Plagarism: Greatest Form of Flattery?

March 10, 1998

By Benson Wong (DanceNet On The Web webmaster)

with contributions by Eric Mittler (webmaster for Northern California's Jump Site)

There are many of us webmasters who work long hours putting out a website for no other reason than we love what we do. We put in a lot of time researching to make our websites the source of that most valuable commodity: information. We take a lot of pride in putting out a good product. Considering the time we put in and the rewards we get (read: none), we most certainly do not do it to get rich. The ones who are really in it for fun will try as hard as possible to get as much useful information on their pages and keep it up to date. You know these sites: the ones who have more text and information than pretty graphics. One that comes quickly to me would be Eric Mittler's Jump Site, probably the best swing dance website (at least on the left coast :-) ).

How do we feel when, after all that work, someone else downloads pages off our website and calls them their own?

Plagarism is the greatest form of flattery...NOT!

I don't think there are any laws against piracy on the Internet yet and how much does a copyright protect the bits and bytes of a webserver? Probably not much. However, it's still wrong. It's still stealing. It's still wrong if someone else copies that information and forwards it to you. Websites such as Jump Site, Stefan Gonick's New England Swing Dance Server, possibly Michael Wagner's Toronto Swing Dance Society website and definitely DanceNet On The Web have been victims of plagarism in the short existence of the World Wide Web.

The World Wide Wait, er, Web, is intended for distributing information to as huge an audience as possible. The information or facts are meant to be used. The information itself (URL's, postal addresses, phone numbers) is public-domain. However, some dedicated person had to type it in. Is it right for someone else to just copy the contents of a webpage with its formatting HTML code and call it their own? I don't think so.

Imagine researching and writing a history book. The facts described in that book would be public-domain; however, it's not correct for someone else to print and sell that book as their own.

By the way, every single word in DanceNet is typed in by hand, including the HTML code; I don't use Front Page or PageMill or any other web program to create the information you see on this website. In some ways this website is an extension of how I think and how I write, and it's fairly easy to pick out my personal style.

DanceNet has been plagued by plagarism since its birth. Let's take a look at some examples.

(Note: The incidents mentioned above have been resolved between me and the respective webmasters. They are mentioned (without names) as examples.)

What's the bottom line? The information available on the World Wide Web is public-domain. It's out there to be consumed by the readers. However, the work that went into creating those webpages came at a cost: time, computer resources, uploading onto the ISP, energy typing in the text, the mental exercise in trying to phrase a sentence correctly. It's not right that someone comes along and just copies it verbatim and calls it their own. That's stealing.

How can you avoid it?

Eric's two cents:
Dance websites on the web should be an extension of the dance. Lindy Hop and most swing work well and are popular because they're based on communication and cooperation. One reason the swing scene in San Francisco has outpaced the LA area (flame shield up!) is that in San Francisco we are open and we cooperate. Teachers openly recommend other teachers in class. We all show up at events organized by different groups. The bands sit in on each other's gigs. Imagine if the Might Blue Kings, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Royal Crown Revue all took the stage at the same time. Last Fiday at the Hi Ball, Lavay & Chris (from Lavay Smith & her Red Hot Skillet Lickers), Carmen & Steve (from Steve Lucky & the Rhumba Bums) and D'lilah Monroe (from the Chazz Cats) all took the stage with Indigo Swing. Swing Dance webmasters should follow their lead and cooperate. By and large we do and that's why it's been so successful. (look at the hit counts).
I put a lot of effort into providing the best information available on my website. The information is intended to be shared amongst my readers. DanceNet On The Web is updated every week and many hours go into planning how the information should be presented to the reader. I want as many people to see that information as possible and I want them to find it useful. Although my site focuses heavily on the Boston area, I get mail *EVERY WEEK* from someone around the country who wants to be listed on my website (I don't know why). I get over 1000 visitors a month from around the world reading many pages at each sitting (I think it's around 25000 hits a month and 200 Meg of downloads*). That's not bad for a local site. I get make *NOTHING* off this website so the least that I should get is credit for the original work that I created.

If you want to use my material, please be polite and ask me first. The same goes for anyone else's website. I put the information on the web to help the dancing community so it's in their best interest to get that information out to as many different sites as possible. Don't take credit for the work that I did in providing the information. Why take the chance of being accused of stealing, even if it's unintentional? Why risk creating hard feelings? Many swing dance webmasters and I keep each other informed of new items and pages on our sites so we can link to them and not duplicate work. This dance community is too small for these things to go unnoticed and everyone in the dancing world knows everyone else. Let's work together on this, okay?

Benson Wong

PS: I do get asked to have my material printed elsewhere regularly. My ettiquette article is going to appear in some Scottish Dance newsletter! Tony Tye reprints that same article for his Hop To The Beat students. That's okay...because they asked.

Also, if you are a swing webmaster and would like to get notices of new pages that appear on DanceNet for national events, send email to me. And, except for any of the articles, linking to my pages directly is fine because it's very obvious that the page is mine. The articles are original work by their respective authors. Get permission before linking to any of the articles; linking to this article is okay.

The opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the DanceNet sponsors or readers or any members of the Boston swing dance community.

*As of July 23, 1998, the numbers were 18421 hits and 107 megabytes of dnload this past *WEEK*.

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