Saturday, July 01, 2006

Disclaimer: July 2006

If you're new to the blog, then you must know that I'm writing these monthly entries because of the plagiarism issue. I may not compare in terms of quality to most of the other writers out there (yet), but I'd at least like to know that I've got such a situation covered.

The plagiarism issue, of course, does not imply that certain people hold a monopoly on certain ideas or executions. Let's take philosophy, for example: Anyone is welcome to write about philosophy in general, or about their own personal philosophies, or about their own take on other peoples' personal philosophies. For that matter, anyone is welcome to write about more specific topics such as existentialism, or hedonism, or nihilism. Heck, we can even say that anyone is welcome to write about how nothingness relates to nihilism, or how religion relates to nihilism, or how bananas relate to nihilism. Ideas, topics and approaches are fair game that way1.

What flies in the face of fair game, however, are those incidences where entire articles or selections are appropriated by misguided individuals. I can write a short piece that somehow relates weasels, lemon meringue pie and deep holes in the ground to the notion of God as a cosmic entity, and you're probably welcome to do the same if you're crazy enough to try it. But if you copy the article virtually word-for-word and substitute your name for mine in the hopes that you'll be recognized for it, then you're definitely doing something wrong.

Plagiarism is the name that we give to this theft of time, effort and creativity. It is wrong because it causes significant damage without providing any long-term benefits. A plagiarized writer loses his work to an offender who may be seen as more believable or more powerful than him, whereas an offender loses the knowledge and experience that would have been gained if he had just done the work himself. A plagiarized writer ends up questioning his motives in coming up with new works, whereas an offender reasons that he can get by without coming up with anything on his own.

To put it simply: Plagiarism punishes dedicated effort, and rewards idle laziness.

This is hardly the sort of value we want to see among the general population.

International bloggers have seen quite a number of copyright issues over the last few years, most of them owing to people who see weblogs as convenient resources more than they see them as good reading material. One particularly prominent case, for example, notes the Associated Press copying excerpts from a weblog article, and later stating in their defence that bloggers do not need to be credited as references. It was a foot-in-mouth declaration as only a large corporate entity could possibly put it.

It was the John Wiegley case, however, that convinced me to continue enforcing my stand against plagiarism. Sometime in late 2004, Wiegley discovered that one of the essays published on his blog had been appropriated by a high school student and submitted in an obvious effort to claim the work as the student's own. Incredibly, however, the school defended the plagiarist's "work", stating that electronic logs dated his writing before Wiegley's. Unable to respond with any substantial "evidence"2 of his own, Wiegley consequently shut down his blog.

Fortunately, Wiegley had enough of an encouraging reader base to restore his site a few days later. He did, however, leave a lasting reminder of exactly how it feels to have your work stolen from you, much less have the act supported by an educational institution.

And all this finally brings me to my disclaimer. I post a facsimile of this every month, and maintain a Note of Ownership on the right-hand column just to emphasize matters. I'm glad that I was able to take some time to explain the issue once again, and hope that everybody came off with a bit more understanding on the subject.

The articles on this blog are all original writings as composed by Sean, with select exceptions where noted. All exceptions in this manner are clearly labelled or linked to their original sources so as to give credit where credit is due. These should give their authors, creators or originators the proper acknowledgements; In the event that I have failed to give the proper references for an article, please notify me and I will correct the error.

Any person who wishes to quote or reference any item in this blog is free to do so as long as they give the proper attributions and/or links. If you haven't realized it yet, I can tell you right now that I don't like people who copy my work and try to pass it off as their own. While I probably won't shut down this blog in response to their theft, I will still most likely come after them with any manner of torture implements (long needles, spiked gloves, bullwhips, Barry Manilow CDs3). I don't write these entries just so that they can be stolen, you know.

Finally, if you have any further issues to raise regarding plagiarism, then I'd be happy to discuss them if it means better information for all of us. Just put up something in the Comments listings, and I'll get to you as best I can. This is the kind of thing that should be taken more seriously than the rest of the world does at the moment.

After all, there are certain values that should be promoted among the general population, shouldn't there?

1 This is a debatable point, I'll have to admit. There are more than a few people out there, for example, who feel that the definition of plagiarism should extend to ideas or approaches: I shouldn't be able to toss an idea to a media executive and allow him to make a new TV show without my proper acknowledgement or compensation, for instance.

2 I note "evidence" subjectively here, as it's relatively easy to fake electronic logs if you know how. Unfortunately for Wiegley, however, electronic logs seemed to be the primary exhibits of proof in his case.

3 I have nothing against Barry Manilow, mind you. Please feel free to insert any other artists' names here: Right Said Fred, The Spice Girls, Britney Spears... whoever you love to hate at the moment. You know what I'm saying.


Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

"This is the kind of thing that should be taken more seriously than the rest of the world does at the moment." -Amen to that. Plagiarism is the refuge of the lazy (those whose idea of "research" is equivalent to copy-and-paste) and the cowardly (those too scared to think for themselves or express-- and claim responsibility for-- their own ideas). I think only writers can truly appreciate how much damage plagiarism inflicts. Writers, and outraged English teachers (ask your sister about that one :p).

P.S. You have an excellent blog. I'm green with writer envy. I'd swipe some of your stuff, but I'm terrified of Barry Manilow.

Sean said...

Ailee: Yeah, I'd imagine that English teachers in particular have a tough time with plagiarism. And between you, me, and the readers of this blog, I'm pretty terrified of Barry Manilow myself. :)