Hello Judy (or Thomas or Kerry or whomever monitors the open.editor email account),
As I'm sure you're probably (unfortunately) aware, there has been a bit of a plagiarism scandal on Open Salon these past couple of days. Scanner posted a piece that was largely cut-and-pasted from Wikipedia, and when this was pointed out in his comments a royal fracas ensued. There were lively debates in the comments, counter posts, counter counter posts, and so on. Knives came out on both sides. Comments became vicious. It got personal and ugly and I hope you didn't waste too much time reading it, because some of the comments were among the ugliest stuff I've ever seen on Open Salon.
Normally I avoid these little community squabbles when they occur, but since I work at a University Writing Program I felt I had a dog in this particular fight. I feel that it should be common sense that you can't cut-and-paste something that someone else wrote and pass it off as your own, yet that is what happened, and a disheartening number of people stepped up to aggressively defend it. Besides the obvious issues of intellectual integrity--to which I could speak at great length--both the Open Salon and Wikipedia Terms of Service forbid this type of "borrowing" without proper attribution:
From the Open Salon Terms of Service:
15. COPYRIGHT Salon respects the intellectual property rights of others. We prohibit users from uploading, posting or otherwise transmitting materials that violate the intellectual property rights of others.
You can re-use content from Wikimedia projects freely, with the exception of content that is used under "fair use" exemptions, or similar exemptions of copyright law. Please follow the guidelines below:
Re-use of text:
- Attribution: To re-distribute a text page in any form, provide credit to the authors either by including a) a hyperlink (where possible) or URL to the page or pages you are re-using, b) a hyperlink (where possible) or URL to an alternative, stable online copy which is freely accessible, which conforms with the license, and which provides credit to the authors in a manner equivalent to the credit given on this website, or c) a list of all authors. (Any list of authors may be filtered to exclude very small or irrelevant contributions.) This applies to text developed by the Wikimedia community. Text from external sources may attach additional attribution requirements to the work, which we will strive to indicate clearly to you. For example, a page may have a banner or other notation indicating that some or all of its content was originally published somewhere else. Where such notations are visible in the page itself, they should generally be preserved by re-users.
- Copyleft/Share Alike: If you make modifications or additions to the page you re-use, you must license them under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0 or later.
- Indicate changes: If you make modifications or additions, you must indicate in a reasonable fashion that the original work has been modified. If you are re-using the page in a wiki, for example, indicating this in the page history is sufficient.
- Licensing notice: Each copy or modified version that you distribute must include a licensing notice stating that the work is released under CC-BY-SA and either a) a hyperlink or URL to the text of the license or b) a copy of the license. For this purpose, a suitable URL is: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
- For further information, please refer to the legal code of the CC-BY-SA License.
There was one comment that I found particularly illuminating, and really illustrated the problem here. In the comment, 1_Irritated_Mother compared the Open Salon fight to an unreasonable student in an academic setting:
Here's the scene:
TEACHER - This is not original work.
STUDENT - Yes it is.
TEACHER - No, it's not. See this?
(consequence - STUDENT fails and is possibly expelled)
STUDENT - Moooommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!
MOM - What?
STUDENT - My teacher hates me. She picks on me. I didn't do it.
(consequence - Mom becomes enraged)
MOM - TEAAAAAAACHERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRr!!!!
TEACHER - What?
MOM - You're a horrible shrew and you bully my child.
TEACHER - Your kid cheated.
MOM - No he didn't. And I know he didn't because that was an accident - an oversight, an omission - and if you don't give him a passing grade, I'll go to the principal and I'll go after your job.
(Consequence - Teacher has to choose between moral obligation to society and edicts of professionalism or avoiding conflict)
OK - it doesn't always go down like that, but it does sometimes. The fact is that plagiarism is unacceptable. Regardless of how you get found out, it is never ok.
It's a good example, but the problem with it is that in the Open Salon corollary, there is no teacher. It's just the students fighting with each other, and because of the lack of an authority figure the student who can rally the biggest gang and fight the dirtiest wins, regardless of who's in the right.
