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Plagiarism is not Freelance Journalism - at all

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Posted on August 11 2019

 

Real journalists do not “copy and paste” 

 

Let’s start with the basic facts, as in how is plagiarism defined both in the legal context and via Miriam-Webster. Or how I colloquially explain to my children: only cheats and frauds steal another person’s work and then have the temerity to pass it off as their own. Don’t be a plagiarist because that means you’re a cheater.

 

PLAGIARISM - as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary defines plagiarism as:

The act of appropriating the literary composition of another, or parts or passages of his writings, or the ideas or language of the same, and passing them off as the product of one’s own mind.

 

Miriam-Webster defines plagiarism as: 

transitive verb -  to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own : use (another's production) without crediting the source

intransitive verb - to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

 

 

If you are an ethical person, then you will take the time to properly attribute and or make formatting actions that indicate you are quoting versus pretending it’s your work. This is why I am a stickler for embedding links and use the “quote” feature in this blog,  and/or the appropriate punctuation. Thus I’ve never really understood those who engage in plagiarism.

 

Granted it is possible that it “may” be an inadvertent oversight. I’d argue a mistake would be indicative of only a singular occurrence. When you see someone who engages in a pattern of this intellectually dishonest behavior - one has to wonder what is the actual threshold to consider it’s not an innocent inadvertent omission but rather a discernible pattern of behavior. I can tell you in my line of work if you are caught plagiarizing you will be black listed in perpetuity and no longer employable in certain circles.

 

In the legal context - it is generally understood that when an individual engages in “plagiarism” it is viewed (again in the legal context) as a theft, impermissible appropriation of another individual’s writing and/or ideas. Moreover if a journalist, even a “freelance journalist” engages in blatant acts of plagiarism - the Courts have long-held that theft via plagiarism “violates copyright laws” and its buttressed by the inherent protections of “intellectually property” - the basic assumption is the original work has a copyright.

Again the assumption here is the original work is protected by copyright, thusly triggering copyright infringement claims and cognizable injury. Typically there’s a nominal deviation or plausible explanation. Yet as the saying goes: “the devil is in the details” - if a journalist plagiarizes intellectual property that’s copyrighted (literary, music, art, etc) they could be in legal jeopardy. Notwithstanding when an individual seeks to present another person’s work as their own, absent proper attribution, well that’s an issue of ethics (or lack thereof) and trustworthiness. I suppose one could convincingly argue fraud - particularly if you’re being compensated for your “news article”

 

The one complicating factor is the “fair use doctrine” which some argue creates a bit of a grey area, however pursuant to 17 U.S.C.§107 - Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair Use, which reads in part:

 

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 U.S.C.§ 106 and 17 U.S.C. § 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phono-records or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

 

 

One of the most thoroughly explained articles discussing plagiarism, copyright law (which is not my area of expertise) I’ve found was written by Plagiarism-Today. In their February 27, 2018 Article, found here - I personally found their article easy to understand and the writer does an excellent job articulating the trappings of those who plagiarize versus copyright infringement. It was this particular section of their article that, in my opinion truly encapsulates why you shouldn’t plagiarize another person’s work:

 

while the ethical vs. legal dichotomy is an important distinction, copyright stills ends up being the most common legal mechanism for enforcing the rules of plagiarism. This creates a great deal of overlap between the two, even if it was never intended...that lack of intent becomes very clear when you look at what the two cover. In truth, the overlap between plagiarism and copyright is fairly small, with much of the ground plagiarism covers not just unmentioned in copyright, but intentionally not covered at all.

 

 

In the context of journalist standards - plagiarism can and should be career ending act. If you are a real reporter the editors and organization requires the utmost ethics. There are numerous protocols, procedures all of which demands the reporters to be “rock solid” on the facts presented in their articles. Why? Public Trust, that’s why.  

One of the primary reasons I take the time to embed (at times) an incomprehensible amount of original documents is, I’m a firm believer in showing and sourcing data. I can not recall any instance where I have ever copied someone else’s work and then falsely presented it as my own. That kind of intellectually dishonest-fraudulent conduct is not tolerated and strictly frowned upon, especially in my line of work. People lose their jobs for engaging in that kind of conduct. Either attribute or do the damn work yourself. But don’t take a short cut by stealing another person’s work and then fraudulently present it as your own. This kind of aberrant and unethical behavior is rare but nonetheless it is still wrong and if you stumble upon it you should call it out for what it is.

 

I should disclose I’m not a plagiarism expert. I’ll just embedded the various articles and allow you to read the original article and the subsequent one “authored” by a self appointed “freelance journalist”. That way you can make your own assessment and hopefully make an informed determination if the various examples (below) would qualify as plagiarism. Furthermore I’ll attempt to highlight the relevant paragraphs. Statistically speaking a pattern is typically born from three or more occurrences.

