Friday, May 31, 2013

Armchair BEA: Blogger Ethics

Design by Emily @ Emily's Reading Room

To plagiarize or not to plagiarize?  That is the question.

Except it shouldn't be.  Ever.  To me the answer to that question should be a no-brainer.  Plagiarism, or the stealing of someone else's words or ideas, should be something that no sane person would consider.  Ever.  However, if my several years of experience in education have taught me anything, it's that plagiarism is an all too common resort for many budding writers.  But why?

I tell my students on the first day of class every semester that there are two reasons why students plagiarize.
  1. They did not understand the assignment.
  2. Their life blew up near a deadline.
Are these good excuses?  Of course not.  There is never a good excuse to plagiarize; however, it happens.

But how does this translate to the blogging community?  

Fortunately, my experiences (and they have been numerous) with plagiarism have remained firmly in the academic setting.  Although I have read accounts of other bloggers who have had their reviews plagiarized, I personally have never experienced that type of infringement (as far as I know).  I imagine, though, that plagiarism in the blogosphere stems mostly from blogger envy, something I touched on in my blogger development post for Armchair BEA a few days ago.  It can be tough to watch your little blog languish while another's grows by the hour.  Sometimes someone else was able to articulate exactly what you were thinking or feeling while reading better than you every could, so you "borrow" a few of their phrases or ideas.  It's a form of flattery, right?  WRONG.

So how does one avoid plagiarism while blogging?  For me it's pretty easy.  I started my blog because I wanted to share my thoughts on the books I read.  Mine.  So no content worries there.  However, I follow some amazing bloggers, and sometimes their posts inspire me, and I want to respond in more detail than just the comments section, or I want to reference something they said.  To avoid plagiarism in an academic setting I would bust out my MLA handbook (I have numerous editions), format my in-text citations (author's last name and page number), and painstakingly construct my Works Cited list (organized alphabetically by the authors' last names); however, the blogging world is much more casual, so I just link to the blogger's post that inspired me or whose concept I referenced or survey I filled out.  Pretty straightforward, and most of them are grateful for the shout-out.  Bonus: It ups traffic on their site.  Win-win.

The grey area for me is images.  While most people who plagiarize content do so intentionally, many people infringe copyright on images accidentally.  It's easy to see why.  You can find anything on the web these days.  The content is so diverse, and there's so much of it.  Also, it's constantly growing and changing.  What was there yesterday may have been amended, moved, or deleted altogether today.  Not to mention, so much of the Internet's content today is user-generated, and it's so easy to share things you find on the web.  Look at YouTube for example.  There's a "Share" button underneath each video encouraging re-posting.  I think things sometimes just get lost on the inter-web.  An image or a video is posted and then re-posted, so many times it becomes nearly impossible to track down the original source.  As the Internet continues to grow and change, most of us take for granted that what's there is fair game.  You post it, and it's open for general public use.  Except it's not always.  Images, like content, are subject to credit.  In the case of a fantastically original art piece, it seems obvious, but photographs of public people and places are more obscure.  Especially if you are using a search engine like Google image which may return to you thousands of nearly identical images.  Like I tell my students, when in doubt, cite it.  But do book covers fall into this category?  If I upload an image of a book cover from Barnes and Noble or Amazon or even the author's website, does that deserve a shout-out?  Despite my firm stance on blogging ethics, this question more than any other has stumped me today.  I did a little low-brow research and never found a clear-cut answer.  At best, I found that book covers fall under the fair use act, and most publishers and authors are happy to have their books promoted.  Any insight into this murky water would be appreciated!

All in all, the topic of blogger ethics all boils down to one word: respect.  That's right, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  And who am I to argue with Aretha?

Video from by Tatan Brown


  1. Well, I can say that the publisher does own the copyright to the book cover and not the author. Most publishers are not going to get uptight about cover use if is linked in some way to the book whether it's promotion, review, or anything else of that nature.

    One place where you might get into trouble would be if you were to use the book image in an article that had nothing to do with the book but the book cover's presence conveys some kind of endorsement or linkage to something the publisher would not want and would perceive it as a negative or maybe worse. That would be an area ripe for problems.

    That is similar with images of individuals, too. You have to give a little thought to the way you are using images, so that you are not implying by the image being there that it is somehow an endorsement or maybe making a negative connotation that the reader might link with that person.

    Just a couple of things that came to mind as I read your commentary. Enjoyed my time here.

    1. Thanks for the response, Vikk. I really learned a lot yesterday about image copyrights from reading other bloggers' posts. The consensus about book cover images seems to be that they fall under the fair use clause. However, as you indicated, it's all about context - as are most things in reading and writing.

  2. I am also an academic and I think that many students plagiarize because they really don't know what is fair use. The Internet has taught them that "sharing" is OK so that must apply to anything found on the Internet. More often than not I find they are copying from the 'net not a book because from books it is plagiarizing but it is free game from the 'net.
    I think that translates to blogging.

  3. I rarely use images except for book covers for reviews or Waiting on Wednesday, Top Ten Tuesday, etc -- which all promote those books and I would say fall under fair use like you said. On the rare occasion I use another image, I am so paranoid about making sure it's OK to use it and crediting it properly!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I am actually revamping my use of images on the blog to better comply with fair use standards and to avoid "bandwith stealing," which I learned this week occurs when you link up the image using a URL. From all I've read, book covers are fair use, but I'm trying to still link back to the author or publisher.

    3. I had no idea bandwidth stealing was even a thing... Gosh blogging just seems to get more complicated by the day! I think I've only used image URLs associated with buttons where you can usually "grab" the code and from Goodreads. But in both these cases, the sites provide code for people to use that includes their image URL, so I'm thinking that would be OK. I probably should go back and check though...

    4. I know - I didn't either! It feels unfair to me that websites offer the opportunity to copy and embed image links if its against copyright.

    5. Well they definitely shouldn't be doing that! I am wary of buttons that might violate copyright, but a lot of times it seems people create their own (a talent I wish I had!) But I would think book covers still fall under fair use, so grabbing code from GoodReads to post a book cover under their "share this book" header, would seem to be in the clear to me -- It seems book covers are OK to begin with (for reviews and such) and they are permitting (encouraging more like!) you to use their image URL so they can't possibly be objecting to the bandwidth issue, but what do I know?!

      I guess we all just have to be careful, use common sense, and if we learn we've been unknowingly doing something wrong, go back and rectify the situation as soon as we can.