Friday, June 28, 2013

Why Plagiarism is a problem

So I wasn't going to go on (and on) about this, but I had a number things happen this morning that made me rethink it.  For starters I read this posting in my feed today about how plagiarism is a huge issue in the novel writing business.

Then there was an unrelated Facebook posting about reporting plagiarism and piracy when you see it (I am not at liberty to link that though).

And this one has been sitting in my drafts now for a bit.

Then to top it all off I got a renewal notice today at work that my subscription to Turnitin was updated.

One thing we should do though is talk about what plagiarism is and what it means to the gaming community.
Look, there is no why to gloss this over, plagiarism is theft. It is the theft of ideas, or expressions or words and it still theft even if you can't touch it or feel it. It is intellectually dishonest and frankly arrogant.  
Turnitin actually has a nice infographic on the various types of plagiarism and how prominent they are in academics (the data they have).

The types of abuse we see most often are of the CTRL-C and Mashup variety (and I can think of a few cases of the 404 Error type).

We have had our share in the RPG world of late. So for the Tracey Alley types she used something and then tried to pass it off as her own.  If you are smart you there two things going on here. There is the willful use of someone else's ideas AND the arrogant presumption that it was ok to do so because no one was watching.   Somewhere below that is the Mykal Lakim types that try to pass of someone else's work as their own and then stubbornly and arrogantly defends their rights to do so. Where you might argue that in the first case she "forgot" (which I don't buy) where the map and names came from, in the second there is art and text lifted right out of other peoples work.  The Jim Shipmans of the world might be the worse, taking the material from multitudes of others and passing it off not only as his own, but selling it as his own against the repeated requests of the IP owners.

Now bringing these to light is never a good thing really. It causes animosity and even ends up putting money in the pockets of the people selling stolen goods.  Hell I have to admit I have wanted to shell out the bucks for a copy of Lakim's Vampire book just to see how bad it really is.  But I am loathe to give him any money.

The accusations of being an "internet bully" also come up.  To that I say, what else do we have? Getting the word out is the only recourse a fan has. If the above linked authors (and more I know personally) are to be believed they are very appreciative of the negative attention thrown on the thief.   Plus I have purchased books from authors and game designers because their material had been stolen as a show of support.  I have this blog and a little bit of cash to throw at the problem.

But people around here will say, but what about the OSR? Haven't they based their entire existence on plagiarism of one level or another? Well I do believe in Intellectual Property (and Intellectual Capital) but I also believe in community.  The OSR as a whole is a community using a set rules release specifically for the purposes of sharing and publishing your own materials based on it. This isn't a contradiction. Now I do feel that some products out there are a little too close to the source material. I also feel we simply do not need another retroclone to play the exact same game we have been playing for years.  But I also know market realities.  I could have released my Witch book for example using a proprietary game system and my sales would have been about 5% of what they were.  The OGL does the heavy lifting it also brings in an audience.

Sometimes I feel this is often more Quixotic than some of my other crusades or activism. And I am atheist that grew up in the bible belt, so you would think I'd know a hopeless cause when I see one.

I don't know. What are your thoughts?
Do I have a point or should I just go back to my windmills?


Jens D. said...

I believe your right, for whatever that's worth. In the last few years two German ministers lost their job because of plagiarism (basically they got their doctor titles using copy/paste work, which is a disgrace, to say the least). The internet helped making that effectively public and that's not any different (if at a bigger scale) to what you did. I'm glad that it's possible to make it harder for those people to cheat and steal. And it's doing people who put a lot of work in their own products and ideas a great favor. Protects them even, to some extend. There is no "s/he stole only a little bit", no threshold for those things, it's just plain wrong.

As far as the OSR goes, I like the community aspect of it and the thinking behind creative commons. If one's always clear about his/her sources, there is nothing wrong with it. In the contrary, it's creating a very fertile environment.

So yeah, if you have the pull to do something about it, I, at least, appreciate it and applaud you for taking the heat and making a change for the better possible.

So here they are, my two cents.

Konsumterra said...

someone should run all the l ron hubbard books though plagiarism checkers - my dad said was a psyche student as they were being released said whole paragraphs stolen from texts - would be good for world if his masterworks were proven frauds

Insanodag said...

As always, your dedication and bravery in orchestrating harassment campaigns of private individuals on behalf of major corporations who do not need, and have not asked for your help, is impressive.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Tim .. I can't comment re the gaming world .. but can see the connection and ideas ..

I can quite believe there is a lot of plagiarism out there ... a lot of my posts are plagiarism to a point, but I reword the thoughts/ideas expressed and give credit as appropriate ..

Also I'm usually putting my blog posts over in a different way ..

However I do think cheats should be exposed ... as any theft is theft ...

Cheers and good luck with your goals in this case ... Hilary

ravencrowking said...

I think, as a culture, we need to take a care as to how we throw "plagiarism" around, especially when we begin to discuss ideas rather than their expression.

Culture is, IMHO, an ongoing conversation that started long before we were born, and will continue long after we die, and which we enter only in a limited way, no matter how prolific we may be.

In the past, it was accepted that artists of various sorts built off of and imitated each other. I don't think there are very many first novels that aren't effectively pastiches of others' voices, for example. Likewise, it is the interplay of ideas and names between Lovecraft, Howard, Smith, and their circle that has made the Cthulhu mythos survive as long as it has.

The ability to respond to, and build on, ideas that have gone before is necessary, because the alternative is sterility. Which is why ideas are not protected by copyright, but their unique expression is.

Superman was inspired by John Carter and Tarzan.

John Carter was inspired by Phra the Phoenician. Tarzan was inspired by Mowgli of the Jungle Book.

Superman's costume was inspired by circus strongman designs.

Remove the "plagiarism of ideas" and not only does the OSR not exist, but D&D does not exist, and the works of literature that inspired D&D do not exist. I imagine that we are still squatting in caves. And paying the family of the first cave-squatter exorbitant fees for the right to do so.

I am absolutely sure that others have raised the same, or similar, points to those raised here. While no one should have the right to cut and paste your blog post and pass it off as his own, be very careful about considering how reuse of ideas constitutes "plagiarism" let your own blog post qualify!

Just my $.02.