Thursday, December 24, 2009

Plagiarism vs. aliasing

Dennis Wyatt of the Manteca Bulletin writes:

Plagiarism is inexcusable but it is no better than people trying to submit letters using aliases. As ironic as it may sound, at one point one reader addressing the plagiarism issue sent in two different letters on the same subject that originated from the same address. Each one had a different name that he wanted run with it. We ran neither letter because the person wanted to use an alias. When contacted his reply was essentially plagiarism is a serious offense while misleading people about who he was is perfectly fine. There is no difference. Both are acts of intentionally misleading people no matter how noble the writer’s objectives may seem to them and their supporters.

IPBiz suggests there is a difference.

Plagiarism is copying without attribution. Plagiarism misleads the reader concerning the source of the copied material. As IPBiz has pointed out, plagiarism is a bad thing, but it is not against Federal law. The Dastar decision of the US Supreme Court gives an example wherein copying without correct attribution is permissible under Federal law. Were viewers misled? You bet they were.

Aliasing is publishing without providing the true source.

One can have the source hidden by a pseudonym. The Federalist Papers are a historical example. The Patent Troll Tracker is a more recent example. The issue with the troll tracker was the likely presence of bias on the part of "troll tracker" Rick Frenkel, who was employed by Cisco at the time of the aliased postings. This did not mean that the postings were inaccurate, but rather that the reader was not calibrated as to the "not disinterested" position of the source.

A different twist on the conflict issue is in the area of medical ghostwriting, currently being investigated by Senator Grassley. Therein, one has a real person, typically a doctor, submitting and representing himself/herself as author of a paper actually written by someone else, typically a professional writer working for a drug company. In a related vein, certain law professors pass off as their own writings actually done by students. Dean Velvel has suggested this was the underlying problem in the Laurence Tribe plagiarism matter (ie, it was the ghostwriter, not Tribe, who plagiarized). Separately, most judicial opinions are primarily the writing of clerks, who are not credited with authorship or co-authorship.

The Ward Churchill case brings up a different dimension. Therein, Churchill went beyond representing authorship merely as unknown (as with the Federalist Papers or troll tracker) to use the name of a real person (but not Churchill) to make it appear that a third party was praising Chruchill, when in fact Churchill was praising Churchill. This of course was an act of deliberately misleading the readers.

In short, various forms of aliasing occur all the time, and not much is said. Much is said about plagiarism in journalism and in academia, but it is not against Federal law. It is not a good thing to copy without attribution, but, provided the copying is of accurate statements, the public is misled only as to the originator of the truth, not about the truth itself.

A far worse situation is when the public is misled about truth. For example, the Stanford Law Review stating that Gary Boone was the inventor of the integrated circuit. Broadcasting falsities as truth is a real problem, much worse than plagiarism or aliasing.

** of the troll tracker


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