April 05, 2008

Taxi Drivers & Plagiarism

We won!!!I normally do not read comments on newspaper sites, by Ord's Law online comments are usually an order of magnitude worse than the original post. But a comment to this story in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet caught my eye. The story is nice fluff about the New York cab driver association's prizes for extraordinary service. It is also a direct translation of a SkyNews story - same content, same quotes, same structure. Googling for text from the SkyNews story finds around 40 pages, most which are other news sites crediting SkyNews. This version contains some identical text, but also new information - given that it is a New York newspaper it might even have been original journalism occurring there.

In an increasingly transparent world it is becoming harder to plagiarize, even when it is through translation. Of course, defining plagiarism becomes trickier. Every week I encounter dozens of nearly indistinguishable versions of a scientific finding, all close derivatives of university PR department press releases. Should that be regarded as plagiarism, since the journalists are not contributing much? If we accept it as plagiarism I would guess 90% of science reporting is plagiarism - plagiarism the "victim" promotes.

I doubt I can avoid copying - deliberately or not - elements of other information when I write. My experiments with fingerprinting political texts show that we quote/plagiarize each other quite often. But what I can do (beside trying to keep straight who said what originally) is to ensure that each post or text at least tries to bring together two or more previously unrelated pieces of information, creating a synthesis. Otherwise there would not be any point in having a new text. Maybe that is the real crime of plagiarism: not the copying, but simply not contributing anything new or better. The cab drivers had a prize for "going the extra mile", maybe everybody who writes stuff for a living out to have that too.

Posted by Anders3 at April 5, 2008 05:07 PM