Content Aggregation, Content Curation, Copyright Infringement, and Plagiarism


Like many people on WordPress, and in the “blogosphere,” I like writing. I think it is hereditary. (My parents were introduced to each other at a somewhat elevated gathering of writers.)
That said, more and more, I hate what I call ‘grunt work” writing. Other writers have written about it, including some brilliant minds. Darwin wrote about this kind of thing.
This article, sadly, falls into that category.
For those of you who complain: “tl;dr,” I say this: if you think it is a chore to READ something like this, then you should try WRITING it!

Today, the day that I am writing this article, I came across a blog article focused on “content stealing.” The author was unhappy with people who reblog her content or “link to it.” And, she characterized the use of reblogs, especially blogs that are primarily reblogs, as “content stealing.”

I do not know if she was aiming at me in particular or those of us who frequently reblog, and reblogging is a popular activity on WordPress. But some of her content is on topics I reblog, and I probably have reblogged a few of her pieces.

Sigh.
OK.
I have to address this.
Again.

[Edit: in hindsight, I am probably responding to a teen-aged troll, a time-waster.]

[Edit: probably the SAME troll as the one from a few years ago, but under a new identity.]

The topic is a murky one. For many years, decades if not centuries, the problem was “plagiarism.” Of all the topics covered here, plagiarism is the simplest one, and it is not simple itself.

Plagiarism

A quick search on this topic yields this website: Plagiarism Today

They (PT) cover the topic thoroughly and in depth, beyond any effort I wish to expend upon it (unless I am paid). But, here is what I want you to ask yourself: how well do you know the topic?

If you say “above average,” then you need to know that a highly cited research article (by psychologists Dunning & Kruger) shows that is the answer given by study participants in the BOTTOM quartile of performance on a variety of subjects.

(THAT means you better go read the “Plagiarism Today” website.
AND, if you are mouthing off without reading what the experts say, then you NEED to READ what the experts say.
AND, if you obviously do not spell check the articles that you write, then you NEED to READ what the experts say.
Let us make this simple: GO READ the “Plagiarism Today” website.)

And, while you are there, search for this article: “Copyright Infringement, Plagiarism and Fair Use.” I will not deep-link to it. And, since I run anonymous blogs, I will not fill out their “fair use” forms. (Nothing wrong with their form, EXCEPT it would require my identity. That is not an option for me.) But, that article does a good job of covering the basics.

Other problems exist

An apocryphal story exists about Shaolin Kung Fu. Several of those exist, actually. One has it that the Buddha sat in meditation for a decade and, when he was finished, taught his followers a series of exercises. While a charming story, that seems highly unlikely. Another has it that some monk watched animals carefully and came up with a series of combat techniques. Possible, and better than the other story, but still blemished in a number of ways.

The third story is this: warriors would seek sanctuary in the Shaolin temples (meaning that they were hiding from their mortal enemies in the temple). While there, sometimes for an “extended stay,” the warriors would become bored, and at least some of them taught the monks their “secret” combat techniques.

Over time, generations, the warriors died but the collective of monks accumulated the techniques into what is now known as Shaolin Kung Fu.  (Allegedly, Kempo / Kenpo is descended from Shaolin as are a number of other arts.) THAT story is believable. And, effectively, it indicates a form a plagiarism since the originators of the techniques were not given proper credit.

A fair counter-argument is that the monks and monastery did not have our concepts regarding plagiarism and intellectual property.

News stories indicate that the Chinese (as a collective) STILL do not honor the intellectual property rights of others.

Religions and Plagiarism

These are not the only examples. The scribes and priests of early religions stole from each other constantly. That is one of the main points offered in the first twenty minutes of the movie “Zeitgeist.”  And, once you have seen that, you can never “unring the bell.”  The lights go on, and the similarities beween many early religions become too obvious to be coincidence.

Whether or not you agree with the rest of the movie, the theft of ideas between religions has been obviously rampant but sanctioned as acceptable since “God” was involved. Oh, and while we are at it, if you are one of the “faithful” then you cannot go “worship false idols” (where you would discover that much of what you are hearing has been stolen from elsewhere).

The Military and “Combat Breathing”

While we are at it, let’s point out that religions are not the only one to blame. After about a year or two of dropping in on a Zen group, and becoming familiar with their breathing techniques (which are documented to be at least a few centuries old), I came across an individual, an ex-military individual, who told me about “combat breathing” that was “developed by the U.S. military.” Guess what? It looked IDENTICAL to some of the Zen breathwork.

