The Mindset of a Plagiarist

Rohan Pinto was a plagiarist.

Though he appears to have cleaned up his act, he was caught in January stealing posts from various blogs and reposting them as his own. Unlike the automated plagiarism I spoke about earlier, Mr. Pinto is a living, breathing human being that even has a picture of himself on his site. His plagiarism was in the form of old-fashioned copy and paste, nothing more.

After his thefts were discovered, he became the subject of a slew of blog posts and apparently was contacted repeatedly by both email and phone. Almost instantly, his name became synonymous with plagiarism, especially in Indian blog circles.

His reaction to this unwanted attention was both bizarre and, at the same time, very typical.

Even as other bloggers were discovering still more plagiarized works, Mr. Pinto began taking down the works he’d been called out on. He began email correspondence with at least some of his accusers and spoke with at least one on the phone. He then offered up a public apology which said, in part, “I apologize for taking content without attribution or linkage to the original posts. I did it unintentionally with no malice.”

He then went on to visit many of the blog posts on his theft and post a stock letter (scroll down to comments) as a comment to them. The letter, which included the line, “Please…Please…Please… DO not pursue this issue.” was posted on several blogs covering the story, including several of his victim’s blogs.

His apologies, the public written ones at least (I can’t comment on his phone conversations or any private emails he sent), are lacking at best. He tried to say that the plagiarism was “unintentional” and that he was operating under the mistaken belief that copyright doesn’t apply on the Web. However, even if one does believe that, it’s pretty clear that claiming something as your own when it isn’t is dishonest and immoral. Even if he was unclear on the legal implications, the moral ones are pretty easily grasped and are never addressed in any of his letters.

Instead, the letters were filled with pleas for people to “move on”, “let this go” and “let bygones be bygones.” He even says that he has “let it go with no anger or malice” as if he had a reason to be angry with someone else. Finally, he talks about how this is creating a “‘rift’ between people who knew each other so very well and were ‘brothers in arms’.”

Though he sounds altruistic in nature, the truth is that his plagiarism actually united a lot of people, that is, united them against him. Though I searched, I wasn’t able to find any evidence of people fighting with each other over him. From what I could gather, he had no defenders. It’s clear that his only interest was in getting the heat off of him, not in stepping up, admitting his mistakes and making restitution for them.

It’s the usual game of deception plagiarists play, dodging blame, creating pity for themselves and shifting attention away from their actions. It’s the one thing that’s been consistent in the two hundred or so plagiarists I have dealt with.

But even though the apology seemed to be thin, it was accepted by his victims and, after Mr. Pinto took down his site, the world seemed to move on. Even I was ready to drop the story in favor of more recent news.

It was then I noticed a very interesting article on Mr. Pinto’s new site. In it, he says:

“That’s what I noticed everybody else doing – simply cut paste the entire post, attribute to the source and have a one liner beneath it saying “true aint it?”, and it’s automatically ethical – sinister, but ethical”

Apparently, Mr. Pinto has learned nothing. You’d think in the six months after being outed for plagiarism and pleading ignorance that he’d read a primer or two on copyright law. Instead, he still seems be basing his belief of ethics and law based upon what other, equally ignorant, individuals are doing. A quick lesson in fair use and the Creative Commons License seems to be in order.

But, in his defense, Mr. Pinto did recently post that he’d read the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Legal Guide For Bloggers, which is a very good guide into both the laws and ethics of blogging. I hope he takes that guide to heart, as every blogger should.

In the meantime, I’ll be watching Mr. Pinto to see how and if his attitude changes. Though he’s religiously attributing his sources now, I’ll be eager to see what he learns. Also, I’d like to publicly invite Mr. Pinto to comment to this story and offer his side of it. If I’ve missed anything in my research or misinterpreted anything said, I’ll be happy to listen.

After all, though this is a blog about plagiarism, I believe in fairness. I’ve offered my viewpoint as an outsider with a great deal of plagiarism experience, now I’d like to hear his.

Update: I just realized that Mr. Pinto has included a Copyscape banner on his site to dissuade others from copying his work. Even though I’m not too fond of the Copyscape product, I hope that this is a sign he has truly changed his ways.

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