Monday, November 27, 2006

WikiFray Plagiarism Policy (draft for discussion)

It’s not just because we’re already famous that plagiarism has real implications for WikiFray. When an author seeks recourse under Digital Millennium Copyright Act for unauthorized use of their work, a service provider is obliged to take action and may block access to the site where the infringement has occurred, or they may take down the site altogether.

Plagiarism Guidelines (proposed):

  1. Post content that is not original must include proper citation
    • except for phrases in common use. In the event of uncertainty about whether a source is common, the poster should err on the side of caution.

  2. Failure to cite non-original material may result in the following:
    • the poster may be notified of the problem, and asked to edit or remove the post;
    • the post may be deleted by an admin;
    • other blog members may be advised, by post or email, of the actions taken.

  3. When someone spots a problem in a post on the blog, they should
    • contact the poster in question and explain the problem, requesting an edit or removal of the material in question;
    • contact admin if they’re unsatisfied with the person’s response, or if they are unable to reach them;
    • advise others as appropriate.
Because there is always the possibility that a citation is missing due to an HTML error, the benefit of the doubt ought to be accorded the author of the offending post whenever possible. Unless it is a particularly egregious offense, they should be given the opportunity to address the problem before other action is taken.

A few points about citation:

When an idea is common knowledge it is not necessary to cite its source. Less clear is the handling of short quotes that are in common usage, but which nevertheless can be attributed to an author. Does the fact that I had to look up attribution for “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar) mean that I can use it without citation? Probably not, but the fact that it’s a phrase in common use probably does. I’m thinking “rosy-fingered dawn” also needs no attribution.

Unless the work you’re quoting is designated as "Some Rights Reserved" or included in the Creative Commons, cutting and pasting entire articles, or even substantial portions of them, violates the guidelines of fair use. Material from the Creative Commons may be used with fewer restrictions than copyrighted material, but attribution is generally required. See the Electronic Frontier Foundation for a brief explanation of fair use and other issues, including the appropriate use of borrowed images in a post.

Other questions to consider:
  1. In terms of context, consequences, anonymity and accountability, is WikiFray a different environment than the Fray?
  2. What about a member’s history prior to blog? Should someone be held accountable on the blog for something they did on the Fray?
I admit that I didn’t check the copyright on the images I posted in my Poetry Slam posts. I also failed to address the recent problem with topazz's post in the manner outlined above, even though I had every opportunity to do so. And I’m one-hundred percent sure I could find unattributed quotes in one or two of my posts on the fray.

If anyone feels I should remove myself from membership on the blog because of these transgressions, I’m willing to do so. If not, where do you think the we ought to draw the line?


Dawn Coyote said...


I'd add something about withdrawing membership and posting privileges for egregious or repeat offenses.

topazz said...

Jesus Christ, was this really necessary?

You don't have to draw up a whole policy, people. My transgression in no way "defines" me, but relax, I just won't come back, that's all.

Keifus said...

dawn: suggest drawing the line at harm done (which of course will usually be little harm, unless it was chronic or particularly nasty).

topazz: the issue was sort of forced (out to and then well past the point of ridiculousness) during all the flogging that followed your fray post. I think an "official policy" statement for when people get bent about similar things in the future. More to protect against the pile-on than against the action itself, or so I'd hope.

K (my opinion: it was never a big thing, I don't by any means think it defines you, and would hate to see you not come back)

JohnMcG said...

Did you steal that policy from dKos?

Seriously, in my opinion, if a post is corrected due to failure to attribute, we should not just silently correct the attribution, but also note what correction was made and the reason for the correct.

UPDATE: Here is an example of such a note, as well as an opportunity for me to whine that my batting average on the word verification stands at about .500

Schadenfreude said...


We are, of course, entirely defined by our transgressions. Why? Because God hates you.

Some people are born bureaucrats and are driven to write policies. It's like breathing to normal people.

august said...

The point is that we want you back.

MsZilla said...

This is no way defines you. You're right. And I'm with august on this one. But this topic needs to be addressed in general. The fact that we even started this without it is foolhardy.

The rest of you yahoos:
When you're writing in your own blog, it's on your own head. In a collaborative environment you can't just fly by the seat of your pants like that.

Dawn, what about expanding that heading to "Copyrighted Materials"? That way the same general policy statements cover images and Youtube and stuff too. That should cover you for the DCMA. Simply having them edit in a proper attribution unless the author has specifically requested the removal of the materials is all the DCMA requires unless you're making money off it.

I would prefer the change isn't silent, though. I'm with John on that.

Cross-posting is another source of issues here. A policy of having cross-posting include a link to the original post should probably be a good idea. Doubly so when it's on the Fray.

I do want to point out you guys need to be careful on calling foul, though. Anonymity gives us a whole 'nother wrinkle here. Just a bald-faced Google isn't the only indicator. If I cross-posted one of my Momgamer articles in here (which I own the rights to do so) it could look to someone like plagarism if they looked it up. You'd have to dig pretty hard to realize we're the same person. Ditto with materials cross-posted from the Fray or your own blogs.

So how do we balance the need to keep our anonymity in the face of this sort of accusation? I'm not thinking so much for me, but for some of the gang here it would be a real problem (I know of one case for sure and no I'm not going to blow cover by telling you who; it's not Fritz).

bite said...

If you can't come back here, at least come back to BOTF. jeezus, what a wasteland! (Fritz and Gregor excluded, myself included)

and I mean to say that to all the rest of you, damnit!

TenaciousK said...

