Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Good Artists Copy, Great Artists Steal

Pablo Picasso is usually credited as the author of that quote, but there seems to be some dispute over who actually said it. Ironically, some wit in history has failed to get proper credit for this pithy saying.

The quote comes to mind after reading a story in The Washington Post about the voluntary resignation of Elizabeth Flock. The Post's ombudsman explains the reason for the resignation.

on April 13, she aggregated a story trending online about life on Mars. Scientists reexamining data collected from the 1976 Viking lander on the red planet concluded that there might be bacterial life there. Flock says that in haste she read about 10 stories about Mars life, including some of the research papers, and forgot to credit and link to the originator of the story, Discovery News. It appears that she copied, pasted and slightly rewrote two paragraphs from the Discovery story.
After the jump, the reflections of a local blogger, yours truly.

Plagiarism is wrong. Period. But it's virtually impossible not to unintentionally transgress once in a while, given the nature of blogs. I don't know of any examples from my own blog, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover some.

If online newspapers want to take steps to minimize this risk, they can hire more editors. But then of course that would slow down the timeliness of the blogs. Can't have that. And I can't afford an editor for The Wheel. Heck, I can't even afford to pay the blogger.

A related issue is one that I worry will trip me up sometime. I'm not in the habit of republishing personal emails. But I will sometimes take ideas from those emails and comment on the subject. I don't always credit the person who sent me the idea. I figure I'm more likely to piss them off by mentioning publicly who is sending me emails than I am by not crediting their ideas. I'm waiting for the day when someone goes public with the charge that I'm stealing their ideas. Which, in a way, I am. But in another way, I'm honoring a confidence. Rationalization? Maybe. By the way, you can't copyright ideas, only original expressions of ideas. Yet another nuance to keep in mind.

Ironically, much of the content of this blog post came from a personal email I sent to a reader. I just cut-and-pasted that content into my blog and massaged it a little. Is it possible to plagiarize yourself?

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

P.S. Thinking on it some more, I know of some cases of plagiarism here. I (infrequently) would link to images from the web and not give proper credit. (Probably I shouldn't have linked to them at all.) So, there's that. :-(