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THE Lowly Peon

On Linking and Plagerism 
24 April 2010, 1:13am

As technology changes the way we do things — share news, art, and other information — we are finding ourselves, the younger generation, with many as of yet undefined rules. And because things are changing so fast, the longer we wait to establish or analyze these rules or conditions, the harder it will be in the future.

(I've mentioned this before with regard to etiquite. Does the golden rule, for example, stand true for a website? What about a relationship that is nothing more than an entry in some social networking website's database?)

The reason I'm bringing this up today in particular is because there's a significant gray area around a somewhat new form of media with regards to plagerism: posting links to other sites. Two people I read closely, Kottke and John Gruber of Daring Fireball regurgitate articles all the time, over within a few hours, and sometimes do and sometimes don't give credit. While it's very possible that they discover articles by other means, I'm not convinced they borrow from each other with some manner of frequency.

The New Circumstance

Only with the advent of the Internet, I would argue, has the practice of publishing references, and maybe a select quote, to another article become so popular and common. Newspapers, of course, do something similar, but what they do more commonly is reprint the entire article (think Associated Press, and how you may see the same article in ten publications). On the Internet, we are introduced to a whole new medium. Publications will post a link to an article, perhaps offer an opinion, maybe a quote, and that's all. Credit is most obviously given to the original author, as the content posted is a link to the actual work. (They will even get advertising revenue if applicable, because the reader would continue to the original site.)

However, for those of you who read many RSS feeds daily, or some other method of reading tens of articles a day from writers likely in the same circle, you probably already know that lots of people may post the same link, even within a matter of hours. If Benji posts something that I like, I'll

post a link. Many of you would read both of them.

The Question

So here's where it gets tricky: do I give credit to Benji for finding the article?Moreso, so I give credit to the guy that linked to the article that Benji saw? Or do I leave the credit out, because the original author will get the credit?

I could see both sides of the argument. In the above example, Benji did not create any new content, necessarily. Or perhaps the content he created (an opinion, for example, or summary of the article) meant nothing to me. Why should I need to credit him? After all, I found the article myself using my own means — Benji's posts happen to be one of my sources.

Likewise, one could argue that I may not have found the article were it not for Benji. Thus, he provided something, and should thus get credit.

My Own Conclusion

In my college, if you were caught plagerising, you were out. Done. No money back. In my family, we thought of this as stealing; my folks wouldn't ever do any homework for us, but would only Socratically help us find the answer. So it goes without saying, I feel, that unless you found an artcle by using google or just aimlessly wandering on the Internet, you need to

give your source — especially if you got it from a site that publishing links, as the examples above. It is remarkably simple to post a "(via some guy" at the bottom of your link post. And as much respect as I have for someone like John Gruber, seeing him ripoff articles like this, a mere four hours after Kottke posted it, without giving credit (I admit I could be wrong in this example), makes me wonder what else he may be "borrowing" without giving credit.

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[24 April 2010]

John often gives credit to Kottke and other people. I'm not sure how he decided when to give credit and when not to, but he seems to take that sort of stuff pretty seriously.

Just so you can get the opinions from the people themselves in a sort of related incident from last year:

Here is Jason Kottke on attribution in the blogosphere

And here is Gruber linking to further discussion on that same topic


THE Lowly Peon

[24 April 2010]

I like that article Gruber linked to.

I suppose since most of my feeds, as I'm starting to see clearly, are incestuous, I can see clearly when people don't credit their source. Again, I can never know for sure, but if six of my feeds post to the same relatively obscure article within a matter of a few hours, I assume they didn't all stumble on it randomly.

(Note: I wrote that whole blog on my iPhone while waiting for daisy in starbucks. I can't wait to get an iPad!)