Then there is the “OODA loop” which looks “remarkably similar” for all intents and purposes to the rather well known “Scientific Method” (used by all researchers and students in the major sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology). In all fairness, I think the originator of the OODA loop did give some credit to the source.  And certainly the credit is given by Taylor Pearson in his detailed coverage of the topic.

I could go on, but I think you get the point: anybody who thinks they have the power and authority to do it will steal the ideas and work of others without giving credit, and the minions who drink their Kool-Aid will insist that it must be true that they were the originators.

(I think Boyd, the developor of the OODA loop, did give some credit.  However, I question how many of his followers know this or give proper credit spontaneously, without prompting.)

Plagiarism is rampant, quite alive and well. However, if you use the “reblog” or linking mechanisms that WordPress provides, then you are NOT plagiarizing because those tools build in a mechanism to give proper attribution to the site (and presumably author) that is being reblogged.

For my blogs, I ALWAYS use the tools provided by WordPress. THEY govern the processes that I use.
(And the same is true for others that reblog my content. And several blogs routinely reblog my content. I have yet to “complain” about this since it ROUTINELY results in click-through traffic to my site.)

Copyright Infringement

If you looked at the “Plagiarism Today” site mentioned earlier, you saw a discussion of copyright infringement. And, you became aware that it is a complex topic that often does NOT yield clear cut answers.
Maybe the best place to begin is at the beginning.
Compared to plagiarism, copyright infringement is a youngster, merely a bit more than two centuries old. AND, the history of copyright is well known and well established even if the concept itself is ambiguous at times.

Statute of Anne

The world’s first copyright law, the Statute of Anne, was enacted in England in 1710.
And, we even know who launched the idea in the United States: Benjamin Franklin.
That Ben Franklin? Yep, the kite-flying inventory and publisher in Philadelphia who helped architect the United States Constitution made DAMNED SURE that he put copyright and patents in the original text of the Constitution, the highest law of the land and ONLY the amendments can override it. The statutes passed by Congress essentially echo (and expand upon) the ideas in the Constitution.
(Franklin was the fist post-master, also, and the inventor of junk mail. I like the guy, but not everyone is a fan of the junk mail idea.)

The Expansion of Copyright

Copyright has gradually expanded from its original inception (Statute of Anne: fourteen years) to the current (life in being + 70 years) and the rather complicated DMCA that many consider to be a scourge that is mainly designed to protect giant publishers (not only of books but movies and television shows and websites and….).

Chinese Infringement

And that thing about the Chinese and plagiarism? It is probably even worse for copyright and patent, at least that is what has been reported:

But, that leaves a question: What is “content stealing”?

Content Stealing?

Content stealing is not a well established term such as “plagiarism.” Content stealing is not part of the Constitution or body of statues. A best guess is that it is an amorphous, poorly defined term that any unhappy person can use to complain.  After all, if your blog is performing poorly, but someone else reblogs it frequently, then the REBLOGS must be the source of the problem, not bad writing or boring content.

In my own experience, I have not encountered this complaint much. I first started blogging circa 2002. Before that, I developed conventional websites in the 1990s. And since 2008, I have primarily used WordPress.

The number of complaints that I have received since I started GrandTrines in 2008 has been fewer than ten (maybe less than five. I do recall one blogger, one who did not appear to be receiving much traffic, complaining about reblogs because she said her entries were “heartfelt.”  But the truth is this: few things in life are as truly “equal opportunity” as WordPress.

(Except for obvious spam blogs, whose blog entries are not “heartfelt”? Hannibal Lecter’s?)

Far more bloggers (probably a multiplier of ten) have thanked me for reblogs (a courtesy most of us observe), at least some of them recognizing that the reblog process expands their audience.

As mentioned before, other blogs have reblogged my content almost since the beginning. One is “Ravenhawks Magazine.” I mention them specifically because I am GLAD they reblog my content. It sends traffic my way, traffic that might not ordinarily be part of my readership. We have different readerships. From what I can tell, the primary readerships of RH are the pagan and Wiccan communities. My targets are aspiring astrologers and those interested in Western “Occult” concepts descended from Ancient Egyptian concepts and beliefs. (What is the “Western Tradition”? Astrology, Tarot, and Numerology. Others do this in far more detail than I do. See, also: https://bota.org/ Note, as an aside, that this view (both BOTA’s and mine) HARMONIZES the concepts of the Western Tradition with traditional Christianity.)