I also need  to be clear, like zero ambiguity - it’s entirely possible that Palmer Report and WhoWhyWhat have no idea that nearly all the articles they published from this “freelance journalist” contained numerous acts of plagiarism. So it would be really unfair to lay the entire blame at their feet. The vast majority of the blame falls  squarely on the person who wrote the articles, engaged in multiple types of plagiarism,  and was likely compensated.

Also there are in fact various types of plagiarism. A few years ago Curtis Newbold - The Visual Communication Guy wrote a series of highly informative articles about plagiarism, copyright, terms of use and the intended and unintended consequences of plagiarizing. I’ve  taken the liberty of embedding his articles below and I hope you find them just as informative as I  did.

The Thirteen Types of Plagiarism in Order of Severity - this is an excellent primer, it helped me to understand the variables, the implications and somewhat explained why a person would rather plagiarize then do the necessary hard work to  put forth their best “news article”. I simply do not understand people who would engage in an impermissible theft of another person’s work. 

 

In Mr. article entitled “did I plagiarize” - this is an excellent reference guide, when Claude and the PAC granted me the privilege of writing a blog for their website. I took the time to research and place clear guardrails, just so I wouldn’t inadvertently engage in plagiarism. So before I agreed to blog for them, I read numerous white papers, various Federal Lawsuits and the aforementioned “did I plagiarize” article. 

You might also find his article entitled; “Can I Use that Picture? The Terms, Laws, and Ethics for Using Copyrighted Images” informative. Copyright infringement is not something a journalist, even a freelance journalist should engage in. It’s wrong and it can be rather costly. 

 

The Visual Communication Guy poster via Visual.ly

 

Did I Plagiarize? The Types and Severity of Plagiarism Violations

From Visually.

 

  

Example 1:

You can either type the following sentences into your web browser and see what comes up or you can click on the links embedded:

 

During testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of the investigative firm Fusion GPS, named Torshin in describing what he said were efforts by Russians to “infiltrate” the NRA.

“I would say broadly speaking, it appears that the Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organizations,” Simpson told investigators. “And they targeted various conservative organizations, religious and otherwise, and they seem to have made a very concerted effort to get in with the NRA.”

 

The aforementioned paragraphs originally appeared in this ABC News Article, which was posted to their website on April 6, 2018, 5:48 PM ET relevant paragraphs are found in paragraphs 7 thru 9, respectively. This article contains 1,047 words.

 

 

The “freelance journalist” then posted their “article” on April 12, 2018 1:16PM  (Archive found here) on a semi-known website. I should say that the Palmer Report may not know that they unwittingly published a heavily plagiarized article. Yet upon closer inspection of the “freelance journalist” article multiple whole paragraphs are lifted from the ABC News Article. The “freelance journalist” article contains 453 words. When analyzing both articles, you will find nearly 49% of the 

 

Moreover it appears the “journalist” merely rearranged large sections of the ABC News article and then presented it as their original reporting/analysis. At no time is there an attribution that the verbatim text originated from ABC News. No instead this “feelance journalists” that’s not a typo that’s what’s in the FEC Database - yes they misspelt freelance but then again I make a lot of typos so who am I to judge. <snort>

 

 

Now one could reasonably argue this was just a one-off - that this might have been an inadvertent oversight.  And if you work for a reputable news organization that adheres to the highest of journalist standards and ethics, that news organization typically makes a swift and decisive decision. For example in 2003 the New York Times published this article to “correct the record” of a former reporter of their’s who engaged in both plagiarism and fabrication of facts in the various articles he wrote. 

 

Example 2:

 You can cut and paste the following in to your web browser 

Frazer told Wyden in his letter that he believed the NRA has been more than cooperative with Wyden's questions and that this would be the last response he'll send to the senator's office.


"Given the extraordinarily time-consuming and burdensome nature of your requests, we must respectfully decline to engage in this beyond the clear answers we have already provided," Frazer wrote.

 The first hit you will get is the NPR Article which was published on April 11, 2018 at 1PM 

 

 The 3rd hit you’ll get is the “freelance journalist” article (Archive found here) which was published on April 12, 2018 at 1:16PM EST - again you’ll note zero citation of the original data source but if you click on the embedded letter link it takes you to the NPR’s documentcloud. Which isn’t surprising because this was their exclusive.

