Saturday, August 29, 2009

Imitation vs Plagiarism

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what is plagiarism?

Theft, say some editors and bloggers who have noted that the Hartford Courant has lifted some stories from other papers with and sometimes without attribution. In some cases stories have been attributed to source newspapers and then appear later minus the attribution under the byline of Courant staff.

Some of the resulting furor may be found in the commentary section of a post written by Courant columnist Rick Green.

Doug Hardy, an associate editor at the Journal Inquirer, comments:

"If you search the Courant's site for "Journal Inquirer" or "Bristol Press" or several others, you'll pull up a listing of numerous stories from numerous towns where our work has been systematically copied and pasted, occasionally with minor alterations and a smattering of additional attribution from the publication. The full story is being used - not just the headline and/or first sentence and a link back to our sites. I would argue that when you're using a free site vs. a paid site, even the link is a violation of fair use. But I'm not a lawyer. Fortunately, we have a few lawyers available to us to make this argument.

"It appears that the lawyers of the HC's corporate parent are assuming the smaller papers won't call this bluff, and they are betting that we won't have the funds to litigate each individual instance where fair use has been violated (a nice phrase for theft, that is)."

"It's like saying we won't hand over all the money in our pockets after we've been shot in the head. It's ridiculous and even sophomoric to think we're not going to fight this."
Apparently, the Courant was using the work of other reporters on other papers as if these papers were a free AP service. But aggregators are bound to flirt with plagiarism. The real problem is that the Courant, having thrown a good portion of its news staff off the ship, may no longer have the resources to cover town news as it once did. The solution to this problem is not to borrow news on the cheap from other papers but to expand its staff – which is expensive. The paper’s owners are in bankruptcy.

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