IF RavenHawk blogged “too much” of my content, their blog would start to look like mine, and the identity of their blog would be lost, likely losing some of their readership in the process.  Instead they pick a few topics that interests them.  It works for both of us.  (No doubt some of them are New Moon and Full Moons.  Everybody interested in metaphysics and astrology writes, and reblogs, about those topics!)

Ditto for “Spread Aloha,” I think he was the first to reblog my content. He has been bringing readers to my blogs for a decade or more. Again, I WELCOME his reblogs. He brings my content to a different audience.  (And, now, sometimes I reblog his content, also.)

While the concepts of plagiarism and copyright infringement should be enough (especially with the draconian DMCA), for those worried about “content stealing” certain tools are available, such as Copyscape.

Regarding the post that inspired the article you are reading, I dropped in the URL for their blog. Copyscape did not produce any of my blogs in the results, but they did mention seven (7) other sites.

Maybe the author did not have my blogs in mind. Maybe they do not object to non-Wordpress sites taking their content while objecting to those who use the legitimate WordPress tools. Since I am not a mind-reader, merely an astrologer, I cannot fully ascertain the details.

Content Aggregation versus Content Curation

I have seen this commentary: “I’m for other blogs doing shoutouts, reblog post and whatever but I’m not for blogs that literally do that with your posts just so they can keep their blog alive. That is actually content stealing.” (Just to make certain that was not too “identifying,” I ran a search on it with different search engines. I did not find the original entry, but I did find this one: 12 Things That Will Kill Your Blog Post Every Time  Sage advice from this last link, though I have broken several of the rules (“too large text blocks”) in this particular piece.)

Again, while I have some idea what copyright infringement and plagiarism are, “content stealing” sounds suspiciously like an invented term. And the part about “keep their blog alive” indicates, to me, that the author of those remarks does not understand the concepts of “content aggregation” and “content curation.”

This explanation clarifies: Social Media Today: Content Curation vs Content Aggregation

Several of my blogs are, entirely, composed of curated content. While I began as a blogger, and I continue to write my own content frequently, sometimes daily, most of my content is curated, all done using the mechanisms put in place by WordPress for that purpose.
AND, some of the most popular sites on the web are content aggregators / curators.

I know, now, that I have to stay away from http://popurls.com/ . Lot’s wife turned to a pillar of salt when she looked back. For me, when I look at Popurls hours, days, weeks, and months simply disappear. For me, it is TOO addictive! I have to stay away from it. Popurls is an aggregator, and it has been hugely successful for years.

And, this idea of success with aggregation of content is not new, either to the Internet or the WordPress community.

A Modest Proposal

But, given the original complaint I encountered, what if we completely turned off reblogs and linking for everyone? Couldn’t the guys at Automattic do that?

Sure they could. And, they could do like certain social media platforms and silence dissenting voices. (Which, currently, they don’t. That’s one reason that I am here. Aka “Free Speech”) Wouldn’t that be the end of it?

(And do not think for a moment that said nameless social media platforms will stop the linking of content from WordPress and other sources.  Or, do you?  Do you really think that?)

Some might say this: “Not hardly. It would create a vacuum, a window of opportunity” (like “Prohibiton” did in the early 20th Century for organized crime). Other platforms could create mechanisms to link to, or pull from, WordPress.

You could attack that, too. Just pass a federal law to prohibit that.  (Like “Medicaid for All.”  Just pass the law.  We can worry about where the money comes from later.  And, for those who caught it, yes, that was intentional.)

Yep, could do that, too.

Other blogging and social media platforms and their corporate offices would head to the UK and EU.

Make it illegal there, too! Have WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) enforce it!

Yep, can do that, too.

Remember those Chinese that we mentioned earlier? And the Russians who gave sanctuary to Edward Snowden?

The companies COULD relocate there.

Make it illegal to move!

Yep. Could do that, too.

Now the Russian and Chinese hackers take over the job, and we utterly and completely lose ALL control over the processes.

Put it on the enduser. Track them down. Make them pay for reading a reblogged post!

Ever heard of TOR? If so, do you know why it exists?

Let’s be clear, the Internet is not a “perfect place.”

But I think the guys at Automattic got it right to begin with, a decade ago, by empowering reblogs, now the basis of content aggregation and content curation.

April 13, 2020, written during the Coronavirus Pandemic (Covid19)

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