Plagiarism – it is a really, really small world.

by Tony Bishop on March 3, 2006

Time was that the world was a really, really big place and New Zealand was a really, really small place in a really big ocean, a really long way from just about anywhere, except Australia which back then really did not count.

But times change, and with the advent of superfast communications and the net, the world has become really small place, in information dissemination terms anyway.

A few days ago I was searching the net for information on a particular aspect of fishing that I had written about in an article about way back in late 2000. This article appeared in a NZ fishing magazine and a couple of months later I put it up on my website. My research was to help me update that original article.

So I was surprised to find an article that was a very thinly disguised version of my original article, even containing many sentences and phrases copied verbatim, written in 2005. Not only written in 2005, but apparantly it won an award from an outdoors writers association in the US.

I am not going to name the article or the association, they are reacting swiftly, responsibly and thoroughly.

This is the third time I have come across my writing under someone elses name.

The real thrust of this piece is to ‘warn’ budding writers, illustrators, and photographers in the outdoors (and other) fields that once your ‘products’ are published on the net, it is freely available to be ripped-off by unscrupulous web-sites and other writers. But you can take some steps to protect your copyright against plagiarism.

Back up your articles etc. onto non-rewritable CD’s or DVD’s. Also back-up a copy of the webpage onto the same CD or DVD. Both these will show the date the files were saved, and these dates are almost impossible to forge and very expensive to do so.

Make it a habit to search for subject matter and key words from a few of your articles at least every week, to make sure there is no rip-off occuring.

Thirdly, have a very clear copyright statement on your site, with clear contact information so people wanting to use the article (or commision an article) can contact you. (I allow non-profit organisations to use my articles, but only after seeking prior permission, and with an appropriate copyright message, and linking to my site.)

As someone who gains most of my income from writing, it is more than just feeling angry about having my work stolen, it is more that someone is out there using my work under there name, and getting the kudos for it. Very naughty indeed.

Jonathan March 6, 2006 at 4:42 am

First off, I’m very sorry to hear about your recent plagiarism struggles. I know personally how difficult that can be and it’s one of the reasons I started up my site. I’m glad that the people involved are responding swiftly and I hope that the matter is resolved fairly.

However, in reading your original post, I had to point out a minor problem, mainly that backing up your posts to CDs or DVDs isn’t likely to do much good.

A) File dates can be modified very easily, thus making them poor in terms of proof (you just have to do it before you burn the disk). B) Burned CDs deteriorate after just a few years time, odds are ones you burned in 2000 would be crumbling by now.

What’s needed is a long-term, third-party service. I’m encouraging my readers to look into ESBNs (http://www.esbn.org) and to tag their content using those. Not only does it save the information and timestamp it, but it offers a way to verifity it on the Web, all of this for absolutely no cost.

As far as searching goes, I encourage people to use Google Alerts (http://www.google.com/alerts) to automate the process. Just pick a unique phrase from your piece and let GA search for it daily, emailing you any results.

Finally, I completely agree with the copyright statement idea. Everyone needs that and, if someone is willing to allow some reuse of their content, they should look into the Creative Commons Organization (http://www.creativecommons.org) and try out one of their licenses. Great stuff written by lawyers.

Anyway, that’s about all I have, sorry for the long-winded comment, please feel free to write me if you have any questions

Bishfish March 9, 2006 at 3:03 am

Thanks for the information Jonathon, very useful.
The back-up thing, if it includes 000’s of files can be useful in that it would be difficult to re-time stamp all of them in a way to avoid tampering suspicion – it has worked for me on two occassions in the past but is certainly not foolproof. The other source of prior use is to go to
http://www.archive.org/web/web.php. This archiver has dated files from the past.
It is a complex issue, made more complex when trying to get resolution outside your own countries borders.

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