It's Not That They're Stealing, It's That They're Lazy
January 9, 2004 4:50 AM   Subscribe

Exhibit A: An unattributed article on Google Bombing posted last month on the Web site of Glenn Beck, a radio talk show guy. Exhibit B: An article on Google Bombing from 2001 on, attributed to Adam Mathes. Compare and contrast. It's possible Beck purchased the article for reprint, but the lack of attribution, either to Mathes or So New Media, suggests against it. Assuming plagiarism, two questions: 1. After a decade of the existence of the Web, how is it that people still don't get the concept that content plagiarized from the Web is easily discoverable, particularly when posted on the Web? 2. Honestly, now, is it really that hard to rewrite? Unrelated article on the Glenn Beck site: The Death of Shame. (via Oliver Willis)
posted by jscalzi (43 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's possible Beck purchased the article for reprint...

posted by rory at 4:53 AM on January 9, 2004

Well, in that case: Scumbag!
posted by jscalzi at 5:01 AM on January 9, 2004

quote from his bio:

"I truly believe if I play every single one of my cards face up on the table they can never be taken from me and played against me. I'm not hiding anything. I never feel I've exposed too much," Beck told the St. Petersburg Times. "I'm not smart enough to lie. I'd never be able to cover my tracks."

juvenile or not, i linked his site to the words "plagarizing bastard".
posted by centrs at 5:37 AM on January 9, 2004

To be fair, the attribution for this link should rightly also credit Ask Metaflter :

"January 8, 2004

What is the best way to deal with plagiarism of your work on the web? Somebody pointed out to me that a right wing talk show has posted an obvious plagiarism of my original Google Bombing article from 2001. [more]
posted by adam at 2:19 PM PST "

At first, I guessed that Oliver Willis came across this meme on Ask Metafilter - in which case, proper web etiquette would have suggested that he credit this site. In fact, Oliver seems to have run across the meme elsewhere, and credits his source by linking to it. Miss Manners is satisfied. But - Even if Oliver HAD failed to give attribution where it was due, the case of that hypothetical breach of etiquette would be sharply distinguished from Beck's behavior which was - most likely - shameless plagiarism.

I've heard high school teachers wonder about this, in regard to student plagiarism : don't they realize that plagiarism is usually glaringly obvious? First, whole blocks of stolen text typically read in a voice which is extremely different from that which is native to the student who has plagiarized. But, beyond that, it only takes a few moments to run a Google search to find the exact web source of the plagiarized material !

So on this count, if Beck did in fact shamelessly plagiarize Adam's article, this would place Beck at the level of a less intelligent high school student. The more intelligent high school students understand that it's almost impossible to get caught plagiarizing if they simply rewrite the plagiarized material in their own words and so partially claim the material as their own. But in the case of novel concepts this becomes harder to do : and even when the concept is NOT so novel, accusations of plagiarism can arise. Intellectual Property lawsuits, over the ownership of dumb plot lines, are a steady staple for Hollywood lawyers these days, I've heard.
posted by troutfishing at 6:45 AM on January 9, 2004

Note my tricky use of conditionals there. I didn't say "Beck is a shameless plagiarizing bastard" - for that statement could be held slanderous if the facts did not warrant it.

Instead, I said - in effect - "Beck is most likely a shameless plagiarizing bastard". And - if Beck has a good explanation - then my deepest apologies to him for the incendiary rhetoric. I write quite a bit myself - so it's a touchy issue at the personal level.

However, I doubt Beck has a good explanation, meaning - an explanation which does not invoke amnesia, aliens, spirits, spooks, the CIA, temporary identity theft, or some other strange twist which might release him from personal responsibility for his acts.

