Perspective, Objectivity and Plagiarism When Blogging

I have a problem. I’m a thief, an infringer of copyrights, a stealer of ideas . . . you get the point. Do I do this intentionally? To say no would be naive (although I am called naive fairly often).

I’m older than your average blogger. When I learned to write a research paper, it was in the 80’s. At the time, using the best home computers to write research papers was little better than using only Notepad. I researched using books, newspapers and journals that I physically touched and that I paid 10 cents a page to photocopy, and that was only if I was lucky enough to have a photocopy machine in the library I was using. Most of the time I jotted down notes on notecards – the old 3 by 5 kind.

When my research finally became a paper, every idea, picture, fact and detail was cited meticulously. Unless it was something I dreamt up in my head, I showed the reference material and I made it clear that I was no theft of ideas.

Then how do I find myself, nearly 30 years later, plagiarizing?

I’ve been blogging, even before it was called that, since the late 90’s. Writing my thoughts and ideas down and publishing them on a web page in some form or another seemed natural. It was more like journaling or writing a friendly letter to a friend. I even used that technique, ala Beverly Cleary’s Dear Mr. Henshaw, when I was writing. I would pretend that I was writing to my best friend, at the time, Ed. Most of what I wrote was simply my thoughts, feeling and impressions – my own work.

But then the internet exploded with information on so many different things. I remember when I was so impressed by Yahoo!, a directory leading to other sites chock full of new information. It was amazing, mind-blowing, awesome . . . you get the picture. The terminal at my university didn’t even have graphics. I navigated Yahoo! using only the tab and enter keys.

For you younger folks, try this out. Go to www.yahoo.com. Are you there? Click in the search field. Do you see your cursor blinking? Now press the tab key. Press it again. You should now see "My Yahoo" or whatever link is to the right of the "Search Web" button all in dotted lines. Keep pressing tab and watch those dotted lines highlight other links on the page. One by one from left to right from top to bottom. That was how we searched. As tedious as it may seem, it was nothing like the card catalog.

For years (yes, I was a professional student) I sifted through the "stacks" or drawers and drawers of little index cards that had been sorted, categorized and typed out by hand to include all of the information that the wonderful library contained. The card catalog at my university was my best friend. I knew how to manipulate it better than a paralegal. Ok, maybe that’s a lame analogy, but I was good. I found what I wanted to find, scribbled stuff down on my 3 by 5 note cards and wrote papers on actual paper.

A couple of years ago, I was accused by a fellow blogger of stealing a picture. I took a picture off of her website, saved it and then uploaded it to my blog without acknowledging where I found it. Aghast at the accusation, my blood pressure rose, my face flushed, I felt queasy, and then I began to defend my actions. Excuses came pouring from me. She herself didn’t say where the picture came from. It wasn’t like I was making any money off of what I wrote. Who the hell cares, it’s just one picture!

It took me a day or two of feeling self-righteous before I remembered what it felt like to have my own ideas stolen. No rise in blood pressure, no face flushing, just queasiness. Yes, I was the victim of idea theft at one point. My ideas and stories had been used by someone else as their own, and those people were trying to make money off of it to boot. I did not want to be that person.

The wind went out of my self-righteous sails. I apologized sincerely and took the picture down, although the damage was already done since you can still find it on pinterest. I promised I would go back through my blog and seek permission for or remove every single picture, idea and everything else that I did not dream up. However, 2 years passed. My sails are still windless and I find myself writing less and less. I still haven’t revamped my site, which still includes pictures and ideas that are not documented or approved by their owners.

How did I slip so far from that girl who always had a pack of 3 by 5 notecards on her? The crux of the matter was that I never viewed blogging as research. Even if what I wrote was something that I had actually researched, it was still in my mind no different from writing a friendly letter to a friend with a similar interest.

It’s taken me two years to figure this out. Yes, I can be overly naive. But . . . I am not malicious. I do not like hurting anyone.

For all of those out that who pictures I used or ideas I did not credit, I am sorry. To Racaire, the blogger who pointed me in the right direction: my daughter still says I’m the reason you took your site down, which she really loved. If that is true, I am truly sorry that a fellow blogger felt the need to hide her writing because of my actions. That is one of my biggest shames.

Like anyone with a problem that has gone on far too long, I need help. I need help figuring out where everything on my blog came from and giving credit, asking permission or removing it. I need help recognizing when I’ve done something unethical. The simplest solution would be to wipe the whole damn thing clean. Over the last two years, I have often thought of doing this action. Erasing all of my entries however would not do anything to giving credit to those who ideas and work I help spread. Only going back and fixing it will help give credit and apologize to those I have offended (offended as in committed an offense against).
Slowly, over the next few weeks, please help reeducate me on how ethically to write research. Leave comments where you see something amiss. I will try my best to go back and fix everything.

For those who will come to my aid, thank you! The gratefulness with which I see your actions I can not express enough. To those I have committed an offense against, I am sorry. I will try to make amends. I want my blog to once again be something that makes me proud.

3 thoughts on “Perspective, Objectivity and Plagiarism When Blogging

  1. Miriam says:

    I don’t have much to say, except that I find your willingness to apologise and correct your mistakes commendable.

    If you need help with referencing, you might find this useful: http://medievalmanuscriptsunlocked.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/how-to-correctly-reference-manuscripts.html

    • Thank you! This site is perfect and what I was looking for. About half of my pictorial references are from manuscripts, so this will help so much. Like I said, I do not want to stop teaching and sharing, but I do want to do it right.

  2. Mistress Martha says:

    You are such a meticulous and enthusiastic researcher. Right down to learning new languages so you can translate original documents. You share and teach constantly. I commend you for your actions.
    I’m stunned that someone would criticize you for such an oversight. I’m aware of several instances I have personally witnessed where others have used your research without your permission. You have always been very gracious in those instances and stated, ” it’s ok…share the knowledge.”
    Keep up the good work my friend!

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