end the story was put up as a sensational tabloid article with no truth behind it at all.

    Bloggers are not the new news media, they are just a bunch of people who have found out a place were people will read their opinions, nod their heads, and help them mentally wack themselves off at how awsome they are and how many people they can get to agree.

    Plagarism isnt even the half of it, these people cite sources that cite sources to the point were it would be difficult to find out were the original story came from, its like a horrible game of telephone gone awry, or the before mentioned incestuous family forgetting whose kid little jenny is.


    It is all apart of the demagoguery used by both sides.
  • Re:Bzzzzt! (Score:4, Informative)

    by GeorgeH (5469) on Monday May 22, 2006 @02:49PM (#15382619) Homepage Journal
    Good point, since if we went by the legal definition [google.com] there would be no such thing as plagiarism.
  • Sorry (Score:3, Informative)

    by AoT (107216) on Monday May 22, 2006 @03:10PM (#15382815) Homepage Journal
    But that isn't the way copyright law works, whatever your view of how it *should* work.

    If you quote a large enough section of any writing it can be considered infringment and not fair use.
  • by Todd Knarr (15451) on Monday May 22, 2006 @03:24PM (#15382924) Homepage

    I'm in the habit of quoting large portions of articles, or even the entire article, for a purely practical reason: the mutability of Web pages. I've lost track of how often I've made a comment about something in an article, only to have a lot of people asking what I was talking about because the article said no such thing. On looking at the article again, the passage I was referring to had either been removed or altered to say something it hadn't said originally. The only way I have to combat this is to preserve a copy of the article as I originally read it in a place not subject to editing by the article's owner.

    I'd note this after-the-fact rewriting tends to be most common where the original article contained egregiously and provably incorrect statements and the authors got called on the matter and now want to never have said that (as opposed to wanting to admit they mis-stated).

  • by dyoung9090 (894137) on Monday May 22, 2006 @03:38PM (#15383032)
    I spent a few minutes trying to call up the original article so I could respond with a thoughtful statement about how the original article says it's "the new plagiarism."

    And then I read your bit and realized I didn't need to. It's amazing how many people don't seem to understand that the New Something shouldn't be the Old Something because then it would just be the Old Something. Maybe the article should try and coin a new phrase for the phenomena like "polypasting" or "prolificopy" or something. That way everyone would know it's something not quite plagiarism.

    The original article isn't saying "to take someone's work is plagiarism" it's saying "there's a new wrinkle in plagiarism, one in which bloggers of all kinds are block quoting chunks of material and SOMETIMES attributing, sometimes not." (not an actual quote, but from what I managed to read it's the article's premise.)

    Of course, now I'm going to add my take on the situation.

    Yes, the majority of the news sites get information from their AP feed and paste it. It's what happens. Do we really need CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox News, CNN, BBC, and who knows who else each over at News Point A interviewing the same three guys involved in the same story or is it sometimes better to just have the AP or Reuters write the story, give them their cut and be done with it.

    Justifying wholesale theft of copyrighted works as some people because "in two years" their link might go down is indistinguishable from the people who say it's "legal" to host their collection of roms because nobody makes the original Nintendo any more (I wonder how the rom-sites will change their justification now that virtually every major game company has some retrogaming solution available, whether it's those plug-n-play tv things, Xbox Live, Gametap, Nintendo's upcoming game-download thingie) or that it would be legal to download and torrent all of CNN's content (because after all, their logo indicates it's their content, right?) because they only air their articles for a day or so at most and after that it's gone.

    Websites can go away, just like books go out of print, and movies and TV shows can go out of distribution. Whether you see copyright infingement of any of this as a good thing depends on what side of the coin you're on. For every "OMG! I can't believe I almost wasn't able to get this vital information because the original website was going to delete the article" person, there's another person saying "hey, I spent time reading, researching, maybe even interviewing the players for more perspective, all so that my readers would get content I created (and possibly click on my adsense), and Jimbo stole it all, slapped a quick *not my work* label on it (and possibly a click on his adsense) and I get bubkiss."