He could always feign insanity, multiple personality disorder even. That could be a good draw for his blog - for a little while anyway.
posted by troutfishing at 6:59 AM on January 9, 2004

My hunch -- just a hunch -- is that one of Beck's staffers is responsible for this, and that Beck doesn't have a clue about the (likely) plagiarism and subsequent web-rage.
posted by davidmsc at 7:12 AM on January 9, 2004

that statement could be held slanderous if the facts did not warrant it

Actually, I think it's only slander if you know that the statement isn't true. You'd be harsh to judge (or, as is more likely, not so harsh), but not liable.
posted by mkultra at 7:13 AM on January 9, 2004

mkultra - Thanks for clarifying that important distinction for me. I'll remember that. My mind is like a steel trap.....

You're a shameless, tunnel digging, tuber-gnawing groundhog! ~ Well, I don't know otherwise, do I ? You could be a groundhog, an especially advanced one with a much larger than usual brain, prehensile, articulated paws which can work a keyboard ......oops. I'm veering off on one of my little "tangents". I'd better can it.
posted by troutfishing at 7:27 AM on January 9, 2004

davidmsc - Ah, the old "blame a subordinate" ploy!
posted by troutfishing at 7:30 AM on January 9, 2004

Wouldn't surprise me a bit.
posted by davidmsc at 7:47 AM on January 9, 2004

But "you can't copywrite anything on the Internet." ;)

My mind is like a steel trap.....

That could be dangerous.
posted by pmurray63 at 8:02 AM on January 9, 2004

When Google-bombing is outlawed, only outlaws will have Google bombs. I say nail the plagiarizing bastard.

Here's hoping that Adam will eventually write a book about this monster he unleashed upon an unsuspecting nation. Or perhaps a short, pithy essay.
posted by junkbox at 8:34 AM on January 9, 2004

My hunch -- just a hunch -- is that one of Beck's staffers is responsible for this, and that Beck doesn't have a clue about the (likely) plagiarism and subsequent web-rage.

You're exactly correct. I used to listen to Glenn Beck a while ago, and while he is very website-aware, he is far from web-savvy. He often had bits where he'd call his freelance web-lackey on air to ask him to put things on the website. I'm sure Glenn probably knows it's there, but I doubt he's aware of the source. I'd bet the initial find was by the web guy >> Web guy probably forwarded it to Glenn who thought it was great and asked to put it online.

All speculation, of course.
posted by Hankins at 9:00 AM on January 9, 2004

I just got off the phone with a woman at the Glenn Beck show. I explained to her that I was the publisher of an online site that had had its contents plagarised by Glenn Beck. She almost immediately told me that "you can't copyright things on the net!" and if you could, they'd be in a lot of trouble for reprinting all the New York Times articles.

I explained to her that you very well can copyright things on the net, and you absolutely must ask permission to reprint content from our web site.

"Oh," she said. "It should be attributed."

I informed her that it wasn't, and that regardless, we did not want our content on Mr. Beck's site. I gave her the URL for Uber and the URL for the problem page on She was able to load Uber, but then had, according to her, some sort of keyboard malfunction, and was unable to load the site.

What it came down to is, I gave her my phone number so that she can pass it on to someone else who will apparently be able to deal directly with this problem. She then tried to explain to me that it was fine, as they hadn't actually violated any copyrights or plagarised. I read her the definition of plagarism:

n 1: a piece of writing that has been copied from someone else and is presented as being your own work 2: the act of plagiarizing; taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own

And explained to her that that is exactly what Glenn had done. She told me not to get angry, and that she wasn't an idiot and understood what the word meant.

I told her that the ISP that hosts the site will be contacted on Monday morning if the offending page is still being served.

Thank you, Metafilter, for your support on this matter.

UPDATE: I just recieved a call from someone from the show. They are in the process of taking the page down right now.
posted by benbrown at 9:00 AM on January 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

Wow, I sure do know how to misspell plagiarism.
posted by benbrown at 9:01 AM on January 9, 2004

Minor observation: I am amazed that someone actually used the "you can't copyright anything on the internet" line with me so soon! I mean, seriously. Are these people morons?
posted by benbrown at 9:04 AM on January 9, 2004

One last update: That page has now been removed from the site. But just for future reference:

Google Cache
posted by benbrown at 9:12 AM on January 9, 2004

I'll have to talk to Adam about that. I think time trying to get him to apologize to us will not be time well spent, but who knows. If Adam wants me to do it, I'll do it.
posted by benbrown at 9:32 AM on January 9, 2004

Didn't feel right flogging my own bias in the Ask MetaFilter thread, so I held my tongue. Since it's over here though, I guess I'm free to vent.

