Back in February of this year, photographer Kris Krug posted a blog entry about an alleged plagiarist that he had been tipped off to in an email. The alleged thief, named Kevin Corazza, was a photographer taking advantage of the Flickr service to distribute photographs, much the same as Krug.
In the entry, Krug wondered aloud whether the Creative Commons License his work was licensed under, applied to the case. Krug did not directly accuse Corazza of plagiarism, but the letter that he quoted stated that he "may have stole" some of the photographs.
(Note: All Creative Commons Licenses require attribution, if the use was unattributed, which it appears to be, then it is almost certainly a violation)
Though Corazza did not admit any wrongdoing, the photographs were removed quickly from the site (supposedly within seven minutes of the post going up) and, for all intents and purposes, the matter seemed to be resolved.
However, today Krug received a letter from attorneys retained by Corazza. It was a cease and desist letter instructing Krug to remove the post referring to Corazza, dubbing it "false and defamatory" and a violation of his host's acceptable use policy.
As of this writing, Krug has not removed the original post and has posted the letter on-line in his Flickr account. The story has caught fire, making the front page of Digg. If the letter was a move to save his reputation, which his cease and desist letter seems to indicate that it was, the move has clearly backfired.
But while the story has given several bloggers a good deal to chuckle about, it does illustrate one of the potential dangers in handling plagiarism issues in such a public way. Though it is unlikely, from what I've seen and read, that a defamation suit against Krug would succeed (granted, there are many unknown variables including Canadian law, what exactly Corazza did and which complaints Corazza would bring, I would advice Krug to at least speak with an attorney) creators who out their plagiarists in public need to be prepared for at least the possibility of such retaliation.
I have not covered defamation law on this site since it is mostly focused on intellectual property and I personally do not encourage outing plagiarists in public, though I do admit it can be an effective method in some cases. However, if there is enough interest in it or concern regarding it, I will happily take a day to discuss it.
In the meantime though, this story stands alone as a classic "man bites dog" tale. I will be following it closely and providing updates as things develop. It will be very interesting to see how things turn out over the long haul.