Which is Worse — Sharing With Attribution, Or Plagiarism Without?

from the spot-the-thief dept

At the end of last year we wrote about the case of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, former Federal Minister of Defense in Germany, who lost both his post and his doctorate when it turned out that he had plagiarized portions of his doctoral thesis. Now the journal Science is reporting another possible case:

German Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan is facing allegations that she plagiarized parts of her dissertation, published in 1980. A Web site, called schavanplag (in German) has listed 56 incidents in which the anonymous accuser says Schavan copied phrasing from improperly cited sources.

That on its own might not be so remarkable, were it not for the fact that there have been at least two other recent cases of plagiarism by German politicians — Silvana Koch-Mehrin in June last year, and Jorgo Chatzimarkakis a month later.

Now, I don’t know what exactly the positions of all those German politicians were on unauthorised sharing of files online, but I somehow doubt that any of them approved of it. And yet they seem not to have had any qualms about copying other people’s work and passing it off as their own.

Beyond the double standards involved, there’s another important point to be made here, I think. Plagiarism is about denying creators attribution that is rightly theirs. When people share files online, by contrast, there is no attempt to pass them off as their own work — the attribution is always preserved, because otherwise people wouldn’t know what they were downloading.

That’s probably why online sharing can sometimes increase the sales of the works involved: it’s a way of signalling that you enjoy something — and a personal recommendation is perhaps the most powerful form of marketing around. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is a conscious attempt to boost your own reputation by depriving others of the recognition they are due, with all that this implies for lost rewards.

So which is worse? And which one should German politicians be most concerned about?

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Comments on “Which is Worse — Sharing With Attribution, Or Plagiarism Without?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hypocrisy of politicians?

More like hypocrisy of Techdirt on this one.

Sorry for being critical here, I really love Techdirt but this article is misguiding.

First, the author has no basis to claim the politicians who are involved are against file-sharing. Or if he does have such a basis (although he does admit he doesn’t know what their positions on the issue are), he doesn’t provide us with any evidence.
I know the German government has been cracking down hard on piracy in the last few years, with censoring websites, imposing heavy fines on infringers and holding people accountable for how others use their wifi networks. But that doesn’t mean the 3 members of that government who have committed plagiarism are automatically against file-sharing. If anything, they’re more likely to approve or at least tolerate it than to condemn it. Assuming they condemn it because of what the government does is ridiculous.

Second, those 3 politicians do not represent the entirety of the German government. Just because 3 people committed plagiarism doesn’t mean the entire government approves of it.
And in fact, these people lost their positions as a result of the plagiarism they committed, not to mention their degrees. If anything this shows that Germany cracks down equally hard on piracy and plagiarism. I really don’t see any hypocrisy here.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re: Hypocrisy of politicians?

“If anything, they’re more likely to approve or at least tolerate it than to condemn it.”

You do realise that you just did exactly what you are criticising the article of doing? And were as techdirt took steps to point out that they where making a guess you don’t and you fail to provide anything to back up your claims.

Funny thing is that I actually do agree with you. If they wanted to make that point at all they should have had something more than guess work to back it up. I just found it funny that you got so mad you made the same mistake.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Hypocrisy of politicians?

No, I haven’t done what I was criticizing – I spoke of likelihood, not fact. Based on what information we have there’s a greater chance that these politicians either approve or tolerate of piracy than condemn it.

I also said “If anything”, which in this context means “if we really have to take a guess”. I’d rather not take a guess either way, but if I do have to take one, the assumption I made seems the one with the greatest chance of being correct – as far as the information we have here goes.

Or maybe you realized I spoke of likelihood but didn’t understand what basis I had for that, in which case I’ll state the obvious: they committed plagiarism, which shows great disregard for intellectual property.
So let me rephrase my first post for you: If we must take a guess based on what information we have here, assuming that they condone or tolerate piracy is more reasonable than assuming they condemn it.

I wouldn’t take a guess personally but since the author went that route, he should have assumed the opposite of what he did.

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hypocrisy of politicians?

So your guess that because these people committed plagiarism means they are more open to file sharing is more valid than techdirts guess that these people who are part of a government currently cracking down hugely on file sharing are likely against it?

Again I don’t see why you had to guess anything other than to try and help your argument which is again exactly what you are bothered about in the post.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Hypocrisy of politicians?

If we must take a guess based on what information we have here, assuming that they condone or tolerate piracy is more reasonable than assuming they condemn it.

You’re assuming based on facts not in evidence and you are expecting us to believe you. For example, Lamar Smith, one of the most vocal “copyright infringement must stop” folks and the one behind SOPA copied photographs without permission for his website. Unless you have something to show us about these three being vocal about going easy on copyright infringement, you are making a more wild assumption than Glyn did. If there is one thing I know based on years of watching politicians, it is that they tend to push rules on others that they don’t want to enforce on themselves, and those who don’t tend to stand out (and some call them “Boy Scouts” as though it was a derogatory term.)

