As students, we are used to being reminded multiple times each semester not to steal content written or produced by others and present it as our own. Plagiarism can be done accidentally (when the student in question doesn’t cite their source correctly) or on purpose (when the student uses material they didn’t create and intentionally presents it as their own).
[pullquote]”There should be some kind of variation of the Golden Rule here, which is that you should aggregate others as you would wish to be aggregated yourself.” – Simon Dumenco, a columnist for Advertising Age[/pullquote]
In the digital world, plagiarism may have a new face in the form of aggregation, the practice of compiling or using content created by others on your own web site. The ethics of aggregation were recently called into question by Simon Dumenco, a columnist for Ad Age. One of Dumenco’s columns in June 2011 was picked up by small news aggregator Techmeme as well as major news organization The Huffington Post. It should have been a good thing. Typically, stories picked up by aggregators gain a lot of return traffic to the original piece, which is the main reason aggregation hasn’t already been shot down as blatant plagiarism. But Dumenco noticed that compared to the traffic Techmeme directed back to his column, The Huffington Post didn’t return nearly as many visitors. In Dumenco’s words, the Post used the information from his article to rewrite it as their own.
“Huffpo closed out its post with ‘See more stats from Ad Age here’ — a disingenuous link, because Huffpo had already cherrypicked all the essential content. HuffPo clearly wanted readers to stay on its site instead of clicking through to AdAge.com,” Dumenco wrote.
Now Dumenco is heading a movement to clarify guidelines for aggregation. An online forum conducted in 2005 illustrated some of the challenges authorities run into when trying to protect individuals’ intellectual property online, such as discovering the identity of the thief and differing copyright laws across international borders. While there is never a clear answer when it comes to ethical questions, Dumenco is keeping it simple. As he told the New York Times’ David Carr, “There should be some kind of variation of the Golden Rule here, which is that you should aggregate others as you would wish to be aggregated yourself.”