It Must have Seemed Easy

It must have seemed easy, writing a book about computers in education.  After all, he has a degree in engineering and has distinguished himself as a Microsoft certified solution developer, and a dizzying array of other technical proficiencies.  A book about computers in education should be no challenge at all.

Besides, so much of it has already been said by other people.  All you have to do is say it again — say it in their words.  Easy.  Who would know?  The original author is almost a half a planet away and wrote it almost ten years ago. 

Copy, paste, and turn it in. 

He writes a good book and copyrights it.  Includes the line on one of the first pages…

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without written permission.

There’s even a chapter about legal and copyright issues related to using the Internet in education.  He’s protected by ten thousand miles and dozens of political borders.  No one will know that he plagiarized this book.

But then, the e-mails start coming in to your mail box.  That article that you wrote almost ten years ago had a fair readership, and people start noticing.  The e-mails keep coming:

We were searching for information on evaluation of internet based projects when we bumped into your article and website. On reading your article we realized that your content has been duplicated in a textbook we have read for a class.

In case these people have your permission to reproduce the content you have written, we are sorry to have bothered you. But we thought it was necessary for you to know that someone else is profiting out of your effort, possibly without your knowledge.

If you plagiarize, you will get caught.  You can’t hide it.  You can’t protect it.  Even if it’s in a book, the words leak out, and when one person notices — we will all know!

What would you do, if this happened to you?

Details to come…

11 thoughts on “It Must have Seemed Easy”

  1. I am always amazed that people don’t understand that they will be caught. If you copy an exact phrase, chances are high that I can catch you. C’mon, folks, can we get some citations? Please? Especially those people with Ph.D.s, who seem to be the worst in my experience?

    I’ve had a couple of doozies since becoming an instructional designer. One person copied and pasted from an educational site that contained links to a glossary a number of keywords. She didn’t know how to break links in Word, so she just changed the font color and removed the underline. If you moused over, the links were still visible.

    My absolute favorite is the Subject Matter Expert who plagiarized the content for business ethics. I kid you not. It was all about how hard it is to maintain ethical integrity when everyone around you is breaking the rules.

    Seriously, how do we get people to understand this? I’m all for remixing content and making things open, but I’d still like to see some attribution for sources. This is an issue that comes up for me frequently in my job. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a way to effectively help people understand what needs to be cited and what doesn’t, and that the internet isn’t simply a source for copying and pasting.

  2. I am reminded of a colleague at NECC last year who sat in on a DST session only to find that the presenter had taken liberal amounts of her presentation from my colleague’s DST presentation. He did confront the presenter after the session. Boy, I would hate that to happen to me.

  3. Christy,
    Actually, I think what we are learning is that people — professionals, politicians, historians, etc. — have done it all the time and gotten away with it. It is only now that people are getting caught.

  4. Tom, you may be right there. Certainly the “creeping fox terrier clone” was an idea copied by numerous textbook writers over years without anyone verifying the accuracy or even really citing the source of the idea. In my first year of teaching, I found that part of why students were plagiarizing was because the other teachers had no idea how to catch them.

    After I posted my previous comment, I was also thinking that the complexity of copyright law (and the outright absurdity of it in many cases) must contribute to the problems. Who really knows what fair use is? In academia, there is often an assumption that “it’s educational, so I can use anything I want.” It’s an ingrained part of the culture in education. I’m not going to pretend I never made extra copies of things when I taught public school; it’s almost impossible not to break copyright when you’re teaching. Copyright reform perhaps needs to be part of equation for addressing the issue. Creative Commons is already a step in the right direction since it makes it fairly clear what you can and can’t do (and still expects attribution).

  5. So if this happened to you — which I suspected it did, what will you do??

    If this person has received financial gain on YOUR work — I feel you are entitled to it. If this person has gained privileges given to him because of his knowledge — that is YOU based, I think he needs to ‘fess up. If this person continues to ride on your coat-tails, I think he needs to stand up and be his own person.

    My website was hacked over 2 years ago — completely — and it was duplicated on another site (the person was gathering members, seeking solicitations, and gaining an audience — with my ideas, worksheets, activities, and more) and I ended up doing nothing but asking the site be taken down. (Which it was.)

    However, if it happened NOW, I think I would perhaps do things differently in how I dealt with the problem.

    FOR even though we are so happy and content with sharing our ideas — they still remain OUR IDEAS and need to be presented as such instead of someone else’s creation.

    I look forward to reading this saga —
    Jennifer Wagner

  6. Is it surprising that adults actually believe that actions like this are acceptable? Schools have become overwhelmed by the problem of plagiarism in the Internet Age. Many have resorted to using software to check for duplication of online resources, but the deeper issue is all too often neglected–educating students on ethics and the skills of proper credit and citation. I know it is taught in our schools, but real emphasis on it does not occur until middle school at the earliest, high school more commonly. In Texas, we have nothing in our elementary objectives related to understanding copyright or assigning proper credit to sources (note-taking and summarizing begin at the third grade). The easy access to such a vast sea of knowledge should also mandate training in ethics and personal responsibility at an early age. Consequences are real and should be a deterrent, but the core values that prevent the act in the first place are even better.

  7. David,
    I can’t remember exactly how the saying goes, but it’s something like…if good people don’t defend themselves, then bad ones are free to do what they want. It is important to stand up to whomever has stolen your ideas (property) and confront them.
    Jennifer has laid out some very appropriate scenarios in my view. One thing I would advise is not to let this go for very long before acting. Bad news is usually best addressed quickly before it spirals completely out of control or something else happens that doesn’t leave you enough time or other resources to deal with the first situation in an appropriate manner. Of course, there is also the question that can come up, that if you knew about the situtation, why didn’t you do something about it in a reasonable length of time. Even felonies have statutes of limitations.
    I think it was Thomas Edison who said, “There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.”
    Such a sorry state we’re in…my regrets for this happening to you.
    My 2 cents
    Jim Lerman

  8. In an earlier comment, Christy Tucker said “Who really knows what fair use is? In academia, there is often an assumption that “it’s educational, so I can use anything I want.”

    That’s very true, as we all know. But even if the use if fair, the source should be cited. Plagiaists want the credit, not just the use.

  9. As a Secondary English instructor it should come as no surprise that we deal with this moral/legal dilemma all too often. My students don’t understand that the material on the web belongs to someone. Material in a book belongs to someone. Tom is right… it’s been happening for years and only now do we have the capability to discover it in the author’s lifetimes.

  10. In this day and age, it’s very hard to believe that people think they can plagiarize. As an educator, I think it is very important to stress the importance to our students about how serious this issue really is. Of course if they see adults doing it, they think it is ok for them to do it. Adults really need to be a role model for children.

  11. I am curious if the problem does not start quite early. We tell students to copy specific sections of writing. We never tell them that it is a problem. Then, once they are in middle school, we begin to introduce the concept of giving credit where it is due. Many students have already gotten into the habit. Unfortunately, the internet makes plagiarism far too easy. It does not help that adults are doing the same thing. I agree with Angie, we have to…as teachers and educators…stress how important and serious this issue is. Many students believe that it has no repercussions or that it does not deal with them.

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