The Napster Of Newspapers

from the cut-and-paste dept

It's no secret that I tend to think folks who worry about plagiarism quite often blow the issue out of proportion. Luckily, over the last few years, we've seen more and more folks start to recognize that plagiarism isn't always so bad. In fact, quite often, the plagiarists do something more interesting with your content, sometimes taking plagiarism to a new level of artform. The more you look at it, there's a pretty fine line between plagiarism and inspiration. Also, in other contexts, "plagiarism" is quite similar to everyday collaboration. Yes, the failure to properly credit the original author is a bit sleazy, but if you can get beyond that issue, plagiarism is an interesting phenomenon to observe.

Over at Slate, writer Jody Rosen is discussing what he believes may be one of the "biggest" cases of plagiarism ever discovered: an entire Texas-based free alternative weekly newspaper that appears to have an awful lot of plagiarized content. Rosen only discovered it when someone pointed out to him that one of his own columns appeared (in part) in the newspaper, The Bulletin. As he looked into it, he realized that the article actually mashed up three separate articles written by others, making very minor changes and not even doing much to hide the very different writing styles.

The more he looked, the more plagiarism he found. He eventually got his hands on the latest paper issue of the newspaper, and worked out that every single article, other than some short blurbs about local events, appeared to be plagiarized in this manner. Even the letters to the editor were plagiarized from elsewhere. And while he does sound a little bit ticked off at having his work used in this way, he seems more amused by the whole thing. And while the following paragraph is almost certainly meant sarcastically, there's a point to it:
But perhaps the Bulletin is merely on-trend--or even ahead of its time. The Drudge Report, the Huffington Post, and Real Clear Politics have made names and money by sifting through RSS feeds; Tina Brown and Barry Diller are preparing the launch of their own news aggregator. Mike Ladyman and company may simply be bringing guerilla-style 21st-century content aggregation to 20th-century print media: publishing the Napster of newspapers.
Or there may be a better description: it's the mashup or mixtape of newspapers. Most of the plagiarized articles (all of which have been taken off the web since Slate published Rosen's article) involve bits and pieces from other articles, trying to craft (weakly, from the sound of it), a new article of sorts. And yes, it's sleazy for the (tiny) Bulletin staff to have pretended to write these articles themselves, but is it all that different than what Girl Talk does with music -- which people celebrate (though, to be fair, Girl Talk's mashups are actually good, which makes a difference).

Either way, this is not to condone what The Bulletin has done. It's definitely underhanded and scammy -- and, hopefully thanks to this expose, the folks behind the paper find their reputation deservedly knocked down a few pegs. But, from a cultural standpoint, it's quite interesting. Matt Mason posits that such mashups are often a sign of an unmet market need in his book The Pirate's Dilemma. He points to many similar "mashups" in other fields that later resulted in legitimate enterprises. So, perhaps all this really tells us is that there's a market for taking good content from all over the place, and "mashing" it all up together in a useful manner -- which is exactly what some aggregator sites already do.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Aug 7th, 2008 @ 10:21am

    Plagiarism is incentivised by copyright

    If there was no threat of copyright litigation, then the newspaper would be more encouraged to credit its sources.

    Compare with WikiTravel guides.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2008 @ 10:48am

    "..mashups are actually good, which makes a difference.."
    Wrong on both counts !.

     

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  3.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 7th, 2008 @ 11:10am

    Re: Plagiarism is incentivised by copyright

    "If there was no threat of copyright litigation, then the newspaper would be more encouraged to credit its sources."

    That's an excellent point. The whole 'derivative works' part of copyright really discourages one from acknowledging the original, just in case some suit doesn't think it's transformative enough.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2008 @ 11:44am

    Why do you care about newspapers, Mike? Haven't you said you hate them like every chance you get?

     

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  5.  
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    Abdul, Aug 7th, 2008 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re: Plagiarism is incentivised by copyright

    Is this not the same situation that erupted between the AP and the blogosphere? Plagiarism, in the light of the internet age has to be re-define: Time to Think Differently About Plagiarism?

     

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  6.  
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    Armin, Aug 7th, 2008 @ 11:57am

    The napster of newspapers?

    That comparison doesn't seem to really fit. Wouldn't the Napster of newspapers (or at least magazines) be more something like mygazines.com?

    I might have missed it, but I'm slightly surprised you don't seem to have covered that yet.

     

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  7.  
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    Plagiator, Aug 7th, 2008 @ 12:21pm

    Free alternative open source comment

    If there was no threat of copyright litigation, then the newspaper would be more encouraged to credit its sources.

    "..mashups are actually good, which makes a difference.."
    Wrong on both counts !.

    The whole 'derivative works' part of copyright really discourages one from acknowledging the original, just in case some suit doesn't think it's transformative enough.

    Why do you care about newspapers, Mike? Haven't you said you hate them like every chance you get?

    Plagiarism, in the light of the internet age has to be re-define

    That comparison doesn't seem to really fit. Wouldn't the Napster of newspapers (or at least magazines) be more something like mygazines.com?

    God I am so creative!!
    Look at me! I plagiarized creatively! I am an artist :)

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Hulser, Aug 7th, 2008 @ 12:27pm

    Re:

    Why do you care about newspapers, Mike? Haven't you said you hate them like every chance you get?