Seriously, what the hell is the problem with somebody appropriating a few words you dreamed up one day? I get that some people don't like whoever this guy is and don't want to feel like they're supporting his agenda.

Still, it costs you nothing and maybe helps a few more people get more knowledgeable about something that was important enough to you to take the time to write about.

Given current broken copyright laws, you're within your rights to be selfish about it, but sharing is a good thing. We need more, not less.
posted by willnot at 9:51 AM on January 9, 2004

lawsuits tend to be obnoxious, messy, expensive, etc.

Maybe you could find an attorney to take on the case pro bono, and then sue the guy for $1 .

Unless he apologizes first.

But if he doesn't, stick with the suit, and the resulting negative publicity will be quite sufficient, as punishment.

Just a thought.
posted by troutfishing at 9:51 AM on January 9, 2004

Willnot - the point is, Adam spent time and effort researching and writing that piece (even though it was initially meant just as a humor piece) and Glenn Beck took it and claimed it as his own work.

Had he asked for our permission, we may have granted it. Several other Uber articles have been published elsewhere with our permission -- we like the attention! However, he did not ask permission, and regardless of the legal issues, it's incredibly rude and inconsiderate to take someone else's work as your own.

Yes, sharing is good. But taking is not.
posted by benbrown at 9:57 AM on January 9, 2004

I get your point. My point is that the time and effort Adam spent would have been spent regardless -- has in fact already been spent. That somebody else also benefits from the work that Adam did to benefit himself (or whoever he did the work for) is an added bonus. A free net-gain as it were. Creative expression is nice that way.
posted by willnot at 10:01 AM on January 9, 2004

Find a lawyer with an anti beck ideology and he'll gladly work for free in exchange to the publicity it will bring his practice.

Pitch the same deal to a publicist and make lots of noise.

You've got him by the short hairs. Don't let go
posted by Fupped Duck at 10:12 AM on January 9, 2004

"That somebody else also benefits from the work that Adam did to benefit himself (or whoever he did the work for) is an added bonus."


1. The work was not attributed to Adam/Uber, therefore recognition for the work and time was withheld, and indeed, was implied to belong to someone else (namely the talk show host).

2. Adam/Uber was not compensated for the work by the people who wished to use it for their own purpose.

Also, this isn't a matter of stealing "a few words" -- it was the theft an entire article.

What's wrong with stealing other people's words is that it's utterly contemptuous of the person who created it. The attitude of the woman Ben spoke to today says volumes regarding how little people care about something as simple as asking permission for something. She was working under the assumption that she could film-flam Ben. Were I him, I would have told her I was pleased with the stupidity that was coming out of her mouth, because it was going to make it easy for me to sue her bosses' ass in court.

We can argue about whether copyright is "broken" or not, but one place where it's not broken is in the right of the owner of work to say what can and can't be done with the work.
posted by jscalzi at 10:13 AM on January 9, 2004

It's also worth noting that the article was plagiarized by a commercial venture, obstensibly helping their revenues, which makes the act closer to selling pirated CDs than sharing songs on Kazaa, if you're coming at this from that angle.
posted by furiousthought at 10:32 AM on January 9, 2004

Assume that the person who appropriated the work didn't exist and the work was never appropriated. Adam did the work, got whatever benefit he was going to get out of doing the work and presumably was satisfied with that. Adam got everything that he was going to get out of doing the work.

Now, enter the person who appropriated the work. This person took copied the work and presented it as his own. OK, presenting somebody's work as your own doesn't do a lot for your credibility. You're basically lying. However, that has nothing to do with Adam. Adam already did the work and got everything he was going to get out of the work. This person exists outside of that closed loop.

