News Thieves: Am I Over-Reacting?

The outright thievery of content is nothing new on the ‘net. Most of us remember the case of TheOatmeal vs FunnyJunk and its particularly humorous conclusion but sometimes the answers aren’t so cut-and dry. The legalities and specifics of various situations are hardly clear but it seems like the ethics should be. It’s also entirely possible that I’m over-reacting to something minor. You tell me.

I’ve been blogging for a while, but it’s only been in the past few months that I’ve been breaking news. For most of my blogging career I’ve been re-posting news second hand and being careful to always cite my sources lest the cabal of big media lawyers start sending me letters. More than the legal aspect, though, I cite out of respect – those people had to work hard to build their contacts and reputation to get the big important stories before anyone else and they deserve to reap the lion’s share of the reward.

How am I to feel, then, when the news I work hard to break is posted by others without the basic respect of citation I’ve always given them?

The most recent example is that of BBC News posting a news piece vaguely similar to one I posted just a few hours earlier. Now I got this story directly from a company press release and it’s entirely possible that BBC News found that same press release or perhaps found my article and went back to my source for their information but there’s no telling where they got their information because they cited absolutely no one.

At least BBC News was kind enough to not copy and paste the entire article, as has happened to me previously. While the offenders have mostly complied with my requests to remove such blatantly plagiarized material it irks me that they ever thought it was okay in the first place.

Update: It has come to light that BBC News got their article information from a phone interview with Bitcoin Magazine’s Vitalik Buterin and so the similarity of the articles is more about the similarity of the sources. Still, citing a source would have saved me a lot of grief and them a lot of unwanted attention. I’ll leave the article intact, however, as BBC News was hardly the first and will likely not be the last.

The biggest example thus far, though, has been my release of BitInstant’s big MasterCard plans and the followup interview with Charlie Shrem. These two are my most-copied articles ever and fully half of the major news outlets failed to cite any sources – it’s as if they want us to believe their information flows directly into their brains from the aether. Furthermore there was no more original source for this information to cite: unless dozens of news outlets were lurking in the #bitcoin channel on FreeNode IRC at 3AM or eavesdropping on my coffee-shop interview with Charlie their information came from this site one way or another.

I don’t want anyone to misinterpret this as me being overly protective of my content – I want this news to get out there. It’s a badge of pride for me that something I posted was important enough, big enough, to be re-blogged by BBC News, Engadget, CNet and so on. I especially love seeing Bitcoin stories get attention from big media outlets. I am genuinely happy to share my content with everyone and that includes big media outlets, please make whatever use of my content you like (short of outright copy and paste) but please cite your sources.

Citation isn’t just about plagiarism or credit to me, either. Citation is about proof, responsibility and your duty to the public. I’m just some guy, maybe you trust me to write the truth and maybe you don’t, but if I cite my source then you have the combined trustworthiness of my source and me. If my source is authoritative it reflects on the quality of my data. If my source is sketchy, that reflects on my data as well. Anonymous sources have their own complications, but at least you’ll typically be informed that such a source was used – no citation at all not only weakens my trust in what I’m reading but also erodes my trust in the person who wrote it.

But perhaps I’m atypical. Perhaps I’ve spent too many hours on Wikipedia or reading and writing scholastic works where citation is an absolute requirement. Maybe I’m too big a skeptic… So let’s ask the audience: what do you think?

Should I feel violated by content ripping?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...


Do you trust a news source less when they don't cite their source(s)?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Update: I’m glad to see that most of you think I’m being reasonable. That said, I don’t think there’s much I can do about this that won’t compromise my integrity or make me feel like I’m a terrible, selfish person. I’ve done all right making a name for myself so far and no matter who does or doesn’t scrape my content for whatever purposes, I’ll just continue to write the best stuff I can and throw it out here in hopes you’ll all keep reading it.

No tips yet.
Be the first to tip!

Tip With Bitcoin


Each post gets its own unique Bitcoin address so by tipping you're not only making my continued efforts possible but telling me what you liked. Vote with your (Bitcoin) wallet!

Discuss This

Loading Facebook Comments ...


  1. Mark Ward from the BBC (the author of their article) contacted me a couple of hours after the thread first opened, and much of the information that they wrote down was, whether directly or indirectly, was from what I told him. As for what I told them, I got that off the Bitcointalk forum thread from where the whole thing started (my article today is also from that thread).

    Here's the full text of my email to Mark Ward (which I wrote before reading your own piece):

