Sharing too much…

Over the weekend, I found out that an anonymous blogger had reposted Jim C. Hines’ first novel survey results. Not just an excerpt, but the whole couple thousand word post in full, directly linking to images from Jim’s server. I’m not providing a link to the plagarizer’s post for reasons that will be clear in a moment.

Jim’s a friend of mine, so I posted a comment on that other blog:

Y’know, on one level I’m impressed that you actually replicated all of the links and everything when you plagiarized Jim’s post.

On another level, that also tells me it wasn’t just a cut-and-paste job. It wasn’t ignorance.

Boingboing’s quote of Jim’s post falls well within fair use. Copying the entire thing verbatim – when you could have just linked to it – is unethical.

I got quite a lengthy response. I’ve heard many of the pro-plagiarizing arguments this anonymous blogger made before, so I’m posting this response here as a critique of those arguments.

  • Ad hominem attacks make you look stupid. First thing this person does is call me a “smug dickbag”. I think there should be a variant of Godwin’s Law that applies to ad hominem attacks of all types.
  • I didn’t represent it as my own / I’m sharing / I’m giving exposure to you There was one or two sentences noting that Jim wrote the post, then the couple thousand words of Jim’s post and images. That’s substantially someone else’s work, and unless it’s CC-licensed (as some of mine is) reposting the whole item isn’t legal. That’s not “sharing” – that’s copying. Contrast that to how Cory Doctorow – a copyfighter himself – shared Jim’s link on boingboing. A paragraph or two and an image to give people the idea of whether or not they’d want to click through. (For another example, the images I use on this blog are CC-licensed or my own, with attributive links to the flickr page of the image to fulfill the CC-license.) You might also want to look at what fair use really means.
  • I used blockquotes. See above. You can also look at my Homeschool Resource List for another example of doing it well; I give credit for the text I cite, for the sole purpose of promoting the sites I mention. Which drives us to the next point….
  • “I don’t want to daisy chain to one site who blockquoted another that linked to a third site who linked the original. Waste of time.” This is actually a direct quotation from the anonymous blogger – and one point that I agree with. It would be stupid to daisychain like that. There’s a convention for getting around it – link to the item in question, with a “via” or “thanks to” link to the referring site. And that brings us to…
  • “I don’t run ads and the site generates zero income. – nobody redirects to me and I’m not interested upping someone else’s traffic for profit. I gain nothing.” This is another direct quotation, and honestly it’s the heart of the matter. Earlier the anonymous blogger had said “It’s worth sharing” while trying to justify not excerpting the work. Thing is, it may be zero profit (direct or indirectly) for the person who reposts the work, but it takes away profit for the content creator. Whether in terms of whuffie or actual money, the anonymous blogger stole from Jim. Links (and traffic) are ways of measuring whuffie – which for professional writers also factors into their real income.

There’s quite a bit more, actually – an entire second part that’s a mix of ad hominem attacks (claiming I’m jealous that he didn’t rip me off, calling my city “Nowhere, Ohio”, etc) and praise for the work mixed with putting down the work. They claim that I’m being pissy because they’re not as big as boingboing (false – I’ve thanked people who mentioned my posts/work on small blogs before), but that last bullet point really is key.

Links and traffic are the closest thing to whuffie we have on the internet. It not only tells the internet at large (via Google, Technorati, and Twitter for three quick examples) who is important, but it also lets content creators know that they’re doing something worthwhile. If there’s something or someone worthwhile out there, you point people at them… not keep them in your own front yard.

And that is why I’m not linking to the anonymous blogger’s post. There’s no such thing as negrep (or deducting whuffie) on the wide internet yet. For all their spluttering about sharing, they’re not actually helping.

It’s a value-added thing. This site (or Jim’s blog) tend towards content creation. Both of us link to things, but we focus on creating new material. Boingboing (and on a much smaller scale, my resource list) add value by directing people to interesting sites they may have otherwise missed. Both boingboing and Lifehacker also add original content to nearly every post, and sometimes have completely original content. Again, they’re directing people to the end content creator, rather than keeping people on their own site.

Which, ironically, keeps us coming back to to them, and grateful for the service they provide.

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