Now, somebody sees that the work has been appropriated and starts trying to see how they can get it back. This person wanted the article off the net. Effort was expended. New costs of time were incurred.

Net result - it costs more to prevent this person from appropriating the work than it does to not worry about it and to find additional satisfaction in the fact that your words (albeit not your name) have now spread further than they otherwise would have and more people are enriched (at not cost to you).

Like I said, copyright will allow you to be selfish. I would prefer a copyright system that doesn't allow that, but barring that, I would prefer a society that looks down on somebody who is being selfish just as much as somebody who is a liar and a plagiarist. They're about equal affronts from where I sit.
posted by willnot at 10:35 AM on January 9, 2004

Your assumption that Adam's relationship to his creation ended with the writing and posting of the piece is totally incorrect. As that is one of the most popular things on Uber, Adam and I deal almost daily with it. Adam takes great pride in the piece, and the attention it has earned.

Not to get too bogged down in semantics, but I also take issue with your use of the word "enriched." Adam's original piece described Google Bombing in the terms of a joke between two friends. Glenn Beck's version encouraged his listeners to make negative political statements about Michael Moore. In my opinion, nobody is being enriched by the spreading of this altered version.

Is it selfish to not want your words to be stolen and corrupted? I don't think so. And is it worth making a phone call to prevent that from happening? Absolutely.
posted by benbrown at 10:54 AM on January 9, 2004

"Adam got everything that he was going to get out of doing the work."

You're wrong, and have no basis for that statement.

Luckily, copyright exists and doesn't allow you, or anyone else without a respect for other people's work, to arbitrarily and idiotically decide 3 years after the publication of my work I have "gotten" everything I'm going to "get" from it.

I was interviewed last week by the New York Times because I wrote that article, and will likely be mentioned in an article that will get read by an audience many orders of magnitude larger than what I normally reach. In the last month I was interviewed and mentioned in other newspaper articles and radio broadcasts around the world, any one of which could help me in my life.

Keep in mind this was not merely a copy of my work without attribution - it was subtly changed (mostly the target being Michael Moore instead of Andy Pressman) and was being presented as an original work. If enough people see his article, or other people similarly copy my article, or begin citing and mentioning their plagiarist works, my article has LESS VALUE TO ME as it is less likely I will get credit for the article, let alone the first Google Bombing.

Furthermore, to imply that I'm selfish is also completely without basis and inappropriate. is available for free to anyone with an internet connection. Always has been, and likely always will be. I have been producing original content for the web for years, and have been providing it for free.

Calling someone on plagiarism my work is not selfish. Stealing my work, presenting it as someone else's, and putting ads all over it without my permission, knowledge, or consent, one could argue that is selfish. But I'm not interested in their motives, I'm just glad they took it down.
posted by adam at 11:08 AM on January 9, 2004

One last note before I re-enter my peaceful and willful ignorance of what happens on Metafilter:

If Glenn Beck had wanted to do this the right way, he could have said "Hey, look at this article on Google Bombing which is available for free on the internet. Let's do that to Michael Moore! I suggest you call him 'big dingus!'"

Bam! His message is carried to his audience, he cites Adam's article without violating anyone, and Adam's words are not corrupted in any way.
posted by benbrown at 11:13 AM on January 9, 2004

"Assume that the person who appropriated the work didn't exist and the work was never appropriated. Adam did the work, got whatever benefit he was going to get out of doing the work and presumably was satisfied with that. Adam got everything that he was going to get out of doing the work."

Why would I assume such a clearly incorrect thing?

For one thing, as Ben noted, these things have lives beyond their inception and their original compensation. One can make a decent chunk of change in the reprint market with articles -- indeed, any article that sells once can sell twice, three times or more. For another thing, if the piece is altered, it changes the meaning of the work, and that can have negative repercussions for the original author. And again, as Ben noted, in changing the object of the Google Bombing, the intent of the piece (and the assumptions one makes of the author) also change.

