Chapell & Associates

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Authorship gets lost on Web

USA Today - August 1, 2006
The Internet is becoming a cesspool of plagiarism. Steve McKee, a partner at Albuquerque advertising agency McKee Wallwork Cleveland, found that out in June after he wrote his monthly column for The column, entitled "Five Words Never to Use in an Ad," was one of his more popular pieces. A search revealed that 36 blogs had picked it up and posted it to their sites, something that is usually considered to be fair use in the blogosphere. However, to McKee's annoyance, 13 of those took credit for writing it as their original prose. "They're like cockroaches," McKee says. "Ideas are our assets, and it's frustrating when people take them from you without shame."

The Chapell View
I had my own experience with plagiarism recently. About a year ago, a friend asked me to act as a resource for a magazine article. The article focused on privacy, cookies and behavioral targeting. We were supposed to do a phone interview, but after a few go rounds, we realized that our schedules just weren't going to mesh. So, he asked me to answer a bunch of questions via email. The questions were good - very detailed, and it took me over an hour to answer them.

So when the article came out, I noticed that I wasn't attributed in the article. Apparently, the magazine had some kind of 'no quoting' policy. Not that this is the end of the world, but it would have been nice for this person to inform me of this policy BEFORE I took the time to answer his questions. (Since then, I always ask beforehand...)

What really ticked me off is that I noticed that entire paragraphs of his article were cut and pasted from the answers I provided. Yes, he changed a few of the words around, but he took my ideas! And there were a few sentances which were copied verbatim from my email.

But that's not what really gets me. The "author" of the article was in fact a professor of JOURNALISM at a prestigious University!!!!

When I brought all this to his attention, he tried to deny it. When I pushed back, he gave some lame apology (the kind where you tell the other person that they are very smart and that you empathize with their position, but you don't actually admit that you did anything wrong.) I thought about taking it to his University, but recognized that it would be hard to prove (even with the email trail) and that my energy would be better spent in other endeavors.

My point here is that it's getting harder to keep tabs on one's own intellectual property. And not just because of technology, or the Internet. We're undergoing a cultural shift. I mean, if you can't trust a professor of journalism to do the right thing, then who can you trust?
posted by Alan on Wednesday, August 02, 2006

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