Podcast Plagiarism

When Michael Mackenzie, the author of Whiggles.com (Contains image unsafe for work), a DVD review and news site, downloaded a series of podcasts from Mondo Movie, a podcast site featuring movie reviews, he expected to hear reviews for obscure DVDs.

He didn’t expect to hear his own work being recited to him.

However, that’s exactly what he got when he listened to Mondo Movie’s review for a movie entitled "The Fifth Cord" as the podcast reused a plot summary he posted in a review on the DVD Times (Contains images unsafe for work) without attribution or permission.

This, in turn, prompted fellow blogger Lyris to post a video illustrating the plagiarism and a quick response from Mondo Movie, who apologized for the infraction and promised to clarify the situation in its next podcast, due out soon.

While the situation does seem to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, it also raises some interesting questions about the potential for plagiarism in the podcasting world.

A Cause for Concern

Fortunately, the Mondo Movie incident seems to be an isolated one. I wasn’t able to find another case like it in the past few months and most podcasters, like most bloggers, are honest about citing their sources. Also, since bloggers significantly outnumber podcasters (at the moment), it’s natural that only an insignificant few podcasters would be unscrupulous.

However, the incident does provide some cause for concern.

First, Mackenzie was somewhat fortunate to have discovered the incident. If he hadn’t happened to listen to the podcast himself and then remember his own work well enough to investigate further, most likely, the lifting would have gone unnoticed.

As of right now, there is no system that can detect plagiarism in podcasts. Unless the podcast provides a text transcript of each episode, there is no way to search for potential infringement. Instead, we have to rely on our own eyes, ears and memory, along with those of our readers, in order to detect such infringements.

However, no one person can listen to all of the podcasts in their particular field (nor should they solely to spot plagiarism) and as more and more podcasters fire up their microphones for the first time, some, inevitably, will turn to plagiarism to fill the otherwise dead air.

While this means that the Mondo Movie incident might not be as isolated as it appears, it also means that future plagiarists might find some sense of safety by trading in their keyboard for a microphone. How this will develop is unclear, the one thing that is certain is that the Mondo Movie incident will not be the last case of its kind, more will follow and, most likely, soon.

Some Good News

The good news, however, is that podcast plagiarism involves only a very, very small percenage of either podcasts or overall plagiarism.

Plagiarists don’t become plagiarists because of their high work ethic and the extra work involved in creating a podcast will likely help keep podcasting more honest than other media (Note: This may decline as the barriers to entry of podcasting are lowered).

Also, the off-the-cuff nature of most podcasts, also helps prevent the genre from dipping too deep into plagiarism. It’s very hard for one to plagiarize when they, usually, don’t even have a script.

Finally, the bulk of plagiarism on the Web is done for the benefit of search engines. Since podcast content isn’t picked up by search engines, it makes no sense, in that regard, to plagiarize when recording. There is little, if any benefit gained beyond filling dead air and not having to think of anything new.

Conclusions

At the moment, podcast plagiarism is not a major concern. The nature of podcasting and the relatively small number of podcasters combine to make audio plagiarism a rare occurrence, at least for the moment.

Despite this, it’s something that needs to be on the radar as a potential future problem. As podcasting grows in both popularity and simplicity, the possibility for trouble will grow.

It’s wise to begin thinking about the issue now so we can begin developing techniques and opening up discussions on how to address this issue.

Forewarned is forearmed and, should the worst happen and podcast plagiarism does become a major issue down the road, we won’t be caught off guard by it if we start looking at the possibility today.

[tags]plagiarism, podcasts, podcasting, content theft, copyright infringement[/tags]

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