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
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.)
- DanceNet has individual pages for various teachers, studios, bands,
and dance venues. I created every one of them myself. Since I
created those pages long before I went to talk to the dance
entrenpreneurs about them, I made up the information that I thought
I knew about the teachers and studios (which was not necessarily
I know that Ron Gursky of Rugcutters' Dance Studio
has been teaching since the invention of the
wheel so I wrote that he's been teaching for "more than 20 years..."
(really closer to 35 years as I found out).
Someone copied that paragraph word-for-word for their own website.
He apologized when I pointed that out since he was new to the 'Net and
he didn't know about nettiquette. I'm pretty sure that he was sorry
because someone else then copied entire pages of *his* website
and called it their own. Boy, was *he* upset.
- I was asked by the owner of a local dance club to get the information
local upcoming swing dance weekend onto the web because his normal
busy and not to be found. I created a
on my website for that event. Imagine my surprise when
that guy announced the next day that they
had a page on-line for that event. Naturally I went to look at it
and found at least one page (or frame) that was word-for-word the
same as mind. The kicker was the fact that I highlighted certain
items that I didn't understand and the copier didn't even bother to
correct those mistakes. If they had created the page on their own,
they wouldn't have gotten their own information wrong. The owner
of the website apologized after I confronted him.
- As I have said already, I've created many pages for various dance
organizations. One of those pages was for a
certain swing dance club in New England.
Like a few other
groups, they went off and created their own page (though I never
I did notice
that this group's dance schedule page was word-for-word the same as mine
even if some of the formatting was different. They didn't even bother
to change the color of the header over the band schedule! I sent
them a note about it but they didn't bother to respond to me; however,
they at least changed the color of that header on the schedule.
- Now, today, as I was checking to make sure all the links on my website
were still valid, I came across
a certain website.
This website has a very extensive list of information
on dancing around the country. For the hell of it, I decided to check
their Boston listings. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that they
had a copy of the HTML code for my entire New England listing.
The webmaster for that site informed me (after I sent a letter) that
their volunteers had gotten them the information and some sent
whole HTML pages off my website to them; one of their volunteers
did seem "over-productive". Eric Mittler of Jump
Site told me that this was the excuse he usually got from sites caught
copying from his site.
How did I notice the copying? For example, I have a section on that
page for places "Way West of Boston". We in Boston like to tease
those out west that Western Massachusetts starts at Route 128
(only five minutes outside Boston) because it
tends to irritate them. My "west of Boston" lists things between
Route 128 and I-495 (30 minutes out of BOston).
"Way West of Boston" is everything in area code
413. Only a current Bostonian would use that term, not someone from
outside Massachusetts, because a two-hour drive for most people would
leave them in the same city. :-P
For directions, I like to highlight/bold turns and exit numbers. They
kept that. Again, I type everything in manually so it's very easy to
find my writing (or thinking) style.
It was also very obvious when
the ballroom (non-swing) venues were copied too.
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?
- If you're creating your own webpages, don't look at someone's webpage
if it has the same purpose as your own. Once you see
someone else's writing, it's hard not to use their phrasing because
it's easier than coming up with your own original text. This concept
was used as a sub-plot in Tom Clancy's novel, Patriot Games
I avoid looking at another Boston swing website,
Total Swing, so I can't
accidentally use something that they created (that's why DanceNet
never had everything that was listed in the BSDS' newsletter after
I left that organization).
- If you're creating a link to a webpage, just get the URL of that website
and create your own text around it. The URL is public-knowledge;
no one can fault you for using it. Just don't take anything else
from the site. However, don't take all the links off someone else's
website to save your own research time.
- Change the formatting and colors. I use Picture Publisher to create
the two-dimensional color banners on each of my pages (it's on my
laptop so I can create new webpages when I travel). I then use a
calculator to figure out the numbers for the colors I want to use for my backgrounds
and tables. That means none of my colors are standard; they're all
individually chosen. Be smart enough to use your own colors.
- Don't copy someone else's mistakes. Who knows, they might have put
them in there on purpose to catch plagarizers. Verify your information
and if you do that, you won't need to copy someone else's information
- Everyone has a different writing style. Mine is very obvious to see
when I type in every HTML code to format my pages. Don't copy
- If you ask for information and someone sends you HTML code, ask where
they got it so you can ask the data originator if it's okay to use it.
Don't let these volunteers hurt your reputation.
- Consider citing your sources and dating them (or documenting them
somewhere). While Eric and I tend not to do that to protect the
privacy of our sources, some volunteers appreciate getting thanked
for providing new information (particularly if the source is another
website). If nothing else, it adds credibility to the information.
- Give full credit to the creater of the web information if you use
it on your webpage. And don't forget to ask for permission first,
even if you don't need to.
- Link to other websites. There's nothing wrong with not having
everything in your website. It's ridiculous to try to list everything
in other cities when someone else is working constantly to update the
information for that location. Let them get the credit for their work
and just link to their site. Let Eric take care of Northern California,
Margie has southern California. Michael has Toronto. I've got Boston
(well, most of it). DanceNet will list specific items when I visit that
location personally, get flyers, or if someone specifically asks to be
listed. There's no point in raiding all the locations from someone's
website because that information will be obsolete five minutes later.
I put a lot of effort into providing the best information available
on my website. The information is intended to be shared amongst my
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.
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.
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).
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?
PS: I do get asked to have my material printed elsewhere regularly. My
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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