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Piracy And The Web: Plagiary is Alive and Well, Me Hearties! March 11, 2010

Posted by Lynn Christiansen Esquer in Broadcast/Internet.
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Sometimes, there’s no flattery in imitation. Sometimes, imitation is simply laziness and unoriginality with a little chutzpah thrown in.

During my former career as a journalist, I knew another reporter who was caught plagiarizing. The reporter was promptly fired, and the media company’s attorneys steeled themselves against the lawsuits from the owner of the original copyrighted material, which, ultimately, never did come. It was a lesson right out of the media law books that every J-school student has studied in order to be in the profession.

Plagiary, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is defined as “to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; to use without crediting the source; or to commit literary theft.” Once important primarily to only professional writers and their attorneys, plagiary has become a muddied subject in the Internet age, as those untrained in media law, copyright infringement and intellectual property take to the Web and begin to blog.

I was reminded of this the other day when a tip led me to another blog where the writer had “borrowed” one of my posts wholesale, changed a couple of words, and passed it off as his own. He refused to pull down the verbiage in question, or simply attribute it to me. His argument: Everyone steals everyone else’s ideas, so everything’s game.

Perhaps nothing is new under the sun, but I am capable of creating a blog — or an article or a press release or a website or anything else that I regularly am called upon to write — by sitting down at my computer and writing it myself. Maybe it’s because I was trained in media law, or maybe it’s because I saw as a young adult what happened to that other journalist. Or maybe it’s just because I am capable of coming up with my own words and ideas, and don’t need to pass other people’s off as my own.

We’ll see what happens with my unrepentant plagiarist. But in the meantime, it’s worth remembering that — despite the argument that there’s nothing new under the sun — the theft of words and ideas is still unethical, usually illegal and can have legal ramifications. Simply because it’s on the Web doesn’t mean it’s fair game. In fact, the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 meaningfully extended the reach of copyright law to stop Internet pirates from doing what my plagiarist has done; and to punish those who are too lazy and unoriginal to come up with their own work.

If you’re interested in plagiarism and copyright law, here are a couple of sites and articles I recommend:

http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/

http://www.templetons.com/brad/copymyths.html

http://editing.suite101.com/article.cfm/plagiarism_and_copyright_infringement

http://www.copyright.gov/legislation/dmca.pdf

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