From the Host’s Perspective…

Mike Vallentine runs a site called Publish 101. The site posts areticles licensed under Creative Commons Licenses that allow them to be reused, with proper attribution and reciprocal links, on sites that want to add to their content for free. Publish 101 accepts submissions from authors all over the Web and, as such, has received several complaints of plagiarism and other copyright misuse.

As someone who has frequently had the duty of contacting admins of sites like Publish 101, it was rather refreshing to read Vallentine’s most recent blog entry, in which he describes several incidents in which others have reported copyright infringement to him.

For a moment, it was like looking in a mirror…

The most interesting theme that ran throughout the entire entry was how he didn’t understand why most of the writer’s were so upset. As he put it, since most of the incidents gave proper attribution (and thus weren’t really issues of plagiarism, but rather, illegal reproduction), he felt the authors “would gain a valuable one-way inbound link to their websites from topical and relevant content that increases their link popularity and their visibility.”

While this is certainly true and I personally agree very strongly with that sentiment, note my own Creative Commons License on this site, not everyone sees the world that way. Many want control over their work and don’t want it spreading virally over the Web without any checks and balances. Many want to be contacted every time a work is reused, others want their content to be exclusive to their sites and others simply don’t want to aid the competition in any way.

Even though I don’t fully agree with their viewpoints, I can understand their perspective and I can also see why Mr. Vallentine has a difficult time doing so. As an article writer, he is used to writing pieces solely for the purpose of getting them picked up by other sites and becoming “500 to 1200 word advertisements” for his sites and his businesses. Others usually write their content for different reasons and, no matter what potential benefits it might bring, aren’t comfortable with another use.

However, the incident that bothers me is the one where plagiarism was reported and, due to a lack of evidence, not removed from the site. While I can understand not wanting to remove work from the site without some kind of evidence, which is why I always try to provide some, if the person doing the reporting had served up a proper DMCA notice and then been unheeded, Mr. Vallentine could have been in trouble. After all, as a service provider, he is responsible for removing works reported to be infringing and has no duty to judge the merit of the claim. It’s a flaw in the code, that much is certain, but one he must contend with nonetheless.

What probably happened, since false claims of plagiarism against sites like this are rare, is that a Webmaster inexperienced with copyright law wrote to complain and, when asked to back up his claim, didn’t know what to do. Perhaps if he’d known about the DMCA or at least the Internet Archive, the story might have changed.

Of course, it’s also possible that his suspisions of a false claim were true. However, we’ll never know.

In the end, I think it points to a great deal of misunderstanding about copyright on both sides of the digital divide and one of the goals of this site is to educate not just Webmasters, but service providers as well.

After all, if everyone understood their rights and obligations, we could get down to the business of effectively stopping plagiarism. Not simply dancing around while trying to figure out what direction we should go, but actually making some progress on the problem.

[tags]Plagiarism, DMCA, Copyright[/tags]

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