26 August 2007

On Plagiarism

Fundamentally, the problem with plagiarism isn't about whether someone else will ever make money off of my creative works. That's the main purpose of copyright, but plagiarism isn't just a problem of copyright.

I've written something that other people have liked so much that they've copied it without telling me. In and of itself, that doesn't upset me - it's flattering to have created something of enough value that anyone would want to copy it. It also doesn't upset me per se if they don't credit me for the work I did - if they want to note "Anonymous," for example. The problem comes when someone else tries to pass off my work as their own - when there is no note at all, and the implication is that they did the work themselves.

So it isn't credit that I want. It's miscredit that I don't want. And the best way to avoid miscredit is to insist on credit. That's what attribution is really about. It's a subtle distinction, but I suspect it's a significant one for a lot of people who create things, at least down here in the trenches of creative works that don't make a profit and/or aren't ever intended to make a profit. Once money enters into things, we go back to the conventional copyright and trademark laws.

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