    > I think what Bitcoin Central has done is definitely significant. This is the furthest that anyone has gone in terms of integrating Bitcoin with the existing banking system. BitInstant has had a money services business license before this, but an MSB license is much more limited in scope. What Bitcoin Central "being a bank" (specifically, being a payment services provider [PSP] which is essentially a bank minus the ability to issue credit), and not just a money transmitter, means is two things. First, account holders at Bitcoin Central will have an IBAN (international bank account number)
    and it will be possible to "wire" money into someone's Bitcoin Central account just as if it was any other kind of bank account. Second, EUR deposits at Bitcoin Central (not BTC deposits though) will be federally insured. From here, Bitcoin Central will be able to (and has plans to) issue a debit card backed by a Bitcoin Central user's EUR and BTC balances, the ability to automatically convert transfers made to one's account to BTC, and other features.
    > One of the major problems that the Bitcoin community has been dealing with is these past two years is that it's difficult to get BTC, and it's difficult to cash out, so there's no way to ease into the Bitcoin economy slowly, so to speak. If you have to abandon the traditional banking system entirely to use Bitcoin, then aside from a relatively small group of devoted idealists it's difficult to get any kind of mass adoption. If Bitcoin Central goes live, anyone can easily get their EUR salary automatically converted to BTC, get their BTC earnings (eg, from mining) automatically converted to EUR through the debit card, etc, so you can sort of live in the middle of the two worlds. And, perhaps, in ten years' time we'll see some businesses see that many of their customers are buying their products with a BTC debit card, and many of their employees are converting their salaries into BTC via a hybrid bank/exchange account, and realize that they could save a lot of money if they just cut fiat currency out of the loop entirely and accept and pay salaries in BTC directly.
    > Another impact of Bitcoin Central's announcement will be that this further increases Bitcoin's preceived legitimacy. Legal issues have so far been a major factor preventing large businesses and organizations from accepting Bitcoin. About one and a half years ago, Eric Schmidt mentioned that Larry Page and Sergey Brin had proposed to him the idea of creating their own digital currency, "Google Bucks", but because of the legal issues involved Schmidt decided against it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation also stopped accepting Bitcoin back in July 2011 for legal reasons, and many suspect legal uncertainty is the main factor holding Wikipedia back from accepting Bitcoin right now. The more we see governments and banks being willing to deal with Bitcoin the more comfortable a lot of organizations are going to be making the step forward themselves.
    > If you have anything more to ask about this or anything else, let me know, I'm always glad to answer your questions!

    Given all the similarities between what I told Mark Ward and what you posted, I think this is a case of "A is correllated to B because they both derive from C" more than anything else. If you can point to specific things that are in some of the mainstream news articles that are in yours and are not in the forum or my summary, I would be glad to change my stance – I'm just saying what I feel to be the case based on the evidence that is available.

    • "A is correlated to B because they both derive from C" is a fair assessment, I'm basically saying I wish the author of the BBC News piece had actually cited you as a source. Failure to cite sources leaves this kind of thing very open to (mis)interpretation. Really it's not even this article I'm annoyed about, it's that it just keeps happening.

      The BitInstant MasterCard article was absolutely the most ripped-off content I've ever written, but I occasionally find that my content has just been copypasted onto someone else's site and sometimes even claimed as their own. I'm glad to hear that BBC News had a not-me source, sadly this is a much larger problem than the one article you were the source for.

      • Now that I think about it, it's not fair to give me full credit for what he wrote either; he read the original thread too.

        But I do agree with you on the general point – there's a reason why I link back to my (primary and secondary) sources whenever I can. It's not just not plagiarizing – it's also giving evidence that what I'm saying is actually true, and simply giving readers a chance to learn more about a given topic when they so choose. When I state something without linking to a source, it's either common knowledge, the source being a private conversation or "I remember reading that but I can't find where it was from" (the latter of which I try to keep to a minimum). The whole point of the Web is that it's a hypertext medium, people!

        • Exactly! I think that's what's so insulting, it's not that I'm obsessed with "getting my dues" so much, more that it's so trivially easy a thing to do and it's astounding that a legitimate news source won't even do this one tiny thing with any regularity. Makes me question them.

  2. Sprinkles says:

    I absolutely agree that people should cite sources of the original information, simply out of gratitude and respect for the original author's work. After all, the people who are repeating the original author's work, are standing on his back in order to do so.

    Should there be laws that requiring the citation of original work? I don't believe there should be. The reason being, if there were laws requiring this, then we'd end up with something similar to patents and copyrights. Which would be bad, because the whole notion of "intellectual property" is a fallacy. Such thinking does way more harm that good. Knowledge should never be considered property. If someone doesn't want to share their knowledge, then keep that knowledge locked up in your mind or other safe location. Once that knowledge is let out of the bottle, either willfully, accidently, or stolen, in most cases there is no putting the genie back in the bottle.

    Humans simply do not like to be copied, but it's something we've been doing since our births. We learned from our parents by copying and mimicking what we see them do. The sad truth is that the human race, as an advanced species, is still rather young and immature in our way of thinking. We haven't learned to share very well yet, similar to a young child not wanting to share his toys (ie patents, copywrites), and when we do share, we haven't learned to give proper credit or pass on what we learn from building off the original author's work. Everyone stands on someone else's back to further knowledge. We need to credit the person who's back we're standing on.

    I think the Free Software Foundation's copyleft GPL license is a great example of how we should be forward moving as a species. It encourages people to credit the original author and also share what add to the original author's work. Unfortunately, most people are still of the mentality that they do not want to share their toys. So they patent and copywrite everything that they can, which I think slows down the progress and advancement of our species.

    Basically, I'm sorry that people are ripping off your work without giving credit where credit is due. These journalist should have been taught better, but the sad truth of the matter is they've still got quite a bit of cognitive growth left to do in order to evolve and become more enlightened.

Leave a Reply