Archive for the 'Copyright, citation style, and plagiarism' Category

Information wants to be free…but it ain’t (Part 2)

As a librarian I am often asked what its like to work in a profession that many believe will become obsolete due to the rise of the internet. I firmly believe that libraries will remain relevant for many reasons (the freedom to read, as institutions that support and build communities of practice and well being, as resources for business research and as business partners, and more), but one of the biggest reasons being that information is now a commodity that is bought and sold, often at a steep markup. The amount of information the library provides access would cost each individual millions of dollars. Don’t believe me, take a look at George Monbiot’s editorial from the UK newspaper the Guardian entitled Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist. Editorials often employ hyperbole to emphasis their arguments, but as someone who works in an academic library, I will testify that George is barking up the right tree on this one. Monbiot hits on a number of important points: information monopolies, the surrender of rights by information creators (i.e. giving it away for free), the impact and exorbitant cost of highly rated journals, and what he calls “economic parasitism”. Please give it a read, and then ask yourself this: Are you ready to pay $31.50 for each and every article you read while pursuing your degree? If your answer is no, then you have a reason to support and use your library!



Information wants to be free…but it ain’t.

Take a look at this NYT times article covering the criminal allegations against Aaron Swartz. Without doubt, many of you would agree that hacking in to a secure computer network is a criminal act. But what about downloading millions of documents, documents that are made available for free to students at M.I.T. and other institutions of higher learning? Whats so wrong with that? Let us examine this statement, “Institutions like colleges and libraries pay for access to JSTOR, which is then available free to their users.” What is missing here is an explanation of the license agreement that is typically signed between the institution (i.e. M.I.T.) and the information vendor (i.e. JSTOR). The content that JSTOR offers is provided to users affiliated with the institution that signs the license. In the license, there is language that explicitly states the terms of use that are acceptable under the agreement entered by both parties. Acceptable use often qualifies as use by an individual for academic or professional reasons. Here is where the problem arises. It’s really hard to argue that an individual needs to download millions of articles for personal use. And as such, Aaron’s actions would be in violation of the license, even if he had accessed the network legally.

Current copyright law does not account for models of open access. In addition, copyright laws favor the commercialization of information, allowing strict lines to be drawn between owners of information and users of information. Most libraries support open access, and at its core, what Aaron is fighting for is worthy and just. But one must realize that while information wants to be free, it’s not.


Plagiarism: Not just about academics Part II

Folks, I’m not lying when I say, “Plagiarize at your own risk!”. Here is yet another example where the practice of plagiarism proved to be detrimental to one’s professional aspirations: Denver city council candidate caught up in plagiarism charge. As I’ve noted before, ignorance is not an excuse when it comes to plagiarism, nor is intent (or lack of it). In the case above, do you think the majority of voters will excuse this candidate for her lies and deceit? Judging from the results of a recent CO primary race that included another plagiarist, I’m going to say “not very likely”.


Plagiarism: Not just about academics

Many students attending Regis University are doing so to obtain degrees and certificates for professional and career advancement. The world of academics can be observed as having its own culture, rules, and policies, but students should note that the criteria and expectations for academic work and scholarship often mimic those found in professional work settings. A good example of this is the recent controversy surrounding Colorado Gubernatorial candidate Scott Mcinnis, who has recently been accused of plagiarism. As we’ve seen in previous cases of plagiarism, ignorance is no excuse!

The fact that, “McInnis acknowledged the similarities but blamed a researcher” does not exonerate him. McInnis presented the content and ideas as his own ( or at least as part of a collective effort in which he participated), and in doing so, he accepted responsibility for his actions and the work of the research assistant. As with most plagiarism cases, McInnis could of avoided the controversy by simply providing attribution to the works he cited or referred to. Politics aside, by not doing the right thing and citing Hobb’s, McInnis has brought into question the integrity and honesty with which he performs his work (not exactly good news for a politician!).