    If Mike really has stated that he hates newspaper every chance he gets, surely it won't take you long to actually find an example of where he's done this just once?

    (If you ever needed an example of how people hear what the want to hear, then TD is it. What Mike has done in the past is merely point out the flaw in certain business models given the changes brought about by the Internet. In this case, the business model was the newspaper industry, but it could just as well have been the music or movie industry. He even goes so far as to suggest ways for these industries to change their business model to succeed in today's market. How in the world can anyone who is paying the slightest bit of attention translate this into "Mike hates newspapers"?)

     

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  9.  
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    Mike (profile), Aug 7th, 2008 @ 12:54pm

    Re:

    Why do you care about newspapers, Mike? Haven't you said you hate them like every chance you get?

    Huh? No. I have no hatred for newspapers and have never said I do. Where did you get that idea from?

    I'm simply interested in business models around technology and media. So, if the marketplace is changing in a way that impacts the business models for newspapers, and I point that out (and perhaps suggest ways to capitalize on it), how is that "hate"?

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2008 @ 1:17pm

    Re: Re:

    You'll never convince them. This is why you get 'Americans' that are pro-facism and against everything this Nation was founded for.

     

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  11.  
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    Scorpiaux, Aug 7th, 2008 @ 2:31pm

    Sugar Sugar

    A number of years ago a fabulous band called The Archies produced some very popular tunes, Sugar Sugar being one of them. I think their genre was called "bubble gum music." The interesting thing about The Archies was that they were 2-dimensional. You could never go to a concert to watch and hear them play. They were animated cartoon characters, not real although their voices and instruments were real enough. I've been wondering how they could have capitalized on giving away recordings of their music as no one ever saw them in person because they weren't persons; they were cartoon characters, at least when they were playing and singing. But I guess they were part of the old order and wouldn't fit in today with Mike's "new business models."

    Ont e thing I have found amusing on this web site is that a lot of posters here seem to think that somehow technology has or should change human nature. Human nature hasn't changed for hundreds of thousands of years and is not likely to change within the next decade or so. Some battles are worth fighting and the fight for human rights will go on as it should, but fighting for the right to take away from the creative few who actually produce in order to get something for free is a dead end and will ultimately fail.

     

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  12.  
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    Pdoo, Aug 7th, 2008 @ 2:54pm

    He, him, his

    I can't confirm this, but I'm pretty sure Jody Rosen is a she, her.

    And I disagree that Girl Talk's mashups are actually good.

     

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  13.  
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    Mike (profile), Aug 7th, 2008 @ 4:38pm

    Re: He, him, his

    I can't confirm this, but I'm pretty sure Jody Rosen is a she, her.

    If so, "she" has a lot of facial hair:

    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Jody_Rosen_01A.jpg

    :)

    It's a "him."

     

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  14.  
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    Mike (profile), Aug 7th, 2008 @ 4:43pm

    Re: Sugar Sugar

    A number of years ago a fabulous band called The Archies produced some very popular tunes, Sugar Sugar being one of them. I think their genre was called "bubble gum music." The interesting thing about The Archies was that they were 2-dimensional. You could never go to a concert to watch and hear them play. They were animated cartoon characters, not real although their voices and instruments were real enough. I've been wondering how they could have capitalized on giving away recordings of their music as no one ever saw them in person because they weren't persons; they were cartoon characters, at least when they were playing and singing. But I guess they were part of the old order and wouldn't fit in today with Mike's "new business models."

    Um, you do realize that "The Archies" helped sell a lot of other merchandise around the cartoon characters. They had a business model that worked great.

    Why do you falsely think that concerts are the only business model I said would work? I did not. I said sell a scarcity, and there are always scarcities.


    Ont e thing I have found amusing on this web site is that a lot of posters here seem to think that somehow technology has or should change human nature. Human nature hasn't changed for hundreds of thousands of years and is not likely to change within the next decade or so. Some battles are worth fighting and the fight for human rights will go on as it should, but fighting for the right to take away from the creative few who actually produce in order to get something for free is a dead end and will ultimately fail.


    Who says human nature has to change? We're actually saying the opposite. You're the one saying that human nature has to change. HUMAN NATURE is what has people SHARING music and movies because they want to share content with their friends.

    In insisting that this kind of sharing is somehow immoral you are trying to change human nature.

    We're not trying to change human nature. We're trying to explain to businesses how to do well by recognizing human nature.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Aug 8th, 2008 @ 3:14am

    Re: Free alternative open source comment

    You plagiarise if you misattribute another's work as your own, explicitly or implicitly (by context).

    By suggesting that you are plagiarising, you are effectively admitting that you didn't author many of the statements within your post. Therefore you are not committing plagiarism.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Phil Taylor, Aug 8th, 2008 @ 4:33am

    Censorship - Plagarism

    This article and its implications made me wonder.

    As you surf through the Mainstream Media during "News Hour," They all seem to be saying the same thing. I wonder who is plagarizing from whom. They are all "fed" the same stories and told what to cover and what slant to put on the story. They don't need to plagarize, they make it up.

    As I heard a short time ago: Modern news is not based in reporting of news, but rather, it is based in the creation of news. News is used to "help" the average citizen form a "correct" opinion. It is also used to hide the truth from the public, by "reporting" on frivolous events that have no bearing on issues that are vital.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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