Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Abbie Hoffman never wrote for the web

Peter Kim recently wrote on the plague of plagiarism. I don’t really see it as a plague, having your work copied is merely a byproduct of producing digital content. Many fight it. I’ve put it to work for my music and I do the same for the words I write.

Steal this blog post. I’m not joking. Copy-paste this post onto your own blog or site. You can credit me if you want to (this blog is registered under a creative commons license meaning you’re encouraged to do this) but if you don’t want to, that’s just fine.


I want to see my ideas spread

I don’t necessarily care if my name is always behind them. Which is a good thing, because I (John Bredehoft) did not write any of the stuff that preceded this sentence. All of it was lifted, verbatim, from a post entitled Steal This Blog Post by Adam Singer.

OK, from here on in I'll properly credit him. (Man, I hope Singer isn't a member of the Associated Press; if he is, I probably racked up a huge bill there.)

Why is Singer willing to let his ideas float away, as it were? Two main arguments of Singer's deserve attention:
  • First, he notes that scraper sites are so obvious that people would immediately know that the scraper site was not the originator of the idea. (I've written about scraper sites before.) While he's right, there are exceptions to the rule. I knew of a case in which two professionals, who worked at the same company (not any of my employers), both had blogs. One would write a blog with original content, while the second would merely copy what the first person wrote, without attributing it to him. As far as I know, there was no malice intended - the second person wanted the first person's ideas to be available to more people - but by the same token, the second person didn't explicitly acknowledge that another person had written the material. The site looked nothing like a scraper site, but it was a scraper site nonetheless.

  • Singer's second point is related to the first - namely, that in the end, the original result will be higher in searches than the copycat site. Not necessarily! What if the original post was written by an obscure writer, and the copycat post was written by a more popular writer, and/or was posted on a more popular website? It can happen.
Singer does say some additional things about what to do when content is copied, but I encourage you to go to the original post and read them.

P.S. If you don't get the Abbie Hoffman reference, read this Wikipedia article. A bunch of people wrote it.

P.P.S. By appropriating Singer's work, I am in a sense violating a principle which Chris Brogan recently enunciated regarding the dangers of tagging on to a popular brand - enunciations, incidentally, with which I heartily agree. I'd comment on this, but then I'd be ripping off Alanis Morissette.

(Picture source, license)
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