MarketingSherpa.com describes themselves as a “a media company publishing useful Case Studies, results data, and best practices for marketing, advertising, and public relations professionals.” Fundamentally though, they are a content provider offering both free newsletters and paid information to those in the marketing field.
More importantly, they make their money from content that they produce. That makes plagiarism, to them, both a personal and business problem. In addition to robbing their hard work, it also takes food off of their table and endangers their entire business model.
So it’s no shock that, recently, they posted a very sternly worded article (available free until 07/28/2005) tackling the issue of plagiarism and other theft of their material.
The main thing I find interesting in their entry is the distinction between the two types of plagiarists that they see “genuine fans” and “profit driven” ones. It’s a distinction I’ve noticed myself many times and I, like the author of the article, hate being stern with genuine fans. However, it’s often hard to tell which are which. After all, many of the “profit driven” ones in my case are really more of “glory hounds” that like a particular piece enough to want others to think that they wrote it, even when no profit is involved.
Furthermore, my personal situation is a bit unique in that I license all of my work under a Creative Commons License that allows noncommercial reuse of entire pieces so long as attribution is applied. However, I can see how this is not a good setup for a business trying to make money off of information.
The result is that, where I and others like me only have to deal with true plagiarists, corporations have to wrestle with well-meaning fans as well. I can only imagine how much more complicated it makes their situation and I’m glad that I don’t have to play to such niceties.
In the end, I think they’ve found a good balance in their cease and desist letter, which reads in part “I’m glad you like MarketingSherpa, but please remove this article from your Blog. By posting an entire article, you are breaking copyright law.” I think the tone of it splits hairs nicely.
But what worries me is the last paragraph of the article which cautions that content providers are forming “task forces” to deal with the problem and are proposing a wide variety of solutions, all of which limit the access to information one way or another.
It’s frightening to think that more sites will require registration or block access to certain individuals simply because of plagiarism. But, as a victimized Webmaster, I understand the temptation. When the article spoke of an “atmosphere of distrust” I think it summarized the situation nicely.
Because, when content creators can’t trust their viewers, that’s exactly what arises. That causes barriers to go up frustrating creators and citizens alike while doing nothing to forward art, culture and knowledge in society.
Copyright laws are here for a reason and MarketingSherpa’s column makes it perfectly clear why.