WannabeallthatIcouldbe says:

Plagiarism was – is more rife among students than we probably fully realised, and all that’s happening is the internet is making it visible. Maybe one of the key causes of a stagnant global economy is too much ‘borrowing’ other people’s stuff and not enough generating new stuff. Maybe what would help move the human race along and advance science in leaps and bounds would be to just have everyone’s stuff out there in the open – no more paywalls etc – so that it’s immediately obvious what’s been done. That would automatically weed out those who are just rehashing the past, leaving brilliant minds free to be brilliant. Or am I just a simple mind?

Dionaea (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, I honestly don’t know anyone who truly plagiarized, so where I’m studying the situation doesn’t seem so bad. I study biology though, I don’t know how things are in the ‘alpha’ departments O.o

I do think scientific article should be free though, most research here is government funded, it’s ridiculous that it’s not freely accessible. And if an article isn’t free, at the very least the prices for purchasing a single digital article should drop, I mean $40?! A price between $5 and $10 seems much but would at least be feasible, best would be between $2 and $4, especially since scientific magazines generally don’t have to pay anything to get their material. Our university library spens MILLIONS to keep access to these darn magazines, so we’re lucky. But I remember a foreign professor (who also works at a university) coming over for a few months who was dumbstruck by the amount of access we have here and went on a downloading spree. And even from here I regularly run into the paywall. So you can imagine how much some research suffers from lack of access to earlier studies…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think you mean scientific journals, not magazines.

I’m not correcting you to sound pedantic, but simply because scientific journals are basically the official science – if it’s published in those journals, it’s very likely true (thanks to those journals reviewing scientific articles very thoroughly for flaws before publishing).

“Scientific magazines” makes it sound like you’re talking about some cheap magazine that reports on recent scientific research often not accurately and with a lot of extrapolation. A scientific magazine would be to a scientific journal what Elle would be to a newspaper.

Doug says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“if it’s published in those journals, it’s very likely true”

That isn’t even close to correct. Most research findings will be refuted. Some will be replicated and validated, and that replication is far more important than the ‘discovery.’

There are any number of reasons why research might come to a mistaken conclusion, and there far more ‘wrong’ conclusions than right ones. Even the best designed and executed study with a 95% confidence has a 5% change of confirming a false hypothesis, and there are plenty of studies with poor design, room for bias, small sample sizes, and that find relatively small effects that don’t have as good a chance of getting it right.

An that’s ok. That’s science. It’s a messy iterative process, and you don’t loose points for getting it wrong. The scientists who really need to use the research understand the limitations.

But you’re basic point is correct: Science journal != Science magazine.

Dionaea (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s true, I used the wrong word there… But please understand, not everyone here has english as their native language, so mistakes like this can happen.

I agree with Doug though, not everything you find in scientific literature is true, far from it. Especially if you consider the fact that the information can be outdated in the case of older articles, or it can be on a subject on which there is no consensus yet, in that case some articles will be proven wrong in the future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Borrowing other people’s stuff has been the backbone of human development since the beginning of the species’ existance. Nothing is simply created inside a bubble, and everyone has used other people’s work and ideas in their own work. Everything should be more out in the open, but because it will lead to proper development continuing. The key cause of a stagnant global economy is when innovation is stifled due to intellectual property laws, which by their nature go against human nature.

Dionaea (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

True, but there’s a difference between citing someone and building on their research and simply copying someone else’s work and getting a degree. Especially if you consider the fact that these people usually got paid for their work, so you’ve essentially paid them for doing nothing and they got a degree they didn’t earn to go with it.

Rikuo (profile) says:

I would have to say plagiarism without attribution is far worse. Sharing w/ attribution can at absolute worst lead to a lost sale (and even that is debatable; plenty of times I’ve shared and bought).
Whereas with plagiarism, you have people cheating their way into degrees. Meaning they could end up in jobs they are totally unsuitable for. Would you want to hire someone who cheated in his theoretical physics course to run your nuclear power plant?

Anonymous Coward says:

What is really interesting is that on written text there are somewhat clear rules about attribution and especially citation.

The same thing does not seem to exist in audiotory works or visible works.
I think it is fair to argue for a more well-defined “citation”-right of these works.

It should be easier to follow through on cases of plagiarism. It is essentially stealing…

The economy in scientific litterature is something many professors despice. I know many who give their works digitally to the students for free. In that world all that is important is the number of citations, which in this case is any mentioning of their articles. That is why wrong citation and plagiarism is so problematic.
In this case, calling it stealing is actually apropriate since the lack of citation is a 1 to 1 loss of citation for the author.

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