Steal This Blog

(Credit for the title goes to Abbie Hoffman, author of Steal This Book, which can still be purchased.)

Debate has been raging for months – probably years at this point – about how various web sites handle news and information that they don’t generate. Just as there have been gross examples of plagiarism in the dead-trees-and-ink world, claims fly almost every day about folks stealing material on the web. Of course since the original idea was that information wants to be free, it’s no surprise. The accused thief claims it’s fair use, or worse, says that its web site exists to take stuff from other places.

Mark Glaser hosts Media Shift, a variation of the Media Cloud with more words and fewer graphics. Glaser has come up with a way to gauge what’s theft and what’s “promotion,” his term for giving another person’s work better play than it got on the original site.

Because I like to think of myself as a promoter, here’s the link to the Steal-o-Meter and the story about it. Since promotion also includes some original content, here’s my critique of the Meter.

Glaser gets the easy one right: “Reuse without Authorization” is pure theft because the content is repeated without attribution. Panic Reprogramming, the alleged culprit, no longer seems to exist.

“Drive-by-Summary,” committed by Gawker is also easily id’d as theft. The link is there but so is all or most of the content. There is no reason to read the original. One has the feeling that Gawker’s snarky attitude may have contributed to its inclusion as a thief. I guess Daily Beast would fall somewhere between theft and promotion in the “weak” category because it does produce some original content but also lifts from all major news sources for its “Cheat Sheet.” (See “Reading The Beast,”  and  “Daily Beast Redux,” December 11, 2008.)

Where I have a problem with the Meter (here’s the original content, folks) is that it gives blanket permission to Google News. The site will lead people to the original if they don’t read any other news source, but it did not “drive” me to a single story. I’d already read the big stuff elsewhere: voting in Afghanistan, Ted Kennedy’s request for a change in the way Senate vacancies are filled in Massachusetts, the unemployment numbers. As for the rest, I really didn’t care. Glaser may want to revisit this category as he seems ready to give a pass to any large entity. Guess that lets me out.

Maybe I fall into the “Summary with Spin” category, though I don’t “excerpt heavily” and do generally express strong opinions or an “additional angle.” Glaser’s example is a story in Gawker about the demise of Second Life that lifted huge chunks of his own work. I probably would not have clicked on the links to the original if I hadn’t been writing about it.

And I try to draw on more than just one source for each post, so I’m hoping I can still fall into the promotion category because of some sort of analysis. Have I become a metameme yet?

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