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?
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.