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The Ethics of Plagiarism

We’ve all done it. Hell, I’ve done it recently and I’m not ashamed of it. I can’t say I don’t fob back an ‘opps, meant to credit Andy!’ But there is one place I don’t do it: Where I eat.

I don’t do it at work, ever. I always credit coworkers, I thank them publicly, and I’m apologetic if I’ve honestly forgotten. But I believe in letting someone know that I found their information useful and memorable. It’s a compliment. I know I love it when someone says ‘Your notes on XYZ helped me out!’ Why thank you, thank you very much. Comments like that make a person want to share.

Then there’s the slippery slope of internet plagiarism. Lifting something, whole sale, is a bad idea. I’ve done it before, and on this blog other than once, I’ve restricted myself to quotes. Of course, since there’s a finite number of ways to explain a topic, there are often a lot of similarities between my blog post and yours. Sorry if it looks like theft, I quote when I lift.

This weekend I ran into something that made me frown a little. Someone had posted to a message board a paragraph I wrote for another site. And there was no polite link back to my site, or even a mention. Keeping in mind my above paragraph, I said nothing at first and lined the two up. Word for word, punctuation mark for mark. It was the same.

So what to do? I thought a quick email to the poster, here after called Sue, thinking “Hey, credit is appreciated *smile*” would be good, but this board wouldn’t let me. Couldn’t send a PM on the board either. So I posted, using my never really used ID on that board and threw in a smiley to let the poster know that I wasn’t offended at all (I’m not, I only mind when they take certain images, and even then I’ve stopped caring if they post a link).

Sue apologized and said she loved my site (aw, thanks! see? it makes people happy). Other people asked if it really was my site, I confirmed, and they thought it was cool. Moving on.

Later on, on my site, a fellow named John posted a well worded personal opinion and observation to a sort of question. Sue copied it, complete with the ‘I feel that…’ part, didn’t cite it, and posted it on the same site she cribbed me. I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t already been poking around that site.

I think it’s plagiarism without intent to harm.

This is a sticky situation, ethically. Right now some of my net friends are probably roaring cause I’m not a very ethical personal. At least, my ethics don’t preclude me from P2P file sharing, stealing cable and the like. I’m very ethical, but my morals are a little ‘off’ from most of my friends. But. I’m more offended at her plagiarizing John than me! I’m used to it. You don’t run a site that gets 14000 hits a day and not grant a pass for most of that.

And I don’t mean to rag on Sue. Frankly, had Google not picked up Sue’s threads, I may never have noticed. I don’t frequent that other board, mostly because it’s ‘organization’ gives me the hives. But I did look that one time, and it concerned me just a little.

I’ve noticed she has a tendency to copy what other people say and post it on a forum as if it were her own. I highly doubt she means to do it in that way, but between the various ways each BB uses to post information, it’s coming off as nothing less than plagiarism. A lot of people get away with this on the net, and I can’t say I haven’t done it either. But it’s bad manners. Taking John’s post and posting it on another forum is really in poor taste. It comes across as Sue having come up with that exact verbage, and all it takes is a fast time/date comparison to know that Sue stole the text from John.

Calling it theft, plagiarism, seems so harsh and I’m unhappy using the term, but there it is.

Sue’s not trying to hurt anyone, and I don’t even think she’s doing it to be seen of as smarter than she is. John, though I appreciate his thoughts, has an abrasive, old-codger style that rubs lots of people the wrong way. He reminds me of my old guy friends though. I love you old snarky computer guys! I’m your PFY!

The moral?

I don’t know.

For me, it means I’m going to watch her posts on my sites and if I catch her at it, send her a nice email to say ‘hey, this really isn’t cool.’ I don’t frequent that other board enough to make it look like anything but a vendetta, and it’s not. So I stay cool.

For you? Well, just remember. You can hurt people’s feelings and make yourself look childish and foolish when you plagiarize. That sounds pathetic sometimes, but it’s true. I have a thick skin and even this makes me sad. I think Sue’s a good person, but she’s taking the ‘easy’ road.

Please. Just remember to call it research and cite your source.