Speaking as a professional writer, I make a nice bit of money with reprints. If I want to pay my mortgage, it makes sense for me to make sure I have a say in how my work is used and to get compensated for it when it happens. You're free to suggest otherwise, but fortunately for me I have the Constitution of the United States on my side on this matter.

Copyright allows you to be selfish, sure. So what? It also allows you to be magnanimous with your writing, if you so choose. The point is, the choice rests with the creator. To suggest some nebulous public has more right to the product of someone's intellectual work than the person who created it seems a fine way to make sure nothing of any real use gets created. Creative people like to eat, too.

On preview: Testify, Adam!
posted by jscalzi at 11:16 AM on January 9, 2004

2. Honestly, now, is it really that hard to rewrite?

With 28 comments here, I had expected that someone had already posted the "copyright vs. plagiarism" explanation here. Since no one has, I guess it falls to me.

Copyright infringement and plagiarism are two different things. It's possible to infringe copyright without plagiarising, and it's possible to plagiarize without infringing copyright, and it's also possible to do both in one single act.

Copyright infringement is copying someone else's expression without their permission (or, more correctly, without the permission of the copyright owner). It applies only to the specific expression of an idea--the actual words used, for example--and not the idea itself. Copyright infringement is generally illegal.

Plagiarism is presenting someone else's idea as your own, not giving proper credit to the person who came up with the idea. It applies not just to the specific expression of an idea, but the idea itself. Plagiarism is despicable, unethical, against many organization's codes of conduct, but is generally not illegal.

If I copy a book word-for-word, but keep the original author's name on it, I have infringed copyright (copying without permission), but I have not plagiarized (as I am giving due credit to the original author).

If I take the ideas from a book, write them in my own words, and never mention the original author, I have plagiarized (not giving credit), but not infringed copyright (as there was no copying).

If I copy a book word-for-word, but replace the original author's name with my own, then I have both infringed copyright (unauthorized copying) and plagiarized (not giving due credit).

In this case, it appears that Glenn Beck did both.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:24 AM on January 9, 2004

Adam already did the work and got everything he was going to get out of the work.

Q: How can you tell when a writer has "got everything he was going to get" out of a work?

A: He's dead.

Adam seems mighty spry for a cadaver.
posted by kindall at 11:29 AM on January 9, 2004

A) What Adam said, eloquently.

B) Willnot, email me your address--I'm coming over to borrow your car. I might not be back for a while, either.

(No? What are you, SELFISH? Idiot.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:14 PM on January 9, 2004

Sidhedevil - you're welcome to copy my car. Feel free.

For the rest, you know you're totally right. In fact, come to think of it, when I was 4-years-old, and I threw a hissy fit because my brother was playing with my ball, my parents were fools to explain to me that I wasn't even playing with my ball that I was playing with my truck.

I mean every time my brother bounced my ball, he weakened it a little bit. Sure, it would continue to bounce way more than I would ever be likely to bounce it, but his bouncing it devalued it none-the-less, plus he was getting his dirty sticky hands all over it. More to the point, i t was mine, mine MINE! I was right to cry and whine and to decide once I saw my brother with my ball that at that moment there was nothing I wanted more than to play with MY BALL!!!!

My parents were fools. I've seen the error of my ways. I want to live in a world where knowledge is aggressively horde. I'm sure that's better.

Adam - maybe you really are concerned as you say that this guy would start to usurp your position as an authority on google bombing. It seems pretty unlikely to me, so I'd be surprised if that's really what motivated you to get in a huff about it. I'll take you at your word though.

I'm not a fan of plagiarist, so it's hard to defend this guy. I just feel like getting in a twist about it is the wrong way to go through life. It's your life to live though, so more power to you. I hope you enjoy living in a world without a public domain. Since that's rapidly the way we're going. On the plus side, you'll always be able to prevent undesirables form misappropriating your work.

