Plagiarism Police in an Online World

August 18, 2010

I’ve never been one for depriving individuals of the right to free speech and free expression, nor am I a huge fan of “big brother”, but I’m beginning to think we need some online plagiarism police.

“Plagiarize” – as defined by Webster’s

“to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own; use (another’s production) without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.”

Those of us online feel varying degrees of freedom in sharing our ideas, thoughts, words and pictures. Many times it seems as if those with the least to say feel the most free in sharing. But in a professional world, how much should we share online?

In his book “The New Rules of Marketing and PR” , David Meerman Scott talks about posting his ideas on his blog, which can prompt intelligent discussions. However, his editors worry that he is “giving away” all his ideas. Scott counters this with a claim that the online discussions helped improve his books. I can see both sides to this, but I have to admit I’m with his editors. I wonder how many of his ideas have shown up under someone else’s name.

In school, if you changed every 3rd or 5th word or something like that, then you technically weren’t plagiarizing. That was the rule. So, what are the rules online? Just like with any other community, many of the rules are decided by the members of the community, but you always have unethical members. Since it’s so easy to link and point back to sources, I think it’s even more unethical (and stupid) not to attribute the original sources. Of course, all the online resources can also enable plagiarizing.

I was reading a blog by Angela Hausman on 5 Reasons You Shouldn’t Do Social Networking . It’s a good blog; she has some interesting things to say. Unfortunately, another person liked the post too much. The author found her exact words posted on someone else’s blog as original content. Shame on that person. Angela is looking for ways to reduce intellectual property theft, and I agree it’s an important issue that should be addressed sooner rather than later. You can read her response to this “Rip Off” on her Rip Off Blog.

Tae Hyun Moon has been posting in some of the Linked In groups a new electronic resume format. It has some excellent ideas and has generated quite a bit of interest. Again, there’s a but… I’m not comfortable posting my resume online since a so-called friend decided to copy my summary, specialties and job descriptions almost word for word into her own resume. I’ve been a professional writer for a long time, and I was appalled that someone just entering the communications field would find nothing wrong with using my words on her resume. She said I should be flattered. I’m not.

On the flip side, Tae Hyun Moon noted that he is attempting to introduce a new format for resumes, and would like this spread far and wide. In this case, he wants people to copy his format, in the hopes it will create a new generation of electronic resumes. I hope this will be successful.

So what are the rules? And how do you police against online plagiarism? I don’t have the answers, but I bet someone online does.

8/18 note of interest: Mackinac Center says school consolidation study by MSU professor for Booth Newspapers may contain some plagiarized material


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