    But back to my first point, I agree, New does not equal Old.
  • Re:Bzzzzt! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ruff_ilb (769396) on Monday May 22, 2006 @04:12PM (#15383286) Homepage
    Even if you cite a source, it can still be plagarism. You must both cite the source from which the idea comes from AND quote any words the original source used. Anything less constitutes plagarism.

    For example, the wikipedia article says that "Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty; it is a matter of deceit: fooling a reader into believing that certain written material is original when it is not. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense when the goal is to obtain some sort of personal academic credit or personal recognition.

    Plagiarism is not necessarily the same as copyright infringement, which occurs when one violates copyright law." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagarism)

    That is the correct way to properly cite the article, so as to not avoid plagarism.

    This is wrong, because I don't cite the article OR use quotes:

    Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty; it is a matter of deceit: fooling a reader into believing that certain written material is original when it is not. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense when the goal is to obtain some sort of personal academic credit or personal recognition.

    Plagiarism is not necessarily the same as copyright infringement, which occurs when one violates copyright law.

    This is wrong, because I don't cite the article:

    "Plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty; it is a matter of deceit: fooling a reader into believing that certain written material is original when it is not. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense when the goal is to obtain some sort of personal academic credit or personal recognition.

    Plagiarism is not necessarily the same as copyright infringement, which occurs when one violates copyright law."

    This is wrong because, EVEN THOUGH I'm citing the article, I'm still stealing their words. If they're using a specific wording and I use it, even if I cite the article, I MUST use quotes. Thus, the following is incorrect:

    According to Wikipedia, plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty; it is a matter of deceit: fooling a reader into believing that certain written material is original when it is not. Plagiarism is a serious academic offense when the goal is to obtain some sort of personal academic credit or personal recognition.

    Plagiarism is not necessarily the same as copyright infringement, which occurs when one violates copyright law.
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagarism)

    Note, however, that if I don't use their words, only a citation is necessary:

    According to wikipedia, plagarism is a grave issue of cheating and using someone else's words as your own without giving them credit. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagarism)

    I see the third type of plagarism (No quotes, direct word lift, and citation) on Slashdot ALL THE TIME. Whenever a submitter copies part of the article verbatim without quoting it, that's plagarism.
  • That's not plagiarism, that's copyright infringement.

    People seem to confuse these two concepts a lot. They occur together quite often, so I suppose it's understandable, but that doesn't make it correct.

    Plagiarism is taking someone else's work for your own. Oftentimes this can be done without actually violating their copyright. For example, see the case of the recent Harvard student who got her book pulled because of passages that were very close to another book's. The passages aren't identical, and there's probably no grounds for a copyright violation suit, but that didn't help the author from getting her book deal pulled. If I copy something you wrote wholesale and say I wrote it, then it would be both a copyright violation and plagiarism, but I could rewrite it such that it's not a copyright violation, "forget" to attribute the source, and still be in trouble in terms of professional ethics.

    I could violate your copyright without plagiarizing anything, as well. I could for example copy and redistribute something you wrote, with correct attributions, but without your permission. (One could argue that this is also unethical, but that's a separate can of worms.) Then you'd probably be able to go after me under the copyright laws.

    This latter case is what happens in many blogs, and just generally on the internet, all the time. I think most of the time it's well-intentioned: a blogger wants to use some material, but knows that links are unstable, so just reposts it with attribution instead, thinking that this makes it OK. It's not, unless the original author has given permission. A certain amount of excerpting is allowed by fair-use rules, but this generally doesn't make a complete copy-and-paste repost of somebody else's article defensible.

    In general, when people talk about plagiarism, they are talking about an issue of professional and personal ethics, particularly within academia, and which is independent of issues of copyright. Likewise, copyright violations are a legal issue, and can occur independently of ethical issues (assuming you don't blanket-assume that all violations of the law are inherently unethical). There are obviously grey areas and large exceptions to this generalization, but I think that's a fair starting point.

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