Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stolen words

I don't know how closely folks around read the comments. If you happened to read them over the weekend you would have seen that someone copied large portions of a post and passed them off on his own.  

It was kind of funny, because I saw a comment from an anonymous poster (Why is this 2011 article almost exactly like this article...? and it looked like spam, which on blogger, tends to take the form of, "Can you believe this?! Click on over here to check it out!" I almost ignored it, but it seemed legit enough to bear investigating.  

The other blogger  had nested my post within his, and I had only skimmed it on the first reading, so I missed the plagiarized segments entirely. I actually left a comment on the post, saying something like, "Hey, someone on my blog thought you had lifted some segments I had written, but on review, I think the tipster is mistaken; we simply came to similar conclusions and used similar language to describe them. I'm glad I found your blog because of this and I look forward to reading it."  

And then I went off to do other things, because it was the weekend. When I returned, I checked to see if anyone had replied, I saw that the comment was gone. Either I had absent-mindedly exited the page without submitting it, as I sometimes do, or new comments needed to be approved first. So I went back to the original thread and replied to the tipster: "So, when I first saw that comment, I had dismissed it as spam, because spam tends to take that format around here, a claim that gets you interested followed by a link to a site. However, it turns out that it's legit. I don't think the person copied me, though. The opening lines are very similar and he raises a lot of the same points, but I get the impression that he arrived at them independently."  

The tipster replied with some quotes from the piece that I had overlooked on me initial read through and contrasted them with mine, and looking at them juxtaposed like that, it was hard to deny their providence.  So, it now seems pretty clear that someone plagiarized some of my work. I had left the comment, which by now I figured must have been deleted or never approved, with the account I use to post here, so I wouldn't be very surprised if the blogger over there had followed my comment back to the tip-off thread. I went to the post again just to make sure and I found that the blog had suddenly become invitation-only.  Shortly after that, it was gone entirely. 

However, nothing is ever gone on the internets. Google's cache remembers all! 

I mentioned this on Facebook and tried to figure out how I felt about this. Because, had someone asked me how I would have felt about this prior to it happening, I would have guessed angry.  But I'm not. My main annoyance is that I think his rewriting the post resulted in a weaker piece.

Friends had a couple suggestions, ranging from contacting blogger/google to scouring his website to see how much he had taken from other authors. That last part was interesting, because it got me to thinking that if I were in his place, I would have probably deleted the offending post, suggesting that he has taken other posts from other authors.  

That's assuming that he's in the blogging game for the same reason I am. I did most of my writing at a job that gave me internet access and lots of free time, and my goals were to write something that I would enjoy reading and hopefully spark some interesting conversation with other people who enjoyed reading it. I'm anonymous-ish around here, but otherwise I want to attract as wide an audience as possible of people who would enjoy what I write. I don't get anything out of it other than satisfaction. I suppose it's possible to monetize the blog, but that looks like a lot of work, and as my personal preference is not to have ads all over the place, I try to extend the same courtesy to people who visit here. 

Also, I'm not any kind of lawyer, but noncommercial reviews and commentaries are generally held to be good examples of fair use. If I were making any kind of money off the site, I'd feel much more uneasy about some of the longer quotes and pics I've used. (Though I suspect more significant reason is that I'm too small to attract any kind of attention and I like to think that the reviews I write, if they attract any attention at all are perceived to make the people more likely to purchase the products reviewed . Also, if lawyers sent takedown notices for every book cover taken off Amazon to serve as an image for a book review, they wouldn't have time to do anything else.)

 I generally try to be good about crediting my sources, and if I fail to do so, I'm consistent about it otherwise that I hope it's clear that any omission is an oversight and not an attempt to pass someone else's work off as my own. And it's very well possible that I've internalized something I've read somewhere only to write it down later, believing it my own creation, but it's hopefully not something I do often.

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