Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery

Hello, my name is Tobold, and I am the author of this post. Why the heck would I need to introduce myself on my own blog, after 5 years and over 2,000 posts? Because there is a significant chance that you are not reading this on my site, but on somebody else's site who simply copied and pasted my content. If you are reading this on a site whose URL is not or or some RSS feed reader pointing to these sites, then you are reading a copy. Not necessarily an illegal copy, because my terms of service that clearly state: "You do have the right to quote me, and use my posts partially or in full, as long as you attribute them correctly as having been written by "Tobold" and link back to the source.". But if you read this on a website which is making money by advertising, or selling gold, or any other means, I can assure you that I won't see a single penny of that money.

There is a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but that dates from before the digital age. Why imitate if you can simply copy? Internet traffic is driven by content, so people who want a lot of traffic, which can be turned into some revenue stream, but are too lazy to create content themselves, simply copy the content of others. Happens to a lot of bloggers. As this blog is not a commercial venture, and I'm mainly interested in getting my ideas out, I'm making life especially easy for the copiers: I have the full content of my blog posts on RSS feed, so people who can't access the site itself (usually due to a firewall at work) can still read my posts via a feed reader. What I write in my terms of service about copying doesn't really matter, because even if I explicitely would forbid copying my content, I would not have the means to enforce that. If I was a bit more childish I could find the sites that copy me, and make blog posts saying "<insert copiers site here> is a bunch of ripoff scumbags", just to see that post copied on the site I'm insulting, as this copying is nowadays fully automated in most cases. But honestly, I don't really care if somebody copies me, as long as I get full credit for having written it. So as long as whereever you read this is linking back to my blog, I'm fine with it. If you see this on some site under a different author's name and no link back to, then it is real plagiarism, and not just a copy.

But whether the copy is legit or not, you have to ask yourself why you are reading a site that doesn't produce its own content. Is it some sort of "news aggregator" site, making it easy for you to read the posts of several blogs at once? Wouldn't you rather set up lets say Google Reader to follow all of your favorite blogs? Are you aware that even if you don't click on the ads of that site, you might create some advertising revenue for somebody who isn't the author of the content you are reading? Are you comfortable with directly or indirectly financing plagiarism?

There are ethical forms to link to the content of others. All blog entries in the form of "I've read an interesting article on XXX's blog. "<Quoted Paragraph>". And here are my own thoughts on the subject." are perfectly fine. But if a site basically just consists of some code that automatically creates a page from the RSS feed of others, the ethics are a lot more questionable. And if the name of the original author and link back to source are suppressed, the action becomes downright plagiarism. There are even sites that copy my content, run it through a parser which replaces some words with the help of a Thesaurus, and thus create a less traceable copy!

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