3 April 2013

Journalism vs Plagiarism

As a journalist and self-publishing blogger, plagiarism is the monster I fear the most. It lurks in the shadows of the internet, primed to strike without notice. The realisation that your work - your intellectual property - has been stolen, copied, uncredited and passed off as somebody else's is one of the most dreadful feelings a writer, photographer, or any creative professional can suffer.

Online plagiarism

Most recently, a talented coursemate of mine had his work plagiarised on Twitter. After developing a profound theory regarding an alleged storyline between Tyler The Creator's three albums, music journalist Ryan Bassil published his thoughts to 'Noisey'. A few hours later however, Twitter user @TimzyHasAnEgo expressed a personal revelation behind Tyler The Creator's album trilogy, which he then followed up by literally copying and pasting lines from Ryan's article and passing them off as his own words.

I don't understand very much about Tyler The Creator, but that doesn't mean I don't care about the originality of my friend's article. It has been driven into us during our studies that original journalism is key to becoming a successful journalist. So to have the credit and recognition of one's ingenuity seized by somebody else is undeniably devastating. In Ryan's case, his work has been copied verbatim by somebody with 100,000 more Twitter followers than himself, many of whom have congratulated Timzy-whatshisface for being a "fucking genius". Ryan has tried hard to direct Timzy's admirers to the original article, but his voice is not big enough to turn everyone's heads to the truth.

And so we find ourselves facing an injustice. Tell me, why should a "19 Year Old Escaped Laboratory Experiment", who enjoys tweeting Every Single Word With A Capital Letter, take the credit for Ryan's handiwork and ideas? Even if @TimzyHasAnEgo happened to have a similar theory himself, it is despicable that he resorted to stealing a hard-working journalist's words for his own gain.

In the fashion blogosphere, plagiarism is equally as menacing. A couple of months ago, it came to the attention of two bloggers that their blog header and photographs respectively had been published on another blog. While Sammy from 'The Cookie Button' discovered her blog name and header had been stolen, Megan from 'The Briar Rose' was disgusted to learn an unknown Russian blogger had been pretending to be her for two months. In this particular instance, the issues were as much about theft of identity as theft of intellectual property. Creepy, to say the least.

The identity thief has since halted her theatrics, but Blogger have yet to remove the blog in question. In this example, the intentions behind the specific plagiarism are unclear, and with the mystery blogger remaining silent, we may never find out. However, it does go to show how very simple it is to steal somebody else's imagery from the internet, even with a strict Creative Commons licence.

Since the early days of Google, schoolchildren have copied and pasted images from the internet onto Powerpoint presentations, without thought for reference, and unaware of their copyright infringement. It is a similar lack of awareness which has permeated the general public, and it is a dire issue we face. The internet is not a free-for-all. Yet many people treat the web otherwise.

And that is not to say I never breached copyright in the past, but I have since learnt from my youthful wrongdoings. I have even been a victim of plagiarism myself. But not by any web user; remarkably, by a national publication.

In December, I learnt that Irish teen publication 'Kiss Magazine' had unlawfully used my photo of blogger Olivia Purvis for their January edition. Olivia, who had previously been unaware of her feature, was very helpful in giving me a pdf of the magazine, in which I noticed I had neither been credited. Since the publication's office is in Ireland, I could not call the magazine without amounting a substantial phone bill. So I resorted to multiple e-mails demanding for remuneration, all of which were unsurprisingly ignored. I was alone and powerless to carry the case through.

It still stings that a national publication got away with stealing my photograph, but if there is any wisdom I have learnt from the dastardly affair, it is to be extra cautious of my personal copyright. I make it clear on my blog that my photography is protected by the tightest Creative Commons. But as I mentioned earlier, this won't stop everybody from taking what appears to be openly available to them.

To conclude, plagiarism is like a punch to the nether regions - unexpected and sore. One could argue the ignorance of the technologically passive human, but I personally believe most perpetrators know what they are doing is wrong, even if they are unaware of the technicalities. However you want to see it, taking without permission is theft.

© Joseph Kent / www.unlimitedbyjk.com

All photographs are subject to copyright law, and must not be reproduced without express permission.

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