There seems to be a general state of amnesia when it comes to SDN contributions. More and more scribblings ‘borrow’ content without acknowledging the original content. Now before we start a ‘Da Vinci code’-like plagiarism trial – from which, incidentally, only Dan Brown benefited, both in terms of popularity for his book, and indirectly by the free advertisement for the film – let’s take a look at some of the terminology as defined in Wikipedia. Plagiarism stands for ‘the passing off of another person’s work as one’s own…claiming credit for writing done by someone else’. Furthermore a distinction is drawn between accidental plagiarism, which is ‘the result of poor citation or referencing or of poor preparation or a misunderstanding of plagiarism’, and deliberate plagiarism, where one attempts to make an impression ‘by removing tell-tale evidence so the plagiarism is hard to spot’.
In the case of SDN we have seen a mixture of both kinds in areas like:
- web logs, where the ‘authors’ of web logs appropriate whole sections of existing tutorials and reference material. The question is what these people expect to achieve with this, since these acts of, let’s call it laziness since they often don’t even bother to change the wording, can be spotted immediately. Some of these web logs are removed or else the SDN administrators oblige them to add references when the offenders are caught.
I’ve also seen web logs (actually some of them do still exist) on subjects that are only covering subjects and yet where they provide the same solutions as conclusion. The added value was/is rather minimalist. All of this without making any reference to the original web log, as if it didn’t exist, and to leave the impression that the author is the first to come up with that solution.
If that isn’t enough, sometimes other people wangle in on it – this time referring to the non original content – and extending that with content that was already covered even earlier without making any reference to it either.
- forums are a breed apart. I’ve seen a lot of offences over there. The following offences have been passed in review:
- answers that come straight from help.sap.com or web logs without acknowledgement
- idem ditto for code samples for which people claim ownership, which seems rather doubtful when the well known SFLIGHT data is used
- answers come from another thread where the same question was asked
- people rephrase answers within the same forum thread in order to glean some points
- lately we’ve even seen people asking literally the same questions in order to commit fraud with points, but I’ve already elaborated on this in a previous From the Grumpy Old Man: The points of no return.
“Wait a minute”, I know you’ll say, “isn’t Grumpy a bit pharisaic? After all, your web log titles appear rather familiar to me”. That is probably the case, I use many titles of songs and movies – incidentally for this web log it came from a bottle of beer – to ‘garnish’ my web logs. I frequently mash up these titles as one is in the habit of doing in a certain branch of the film industry (you know, the one that made VHS a standard). However, it’s done so obviously that I don’t claim any credit for it.
Could one claim that “Hello” by Lionel Richie was nicked from “Hello Again” by Neil Diamond? Or that “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette was a copy of “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King? Or does “Crazy For You” by Madonna resemble “Crazy” by Patsy Cline a bit too closely? Not enough to speak of plagiarism, not even to claim that these all refer to each other. There are off course some (obvious?) exceptions.
It’s exactly the same thing for newspapers, magazines, etc. If an event has already been covered by someone else, should others refrain from that subject? I don’t think so. It would be a dull world, and a rather one-sided way of viewing things, if there were only one ‘truth’.
Now what can I do in order to prevent being accused of plagiarism? After all, everything has already been said and done. Indeed, since the invention of typography – according to some this was many thousands of years before Gutenberg (thus also plagiarism?) – it’s hard to find something that hasn’t already been printed in some form or other. The challenge is to cover things in an original way. You might be inspired by others, but be honest enough to indicate who the genius was who made the original discovery/breakthrough. Even better, don’t replicate the original content (with the danger that you put things out of context) and just add a link to it. And no, I won’t go into the discussion on whether laws prohibit it or not in country X. It is also a matter of ethics, but that has already been the subject of another See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil and Write No Evil – To remove postings on SDN forums or not? 😉