This is a Post About Plagiarism

This is a Post About Plagiarism

I am a plagiarism hardliner. And I'm unapologetic about it.

Most of you probably know that I teach digital communications at a college in Portland, Oregon. Because it's an art school, my students are particularly concerned about the possibility of their work being stolen if they put it online. The majority have already experienced some iteration of plagiarism and know how it leaves the victim feeling violated and demoralized.

Plagiarism sucks--don't be nice about it. (image via Flickr Commons | US Archives)

Plagiarism sucks--don't be nice about it.
(image via Flickr Commons | US Archives)

I completely understand why they're so fearful. Plagiarism and copyright infringement (two different things) are absolutely rampant. I've had my own work stolen and reused more times than I can count--and there are probably far more incidents that I'm even aware. As a result, I have no sympathy whatsoever for individuals and companies who steal others' work. It's wrong and I tell my students that they have every right to fight back--and I practice what I preach and fight back too.

Most recently, the entire Clear Eyes, Full Shelves RSS feed was scraped and republished on a site that also hosts pirated ebooks. Not only has my own work (and Laura's, Sandra's and Rebeca's and posts of our guest contributors) been stolen, it's being used to facilitate the theft of other people's intellectual property as well.

It's a double-whammy of suck.

I discovered this problem thanks to my web statistics program, which showed that a ton of my image URLs were being accessed via another website. A quick investigation revealed that this blog's content was being displayed on another website. Because I've dealt with this problem (all too many times) before, I immediately took steps to stop this theft. 

Here how I handled  this situation, which is what I recommend to my students when we discuss this topic:

  1. Contacted my webhost (in this case, Squarespace) to see if I could block access to my RSS feed (they're automatically importing my content). They did their best, but because of the way the thief's site was set up, there isn't a whole lot that can be done, unfortunately.
  2. Researched the plagiarist's webhost using Who is Hosting This
  3. Filed a formal takedown notice with the infringing site's host, which is currently under investigation and I fully expect to be found in my favor.

At no time did I amicably try to resolve this with the thief.

The evidence that they'd stolen my work (and the work of others) is indisputable. There is absolutely no gray area. And I've gone down that road before and it wasn't worth the time. Let me tell you why.

A number of years ago, a well-known blogger affiliated with ESPN (yes, that ESPN) lifted one of my photos off of Flickr. To do so, he had to take a screenshot of the image, since downloading was blocked by my Flickr settings. It was clearly copyrighted and it's very, very easy to contact me via Flickr to get permission to use one of my images (people have done this before). I reached out the the blogger via email, which he ignored. I contacted him on Twitter, and he finally acknowledged that he had indeed lifted my photo, but believed that I should be "grateful" that he used my image (with no credit, naturally). I pushed and he finally took the photo down, but only after his extensive protestations that I was being "unreasonable." It left me feeling like garbage on a number of levels--and I rarely upload photos of sports to my Flickr account as a result; I don't want to feel like that again. The blogger, of course, suffered no consequences for his actions and I really regret not pushing this issue and not going to higher ups about this theft. 

The next time my work was stolen (and in the case of all the incidents which followed--content theft is an epidemic), I didn't mess around. When I discovered that a site had lifted some of my content, I immediately contacted Google (the thief used Blogger), provided the appropriate documentation (the individual had stolen images and writing from my old sewing/crafting/artsy blog), and had the person's site investigated and Google quickly deleted their entire blog. I realize this may seem harsh to some people, but in my eyes, it's an appropriate penalty for theft.

Don't play nice with plagiarists and people infringing on your intellectual property.

The only person who will suffer as a result is you. Don't engage with them, don't give them a chance to cover up what they've done or orchestrate drama in response to your accusations. Deal with it and move on with your life.

Sure, if it seems like the plagiarism is inadvertent, reach out to the offender. Let them know that perhaps they meant to call out your words as a pulled quotation and link back to you, or that maybe they didn't realize that your photography was copyright protected.

But your gut is a valuable resource when fighting plagiarists. Intention is pretty obvious  (in the instance of my situation with the ESPN blogger, he'd used many, many people's copyrighted images--it was an obvious pattern) and if your gut tells you that the plagiarism is insidious, it probably is.

No one has a right to steal from you.

Thieves are not entitled to be treated graciously.

Plagiarists do not have a right to explain themselves or claim that they're somehow doing you a favor.

Your original work has value--don't let anyone tell you differently.

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Reportage: ALA Midwinter Meeting 2013

Reportage: ALA Midwinter Meeting 2013

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