Casefile Clues

06 July 2013

I Made It--Warts and All

[opinion alert]

There's been talk of "ethical plagiarism" lately. I'm not certain there is anything ethical about it at all.

All the content I post on my blogs and in my newsletter is generated by me. There is no "copy and paste approach" to writing here. I do not knowingly use someone else's material, either completely or in part. It is simply not the way I operate and also because I generally like to put my own "spin" on things and rarely agree with anyone else enough to copy their material and say it is my own anyway. I do have an editor/proofreader who edits Casefile Clues (and does a wonderful job), but the rest of the content seen on my blogs appears unedited. There are times where the lack of a proofreader for my other materials is painfully obvious.

I write the following blogs:

It Is Not Easy


I do know that it is not easy generating content for multiple blogs and a newsletter. It takes time. My writing colleagues in genealogyland can vouch for that. Research, organizing material, creating rough drafts, and refining material takes effort in order to generate fresh, original content. And it is frustrating when others assume they can use that content themselves without asking and without giving credit.

Can't Anyone Use Anything?


In a word, no. Fair use allows for limited use of material that has been created by someone else as long as credit is given. The concern here is when entire paragraphs and large sections of material are simply "copied." I am well aware that once information is online anyone can take it and use it. Just because one has the opportunity to do something does not make it right to do it. Are the documents and materials I write about public records? Yes they are and anyone who wants to write about them is welcome to do so. Their writing should be their own.

Don't You Repeat?


Do I write about similar topics more than once? Of course. There are only a finite number of topics available to the writing genealogist. And there are families that I write about more than once--generally because new records have been discovered or new conclusions have been drawn. And, I'll be the first to admit that, in the four years I've written Genealogy Tip of the Day there have been similar tips or suggestions. But I've never copied a tip from someone else. Do I get ideas when reading material from others? Of course. All genealogists read--it's in Genealogy Code (page 3, paragraph 1), but reading something is different from copying and taking and passing it off as your own.

However, there is one thing that I don't do.

I don't use other people's work without giving them credit. I don't copy what someone else has put together and use it as my own. There are two reasons for this:

  • it's not just unethical--it's stealing to use someone else's work. 
  • I like to put my own spin on just about everything. That's just the way I roll.
Do I write about the same things as other people? Sure. There are only so many genealogical topics about which one can write. And sometimes material may sound similar, particularly if two writers have had a similar "genealogical education" and set of research experiences. But usually even genealogists who agree about things will phrase their results and conclusions differently, depending upon their own personal preference and what "speaks" to them the most.

But Isn't A Lot Of Your Stuff Free Anyway?

All of my blogs are free to subscribe to and the Facebook pages associated with those blogs are free as well. And several of us interact regularly on those pages, sharing ideas and information, giving out research tips, etc. But let's be real here: there is no such thing as "free." Virtually all of us who generate genealogical content online and who are not independently wealthy, retired, or married to a spouse with a benefitted job, use our "free" content to generate income in some other way, via affiliate ads, speaking engagements, newsletters, etc. We have to eat, the mortgage has to be paid, the kids need shoes, etc. Even some who are retired use their genealogical blog to at least pay for an Ancestry.com subscription. Whether or not the creator is generating revenue really isn't the point.

 Taking what is not yours and using it is still taking what is not yours. And it is wrong.

Bottom Line

If you didn't make it, don't take it.

What you see on any blog I write is my own creation. Too bad there are people that cannot say that.


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