 

 

what’s profoundly disappointing is this “journalist” in the same “article” then lifted, verbatim the following paragraph in a separate article, which was published by whowhaywhy.org on June 19, 2018 Ostensibly you could argue when real reporters conduct research that perhaps another reporter’s

 

Torshin, the deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation, has cultivated deep ties with the NRA for years, and is linked to organized crime. He has met four NRA presidents and attended five NRA conventions in the United States, including one at which he sat at a table with Donald Trump Jr. in 2016. On April 6, Torshin was targeted in the latest list of sanctions against Russian officials, intended to single out “those who benefit from the Putin regime and play a key role in advancing Russia’s malign activities”.

 

This google search will take you to the articles in question (hits number 4 and 8 respectively) and once again you’ll note this “freelance journalist” effectively copied and pasted from the NPR and ABC News articles. I should emphasize that there is a high probability that Palmer Report and WhyWhyWhat have no idea that this “freelance journalist” plagiarized other peoples work. 

 

Example 3:

If you as your self-proclaimed “feelance journalist” (sorry that typo never gets old because it’s now almost impossible to correct in the FEC Database) and ]do not know the actual difference between a “legal spox” versus the actual attorney of record. Whom, by the way replaced Gloria Allred then maybe you should reevaluate your career and life choices. This is the New York Times Article, it was originalky published on May 2, 2018. 

 

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on “The Apprentice” who accused President Trump of sexual assault, is seeking records to prove that he defamed her by calling her a liar.

A lawyer for Ms. Zervos, who is suing Mr. Trump for defamation in New York, said on Wednesday that subpoenas had been issued both to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which owns archives of the reality show, and to the Beverly Hills Hotel, where Ms. Zervos says he groped her in 2007.

 

This is the “freelance journalist” article, (Internet Archive found here), it was “published”on May 3, 2018 at 12:12PM EST. Full disclosure I ran a word check on the original NYTs article (581 words) versus the “freelance journalist” article (586 words) of that, resulting the a commonality of 326 words. But it’s the sentences and whole paragraphs. When comparing both articles, the approximate (verbatim)  sentences resulted in greater than a threshold of 57%. As with the two other examples this “journalist” simply re-arranged paragraphs and changed one or two words in a sentence. In my opinion I’d hardly consider that actual “reporting” - I’d liken it to a really cheap imitation because presenting another report’s original work as yours - frankly that is the height of intellectually stunted and laziness. Either do the work or just retweet said article.

 

Example # 4:

In your internet browser, cut and paste the following sentences:

 ..a month later, Mueller sent a team of prosecutors to interview Yohai. Yohai was questioned about his relationship with Manafort and Trump, and their ties to Russian oligarchs. He was also asked about Manafort’s

 

On May 17, 2018 at 5:15PM EST Reuter’s published the following article. The headline of the article was/is: “Exclusive: Manafort's former son-in-law cuts plea deal, to cooperate with government - sources” 

 

 

On June 1, 2018  the “freelance journalist” published their article on whowhywhat.org - at first appearance it reads as an original article but upon closer inspection it’s clearly a blend of Reuter’s, Politico and NPR articles - with a small smattering of “click bait” dramatic liberties, again hardly journalism.

 

 

There’s also one caveat, that I haven’t explained - the News Wire. This is a paid service where reputable news organization (such as the Associated Press, Thompson Reuters, PRWire) where other news organizations pay a fee to re-publish articles. That is a reason from time to time you’ll see what might look like plagiarism - but it’s not. Again it means smaller news organizations pay for the right to republish. See Reuters-Newswire program found here. See Associated Press-Newswire Service - Terms of Conditions. As you’ll note when a smaller news organization pay for the right to republish - a vast majority of the time there’s a proper attribution. 

So the question remains what is your threshold when you consider who is and who is not a serial plagiarist? In my opinion any more than two independent occurrences - should no longer afford any journalist (including a freelance journalist) the benefit of the doubt. Once you cross the 3+ threshold you might want to reconsider another career.

 

Some examples albeit high profile individuals credibly accused of plagiarism

 

2004 Florida Union-Times Editor Lloyd Brown admits to plagiarism

Brooking Institute 2005  - “The Mystery of Vladimir Putin’s Dissertation

Vanity Fair - Hive 2007 “Shattered Glass

2010 - NPR & WXQR online editor resigns after 10 plagiarism incidents

2014 CNN - fires news editor for plagiarism

2016 Daily News Editor fired over plagiarism 

2018 Daily Beast Reporter resigns after accusations of plagiarism

2019 “Serial plagiarist Benny Johnson” resigns joins TurningPointsUSA 

 

ps I’m super busy this week and I might be MIA for longer periods of time. -Spicy  

 

 

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2 comments

  • Marie G: August 16, 2019

    Ah, I see now. I just unfollowed said account, I had no idea. Thank you for shedding light on this.

  • cindy: August 13, 2019

    Thanks

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