Punditry Saturday: Put Up or Shut Up

Note: This is a new feature to the site that I’m experimenting with. For the next weeks, barring any major news or important story, I’m going to use the Saturday update for commentary. My hope is that these thoughts will stimulate discussions on the difficult and controversial areas surrounding the plagiarism issue.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that I read a lot of blogs on copyright, plagiarism and content theft. Hardly a post on those subjects goes by without me at least glancing at the article.

However, I’ve noticed a small, but growing, trend of bloggers and Web masters actually coming out in favor of plagiarists, scrapers and other copyright thieves. They view plagiarism as a sign of how the nature of information is changing and copyright law as an outmoded concept.

They think that those like myself, who feel a great deal of personal or business loss when their work is stolen should calm down or find a new business model. Ownership of intellectual property, they say, is an almost entirely negative thing.

If you feel that way, I say fine. It’s not the most radical idea to have taken hold in the history of the world and it’s possible that, in the long run at least, you’ll be right. But before you give the green light to every glory-hound or liar that thinks they can benefit from tacking their name to my hard work, you need to put your own work on the line first.

It seems to make sense, but apparently though, that’s too much to ask.

You see, a good percentage of these blogs have a traditional copyright notice in their footer or a Creative Commons License. Either way, they’re still demanding attribution with any reuse of their work and have a recourse against any use of their work that they don’t approve of.

Even as these individuals engage in name-calling with copyright holders who are protecting their rights, they are defending theirs the same way. It’s called hypocrisy. If you’re going to tell me that I need to “lighten up” about someone stealing my work or that I need to “get with the times”, you need to take the first step.

If you really believe that plagiarism is an acceptable form of personal expression, that lying and misleading readers and copyright holders alike is fair and good, then license your work under the public domain. Put it out there to be stolen without any recourse possible. If you want help doing that, the Creative Commons organization has a license that will do it for you.

Of course, the bitter truth is that most of these people aren’t copyright radicals looking to shape the way that the world views information, but plagiarists trying to excuse their actions. They steal, they lift and they take, but when it comes to to the material that they did create, they’re just as protective as anyone else.

And why shouldn’t they be? It makes sense that anyone who puts time and effort into creating something that’s an expression of who they are wouldn’t want to see it under another name on some far corner of the Web. The fact that these people often times are taking other people’s work is purely secondary.

Now, I want to make it clear I’m not talking about the Copyleft movement, which works within current copyright law to facilitate creativity. That is a completely separate issue from this and I support their actions whole-heartedly.

Also, I am not talking about the legitimate radicals who work within the bounds of the current copyright code as they try to change it and offer their own efforts up before trying to offer up the rest of the world’s. Those who lead by example have my respect.

But the bitter truth remains that the anti-copyright and pro-plagiarism movement has been deeply tainted by hypocrisy and lawlessness. Like anarchists dealing with their internal criminal element, those who view anti-copyright as a legitimate copyright philosophy are tainted by those who want it simply because it means they can steal what they please when they want it.

The good news is that vast majority of the people I’ve spoken with and met have been very supportive of my efforts and understanding of my viewpoints. Even if they disagree with the finer points of my argument, they understand where I’m coming from and what I’m doing.

To those who disagree and want to put everything that I’ve created on the metaphorical chopping block need put up or shut up. Until your own work is in the public domain and can be looted without fear of reprisal, you have no right to tell me that mine should be.

Because, even though I still won’t agree with you, if you put your own work up first, I at least won’t think that you’re a hypocrite and I’ll have some respect for your argument.

Until then, you’re just a coward who’s talking big and covering up your wrongdoings with philosophy and politics. That’s no way to change minds, much less change the world.

[tags]Plagiarism, Copyleft, Anti-Copyright, Hypocrisy, Copyright[/tags]

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