Go you.
posted by willnot at 12:32 PM on January 9, 2004

I can't get Glenn Beck's site to load. Does anyone know who employs him? I was thinking about writing them a letter asking them if they support plagiarism.
posted by john at 12:33 PM on January 9, 2004

I can't get the site to load either. Too much traffic? Panic over the "Googlebomb Affair"?
posted by troutfishing at 12:42 PM on January 9, 2004

Thanks for the condescension, Willnot. When it's your livelihood people are ripping off, remind us writers here to show the same concern for you as you show here. Unless your four-year-old self was making a living from bouncing a ball, which you made yourself with your own effort, your analogy is pretty useless.

It's also erroneous and ignorant to assume that the individual's right to have a say in the use of his work equates with a loss of the concept of public domain. I fully support the idea of my work crossing over into the public domain once I'm dead (or too lazy to renew my copyright). However, while I'm alive and have the right to say who uses my work and how, I intend to use it.
posted by jscalzi at 12:57 PM on January 9, 2004


Yikes, chill. Putting stuff in the public domain and trying to pass off someone's work as your own are two different things. Are writer's now such lowly citizens to not have any say concerning their work?

Such willful ignorance about someone trying to protect something that is offered free to the public online from those that wish to claim is as there own is "getting in a twist" and "is the wrong way to go through life."
posted by john at 1:04 PM on January 9, 2004

What's really bad is when the plagiarists are unrepentent. Some dope copied large chunks of Tequila Mockingbird word-for-word, then when she told him to cease and desist, he refused and threatened to sue her. I rate his chances of actually having a lawyer asbout the same as me finding my lost $162 million lottery ticket, but still... it's causing her a ton of grief.

Visit her site to see what's been going on, then visit the guestbook where you can tell this punk off.
posted by Sour Bob at 2:02 PM on January 9, 2004

willnot> you remind me of the guy who copied one of my previous website layouts (as well as cutting and pasting entire portions of parts of my entries mixed in with his own words), and then when I asked him politely to take it down, responded by leaving self-righteous comments on my page and putting this page up (a barely coherent collection of links which I can only imagine is trying to prove that the concept of "originality" doesn't exist.)

As of this moment, the page he copied still exists, though he doesn't update it. I changed my own layout because even his more web-saavy friends couldn't convince him to take his copy down or that he was wrong.

I'm cursed with being able to understand your logic. But the fact of the matter is, and I state this as simply as possible, you can't walk into my house and steal my stuff. As much as you would like to, and as much as you think you should be able to, you simply can't-- and nothing you say can justify that act.

When a writer/designer/artist/musician/etcetera places his or her work into the public domain, it's like taking their favorite sofa and sitting it on the sidewalk for people to use or take at their leisure. Otherwise, the only person entitled to using that sofa is the owner and the people to whom he gives permission to come into his house and do so.

I assume you endorse burglary as well, citing at anyone who presses charges against the burglar is somehow making the world a less enjoyable place to live.
posted by precocious at 2:08 PM on January 9, 2004

Willnot, if you've already purchased your car, how does it hurt you to let me use it? SELFISH!
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:43 PM on January 9, 2004

That would be the equivalent of using it in such a way that S/he had restricted access to the automobile (wear/tear notwithstanding). Willnot has no problem if you "copy" the car. Very different; and while there's no skin off her/his nose, the auto maker might take issue with it.
posted by Feisty at 3:47 PM on January 9, 2004

What is more startling to me is the fact that graduate students plagiarize in their research and class work. Some of the Indian students have used the excuse that their concept of cheating is different than in America (the Prof didn't buy it) and for other students (Chinese and European) it was, "they wrote it better than I would have in English" (Again, prof not impressed). Yes, these were graduate students in doctorate programs and for the curious it was in engineering.

Was it bad citation method? Nope, it was outright plagiarism and in one instance with the total cut and paste with copyright date. Yow, it makes me kind of embarrassed to be a grad student.
posted by jadepearl at 4:41 PM on January 9, 2004

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