“I thought I had permission to use them…”
“(Name) said it was ok if I took them…”
“I didn’t steal them from you, got them from (another place)…”
These are common excuses that I hear when dealing with plagiarism issues. Usually it’s someone just trying to turn the heat off of them and making up a story on the fly, but there have been a couple of times when someone truly felt they had the right to use the work in the manner they did.
The truth, however, is that you rarely, if ever, know for certain where a work comes from or when it was originally written. Even if someone gives you permission to reuse the work, especially to do so without credit, you should cite your sources and carefully because you can’t be certain it’s their rights to give away.
Case in point is one blog that I ran across where all of the work was credited, save mine. The blog owner, when contacted, said that a friend had given her the works and told her she didn’t want credit for them. She thought she was doing a favor but instead wound up getting a cease and desist letter.
Personally, I see giving some use of a piece without any credit requirement to be very fishy. If someone took the time and energy to create a piece, be it a poem, photo, song or whatever, it makes sense that they would at least want some level of attribution for it. Though certainly not everyone does, most do and as such any “freebie” should be treated with caution.
Because, like it or not, you are responsible for everything you put up on your site, including material given to you by others. If it’s your site and your the one doing the actual posting, it’s your responsibility. If someone else lies to you about their rights to a piece of work, that’s an issue between you and them at a later date. Much like a newspaper editor is responsible for libelous comments made by a reporter, we are all responsible for what we publish.
The only way to avoid this deathtrap is to credit everything. Proper attribution, though certainly not a cover for outright copyright infringement, not only helps copyright holders track down the original source of plagiarism, but also avoids many legal troubles. It’s no longer you making a false representation about a work but someone else.
Simply put, if you post a work without credit (and thus appearing to take credit for it yourself) and plead ignorance, you’re going to get asked a tough question, “You might not know who created that piece, but you knew that you didn’t. Why, with that in mind, did you do it?”
There’s never an easy answer to it. Be smart about copyright, credit your sources and don’t get embarrassed. It’s really that simple.