Quick thoughts:
Topazz, I wish you'd come back. I'll beg, if you want me to, but I won't belabor the point any more than it's already been belabored.

Dawn and MsZ: One of the things I've liked about this project is that it's fun. Right now, it seems somewhat less fun that it used to. I think putting something in place is probably a good idea, but more from a process perspective than brass tacks - the process revolving around this little drama is what seems to sap the lively fun out of the place.

As far as fair use goes - to some extent, plagiarism is like art. I know it when I see it. The internet really is challenging fair-use standards, and will continue to do so. Copying, pasting, lifting - not ok. Snagging a photo of PeeWee Herman and using it as my user pic, without attribution - well, some things were put on the internet in order to be ripped off. If anybody leaves a comment suggesting they believe one of the sappy pics I paste up is me, I'll set 'em straight. In the mean time, I believe it falls under fair use (not like I'm making any money off it, or anything). I feel the same way about Topazz posting a picture of Marilyn Monroe - it was intended as a joke, of sorts. I will promise, however, not ever to post any picture or text that's not mine, pretending that it is.

We can tighten up standards once we upgrade to online commercial venture (Hahahahahaha!). In the mean time, transformative use, lack of financial benefit, etc., seems to suggest some creative license. I don't think either of your examples, Dawn, approaches the level of objectionable use, unless you post a distinctive phrase in the middle of a story you wrote, without quote, and without the intended known reference to the venerable work. Again - it's like art. Dawn, I likewise have no problem with the images you used in your posts.

If you'all had a question about anything I posted, I'd actually appreciate a little behind-the-scenes consultation before someone drops the boom on me. Please, feel free to consult amongst yourselves by email, or whatever, or just shoot me one and ask me about it. If it's a gray area, we can append the post to include comments about attribution, or something.

Schad - great pic.

PS. As far as I'm concerned, I'm with Ms.Z - your own blog, the fray etc. are entirely separate forums. I think people should get a pass on what they do there [though criticism is always fair game, I suppose. (Hi Misterioso!)]

TenaciousK said...

P.S. Ender, the same goes for you, as well. OTOH, I sort of expect you to come back, at some point. Sooner is better than later, as far as I'm concerned.

PPS. Did, LentenZeusBara offer to contribute, there awhile back? He'd be a welcome addition - prolific, talented, and cantankerous.

sydbristow said...

for consideration (and topicality): the McEwan-Andrews kerfuffle.

my thoughts: tremendous overkill here (and not just cause a certain somebody popped in for a visit). nobody's for plagiarism, there is a gray area, everybody here knows everybody else here (pretty much), if you have a concern raise it in thread.

re the link, interesting that nobody's calling what he did plagiarism, no? i mean, technically, it is. and yet, it isn't (court of public opinion, et al). [for switters: something (on which) to ruminate (on).]

JohnMcG said...

I don't think the plagiarism policy introduces any privacy issues that are not already inherent in posting the same material in two places under separate names.

If the same uncommon phrase appears in two places without a citation, there are three possibilities:
1. Plagiarism, or unattributed borrowing.
2. The same author posted the same piece in multiple places.
3. Random coincidence.

Setting aside the third possibility, the possibilities are still the same. And if someone were to notice the same thing posted in the same place, the author would still have to answer for why that was the case, even without a policy.

In short, I trust us to be smart enough to manage the level of anonmyity we are comfortable with. Posting the same piece under your real name compromises your ability to maintain anonymity. If you think it's worth it, go for it. If not, hold back.

Thy Goddess said...

topazz: Just so you know, ThyGoddess hates the sin, loves the sinner.

dc: Kick ass!

TK: The pool is clean, babe.

Schad: Smoochie.

august said...

Dawn sounds occupied. If nobody objects in the next day or so, I'll send invites to Ender and Topazz.

If anybody else wants to join, by all means send an e-mail to

MsZilla said...

Tenacious - I know it sounds "less fun". But the thing is, once it's done we can all go back to our fun. The fact that we've thought this through and put it up there is all that is required. Then all go forth and sin no more and we're all good.

(that last bit is a reference to a Bible verse that I don't have time to look up right this second, in case anyone's asking)

Bite, I'd love to come back. I actually wrote a bot program that tries to post once an hour for me in various ways and reports back. It hasn't worked since that last time I got in and posted. I will figure this crap out, though, and I will be back.

And August, I vote you damn the torpedos on the invites to both Ender and Topazz.

TenaciousK said...

August: email? I think they both know I would like them back. Please add me to whatever invitation you plan to forward.

MsZ: I'm all for going forth and sinning no more. Or at least, sinning only in the delightful ways that don't hurt other people; a life devoid of sin sounds far too dull for me. Speaking of which...

ThyGoddess: [sigh...] Schad gets to have all the fun.

N. Pepperell said...

Apologies for butting in - was just tracking back from some links from my blog, and wound up here...

A quick suggestion on the anonymity/posting your own content under another name: just include a link and citation to the original, and say "Reproduced with permission of the author" or similar. No one need know that the author is the same person as the poster...

TenaciousK said...

n pepperell: good suggestion. People who have helpful things to say are always welcome to butt in.

bright said...

MsZ: It's John 8:10-11

MsZilla said...

Pepperell - Great Suggestion! So mote it be. Oh, and please feel free to offer any other suggestions that come to you.

Mostly I was just trying to raise the issue in people's minds so they think of that as a possibility before we end up on another pixellated pitchfork-wielding mob hike around the mulberry bush again for nothing. ;)

Bright - thanks for the verse citation.