So what does this mean for the (aspiring) professional working Regis student? Plagiarism isn’t just an academic issue. Increasingly employers are looking for persons who understand how to synthesize vast amounts of information, create new ideas, and communicate recommendations and/or conclusions to a target audience. A critical step in this process is giving credit where credit is due. Otherwise you jeopardize the reputation and brand of your employer as well as yourself. Furthermore, by citing your sources, your employer will immediately understand that you have valuable research skills and an ability to find appropriate sources for the information need.


Copyright: All about the Benjamins

In the digital world, its easy to buy into the notion that information wants to be free. The internet has proven to be an incomparable vehicle of dissemination of news and data. However, we must remember that despite the format or delivery model, certain rights are held by content creators. In fact, the war over copyright in the digital age is just beginning, with the opening shots across the bow being delivered by some of the biggest guns. For example here is an interesting news story about the Murdoch families legal battle against the British Library from the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. Give it a read, but keep this question in mind: Why is the Murdoch family so concerned about what libraries are doing? Well, consider that information is now a commodity that can now be delivered globally in the blink of an eye. As a commodity, information represents wealth and power for end users and creators, so we should anticipate more fights over copyright as the lines are blurred by digital innovation. While libraries have always done their part in protecting the rights of copy holders, libraries also work to protect the rights of information consumers (banned book week in the US being one example). The legal arguments in copyright cases are complex, and we don’t expect you as a student to master all the minute details of copyright law, but you should consider how copyright impacts your own ability to benefit from creative works, either your own or others.


Plagiarism: Ignorance is no excuse!

Take a look at the following article from the Miami New Times Blog about alleged acts of plagiarism by author Gerald Posner:
So where did Posner go wrong? Let’s start by examining his explanation of events:

“I’ll relook at this chapter and try to determine from my own notes and archives how it was sourced and put together. I have to go back to interviews more than three years old in some instances, and the same for handwritten files.”

If anything, this statement reaffirms the need to be diligent in your note taking, and that those notes should make clear reference to the source of the materials. It’s very tempting in the digital age to copy and paste content into your own notes, but if you do this, make sure to grab the source information as well!

“Babylon is the first book I did with trailing endnotes, in which a few words of text are taken and then a source is provided. In other books, I used the more traditional numbered source notes.

There just aren’t as many trailing endnotes as there are numbered ones. For instance, Babylon is 385 pages and has 740 endnotes. In Case Closed, which is 472 pages, there are 2,175 endnotes. In Killing the Dream, a smaller book at 339 pages, there are 1,739 endnotes. ”

Posner seems to argue here that the inherent differences between the two citation styles is, in part, reason for the discrepancy between the number of sources cited in his two works. But this argument is invalid, because regardless of which citation style you use, you always need to cite your sources. Claiming ingnorance is no excuse! (BTW, Posner could of benefited from contacting the library and seeking instruction or explanation of the style in use.)

“I’ve met Frank Owen, count him as a Facebook friend, and have told him that I thought his work was the best of that Paciello period.”

Familiarity with the source or a friendship with the author is no justification for plagiarism. Even if the content originates from some form of personal communication, it needs to be attributed to the original author or creator. If Posner really wanted to praise Owen’s work as the “best of the Paciello period”, then he should have cited him frequently in his book!

So is Posner guilty of multiple instances of plagiarism? While the mounting evidence looks damaging, this case looks to be ongoing, so we’ll forgo judgment for now. What Posner is guilty off is leaving the door open for the smell of plagiarism to enter the room and leave its rank odor. Had Posner followed the simple rule, “When in doubt, cite the source” then this dispute would have never been.


The wrongful application of copyright…

An interesting article about how copyright restrictions are often applied to items that are part of the public domain, that is, materials that should be freely and publicly available for use and reproduction. Part of being information literate is knowing what your rights are to information and its sources. As information becomes more and more a valuable commodity, can we expect to see more claims of copyright applied to public domain materials?

On a similar note, check out the Freedom of Information Act letter generator. Now its easy than ever to get those closely held documents the government doesn’t want you to have!


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