During my usual blog reading time this morning, I ran across a pair of posts in which people were describing a less traditional kind of content theft.
In the first entry, the blogger talked about catching a plagiarist that swiped a list of things to do over a holiday weekend and another took 14-sentence a course outline for a class on how to speak Mandarin.
In both cases the value of the nicked content was next to nothing, both in terms of personal and commercial value, but also could have been trivially recreated by the plagiarists in little time and with almost no effort.
This begs two questions: Why would anyone risk their reputation to steal something that can so easily be created? And what, if anything, should be done about it?
These are tough questions with few, if any, answers.
Most of the plagiarism I have battled has revolved around poetry, essays and stories that I’ve posted on my literature site. These works have some commercial value as many are in my book, but they mostly just carry a great deal of personal and emotional weight, being very heart-felt words from very difficult parts of my life.
However, in fighting those battles, I’ve run across more than a few incidents of plagiarism petty theft. Over a dozen people have nicked portions of my site intro, where I explain what poetry means to me, others have taken large chunks of my bio and one memorable instance involved a plagiarist actually stealing my copyright policy, the page where I tell people the conditions under which they can reuse my work.
Though most of these cases were dealt with directly since the petty theft existed alongside more serious ones, at least a few put me in a conundrum: What should I do about them?
In some regards, petty plagiarism theft is more of a crime than other forms of plagiarism. Stealing something that you have no need to steal and can trivially produce reflects poorly on one’s ethics. On the other hand though, one doesn’t want to invest the time and energy or risk controversy over something with little significance.
This has caused many copyright holders to, understandably, to ignore such small infringements. They want to move on to bigger cases and spend more time creating new works. Others, however, have dealt with such cases and many have spent a great deal of time doing so.
However, much of a person’s strategy for handling these cases depends on the amount of other kinds of plagiarism they face. Copyright holders with few plagiarism cases are much more likely to act on petty thefts than those with a large volume.
Despite that, there’s no hard and fast rule for how to approach these matters and, quite frankly, I’m equally lost when trying to come up with a policy.
Generally, I handle incidents of petty plagiarism if it is accompanied by other, more serious, cases. This works well since it’s trivial to add another line to an existing complaint. I also handle such matters if there is an easy means of resolving the issue (such as a reliable host or a good chance a cease and desist letter might work) or if I have reason to believe that the infringement, though minor, could cause confusion of ownership and damage my reputation, for example, if the work is prominently displayed.
But if the case is difficult, has little impact and is trivial in nature, I generally take a pass. I can respond to almost any plagiarism matter within fifteen minutes of discovery and, don’t want to skip out on handling multiple major cases just to deal with a single, minor one with a lot of complications. It doesn’t make sense.
Because, while plagiarism is plagiarism, copyright holders have to think about what is the best use of their time and, we only have so much time that we can spend protecting our works. Stopping plagiarism can not interfere with either the creation of new works or one’s personal life.
While that might mean sometimes letting minor cases of plagiarism slide,