The perils of plagiarism

This one’s on the travails of being an innovative thinker who publishes on the web…

Whilst writing an article on the enterprise-architecture and the Shirky Principle that I’ll post later today, I needed to add a reference to my old Sidewise article about the role of the business-anarchist. So, like anyone else would, I did a quick Google search for my own post. Didn’t find it at first (turns out I needed to refine the search with ‘sidewise’). But up near the top of the results, I found an interesting-looking article: ‘The Rise of the Business Anarchist – R2 Global Meshwork‘, dated 31 May 2011. The first few words, as shown in the Google search-results, looked interesting too:

If you work in a large organisation, no doubt you’ll have analysts everywhere; you may well be one yourself. You know who they are, …

So click on the link. Look at the first few sentences. Then realisation: wait a moment, this looks a bit familiar, doesn’t it…? Very familiar, in fact?

Yup. It’s scraped, word for word, line for line, format for format, from my original Sidewise post ‘The Rise of the Business Anarchist‘, dated 24 Aug 2009. But in this case, credited solely to Robin Wood, the apparent owner of that website. No attribution, no link to the original, no nothing.

Not impressed.

Seems that the only way on the website that I can complain about this somewhat extreme example of plagiarism is by becoming a ‘member’ of the ‘R2 Meshwork’ – which means that I need to be personally approved by the perpetrator of the plagiarism itself. Hmm… don’t think that’ll work… Hence the only option I have left is to make it public here.

Oh the joys of plagiarism… hey ho…

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4 comments on “The perils of plagiarism
  1. This seems a really specific rip-off but sometimes somewhere in my brain I wonder, is this me talking or someone else…………far too much reading, absorbing and then realising, thankfully it was me but at times I get a little worried. There are so many people, blogging, recording, researching, commenting to cut through all this is like wadding through cement and if you dont move, you get immobilized. Someone recently said to me when we spoke of plagiarism, oh you mean “borrowed with pride”. No I did not mean that, neither do you I assume

  2. Tom G says:

    Paul – There’s a really important difference between ‘borrowed with pride’ and blatant plagiarism.

    All of us do a certain amount of ‘borrowed with pride’, most of it unconscious. Ideas flow around a space like this, and need to: it’s the oil that lubricates our kind of thinking. Ideas arise for us ‘as if from nowhere’, and sometimes, yes, oops, there is indeed a ‘somewhere’ from whence it comes. In my case, sometimes it’s ‘prior art’ that I truly didn’t know about – I’ve written about that a couple of times here. When I do know about ‘prior art’ and other articles and references, I try to give sources where I remember them or can find them (always subject to my often somewhat-fragile memory, and not always easy even when I do remember what the source was, even in the days of contextual web-search). And in most cases – in fact I’d hope in all cases, unless I’m solely quoting something – I do try to add something new, something specific, another connection from one idea to another. And the same applies when others lift and adapt and work with and apply ‘my’ ideas: it’s how the ideas develop in a shared space. I’m perfectly happy about that: I don’t ‘possess’ any idea, after all.

    If an article is lifted in its entirety, yes, that’s a little bit galling: I’d much prefer them to point to my website, because then a reader is more likely to look at other ideas that I’ve posted, and also explore any comments to the original that others may have posted – which may well be important in practice. But although it’s pushing the line a bit, I wouldn’t call it plagiarism as such. As long as there is at least some form of explicit attribution, I’d be happy enough about it: ‘borrowed with pride’, as you say.

    But this case was a bit different. The original article had been lifted in its entirety: nothing added, nothing deleted, no commentary, no nothing. No attribution, no link: the only attribution was his own, and the comments do imply that he had intentionally presented it as being his own work – which, patently, it was not. In effect, using someone else’s hard work to boost his own professional reputation. And that’s not okay – not at all.

    Fact is that all of us do plagiarise to some small extent: by the nature of the beast, so to speak, that’s going to happen anyway, whether we intend it or not, and that’s what the US-style ‘fair use’ rules for copyright are about. The fact that you’re concerned about whether you’re accidentally plagiarising someone else’s work means that you do intend to play fair. An interesting paradox, really: the fact that you’re concerned about it means that in practice you don’t really have to be concerned about it. 🙂

    But in this case there’s no possible way in which the guy could not have known what he was doing. He’s lifted it in one piece, from first word to last, complete with formatting in place. He’s even kept exactly the same title. And having done that, he’s put his own name on it, as the author. And written comments to others’ comments, as ‘the author’. No unintentional accident, no blurry edges, no commentary, no ‘fair use’-style fair-game: just straightforward plagiarism, pure and simple. Big difference from what you’ve described above.

    In short, don’t worry? 🙂

  3. David French says:

    Name and shame, well done.
    A variant of this is the “consultancy report” which turns out to be cut and pasted articles from web, published books even. A major consultancy here presented as their original work a couple of web articles and nearly a chapter from a Thomas Erl book. The last was particularly dumb because it was on my desk when they discussed the assignment and the diagrams are highly distinctive.

  4. Tom G says:

    @David French – ::wry-grin:: re the ‘major consultancy’: a rather nice example of an oversized “oops…”. 🙂

    To everyone who’s commented on this, both here and on Twitter – many thanks indeed. A point I need to emphasise, perhaps, is that I believe none of us ever ‘possess’ any idea: we merely hold it in responsibility to and for others. The complaint about plagiarism is not that someone has infringed my purported ‘rights of possession’, but that they’ve betrayed the responsibilities that go with this work. That’s the important distinction that perhaps needs to be drawn here.

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