Because this issue was such a large focus of attention in the Open Salon community, and since so many members of the community have demonstrated their willingness to aggressively defend plagiarism, I feel an editorial intervention should be made. Ordinarily I'd say a quiet intervention would be best, but due to the massive amount of attention this issue received over the past couple of days I don't feel a simple note to Scanner informing him that the offending essay will be removed will suffice. There should be a public statement from the editors. And while I feel the editors should remain well above the fray when there are personality clashes on Open Salon, this was no mere personality clash or legitimate difference of opinion. This is an issue of intellectual integrity and the integrity of writing on Open Salon. At my University, a student caught plagiarizing is usually required to withdraw from the school for a year. The issue is that serious.
I hope you will be making a definitive announcement that clarifies Open Salon's position on plagiarism, stating in no uncertain terms that passing off another person's work as your own is unacceptable. Open Salon should make clear that it is a venue for original work.
UPDATE: Here's a bit of food for thought for those of you interested in avoiding plagiarism in your work. A couple of times already I've seen the question asked of whether or not you can plagiarize yourself. The short answer is yes. In the academic world, for example, if you write a paper and include a paragraph or two from another paper you wrote for another class, that is plagiarism, and is still a seriously punishable offense, even though you were the author of both papers. What does this mean in the blogosphere? D. Selke Bouffard wrote a short piece that explains it very well here. If you cross-post on another blogging platform, you might be interested in checking this link out.
UPDATE II: Wow. I never add "updates" to my posts, and now I've added two. I feel like Glenn Greenwald, except without the monster Constitutional knowledge.
There are several things that came up in the comments that I'd like to acknowledge and address, but first I want to make a quick note about my first update. Another user PMed me and suggested I add the D. Selke Bouffard link, and since I thought it was an interesting perspective on the issue of plagiarism in the age on the Internet, I quickly wrote an update, thinking others might find it interesting as well. I was running between classes and I didn't have a chance to read any of the newer comments, so I didn't realize it was already being discussed.
First, I'd like to address a point She Blogs raised. She said:
I do want to point out, though (because well, we all have to point something out, don't we?) that while you and others keep insisting that this is about plagiarism, why does everyone then go on to say something like what you said in a comment here:
"a large part of this specific problem was Scanner's reaction."
Now it's no longer about where he got his info and whether he was researching and compiling facts about the song or if he was copying and pasting... now it's about his reaction, which is certainly not plagiarism.
If I say my only concern is plagiarism and creative integrity, then why would I make a statement like this? Well, let me reiterate: my main concern is plagiarism and creative integrity. Scanner and I run in different circles here on OS: I've come across a handful of his posts, and he's probably come across a handful of mine, but we're not friends or enemies or frienemies or what have you. I've also never heard of or read anything by Bonnie, and I have only passing familiarity with the other main players in this drama. Like I said, my concern here is, first and foremost, plagiarism.
Yet it impossible to ignore the fracas that ensued or Scanner's (and others') pivotal role in fanning those flames, especially when there were so many comments made that suggested the problem lay in the way the accusations of plagiarism were made. To borrow and slightly alter Cartouche's metaphor, the troublemakers aren't the people who point out that you've stolen a bike (although they can certain exacerbate the problem), the troublemaker is the bicycle thief. If the thief fights back when confronted with his larceny, well, that just makes things worse.
Which leads to my next point. Scanner, I perhaps could have given you a bit more benefit of the doubt, but that's difficult when you squander that benefit with ugly and childish attacks. Julie and Ablonde (and others) have also provided a fair amount of evidence of a history of plagiarism, which was ignored in favor of these attacks. Perhaps they have some sort of vendetta against you, like you claim. It's possible, but it's not really the issue.
It's also important to note that "cut and paste" plagiarism is but one kind of plagiarism. Going through with a thesaurus and changing a couple of words but keeping the structure of the original idea in place is also plagiarism. This plagiarism actually tends to be dealt with more severely, since it is often done with the intent of obscuring the original theft.
Perhaps nothing will come of any of this. Perhaps the editors are too busy, or perhaps they don't care. Like Kierkegaard struggling to infer the intentions of God, the Editors' silence on this matter leaves us with only our own interpretations. If I steal a bicycle and God doesn't punish me, does God care? Does he condone my theft? We are left to construe morality as we see fit, and I, for one, find the world to be a better place when less bicycles are stolen.
And I'm in the desert in my avatar picture. I'm looking at sand.