Plagiarism on the Internet - College Professor Lifts My Text and Photo

I found a blog post this week that included 278 words of text from my Thin Places website and one of my photos of Ireland.  The blog author was an Associate Professor at a university in Colorado. Her post was about places where the eternal world and this world meet.... aka "thin places."  I noticed my photo right away.  It was of the Cashelkeelty stone circle on the Beara Peninsula in southern Ireland - not a place of easy access, not as popular as Kylemore Abbey, Cashel, Newgrange, Cliffs of Moher.  It's a rare place and mine was a rare photo. In fact, I used this photo as the cover of my Christmas card two years ago.  It was easy to recognize.  I read further and saw I recognized more than the photo - several paragraphs were mine - not paraphrased, not mostly mine - but word for word, verbatim.

The blog post followed this layout exactly.

TITLE
244 words of text about thin places including a poem 
This photo (my photo of Cashelkeelty stone circle)

CashelkiltySC (12)

199 words of text including a quote by John O'Donohue followed by my text which appears below in red


What is a thin place?  To discern the difference between an ordinary place and a thin place, one must use a spiritual perspective.  In simple terms a ‘thin place’ is a place where the veil between this world and the Other world is thin, the Other world is more near.  This meaning assumes the perceiver senses the existence of a world beyond  what we know through our five senses.  Since the times of ancient civilization the fascination with the "Other world" has occupied human minds.  To some it is heaven, the kingdom, paradise.  To others it may be hell, an abyss, the unknown. Whatever you perceive the Other world to be, a thin place is a place where connection to that world seems effortless, and ephemeral signs of its existence are almost palpable. 


Mahatma Ghandi in his Spiritual Message to the World in 1931, speaks of this.
“There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything.  I feel it, though I do not see it.  It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses.  It transcends the senses
Truth abides in thin places; naked, raw, hard to face truth.  Yet the comfort, safety and strength to face that truth also abides there.  Thin places captivate our imagination, yet diminish our existence. We become very small, yet we gain connection and become part of something larger than we can perceive.   The human spirit is awakened and will grow if the body and mind allow it.  Simply put, a thin place is a place where one feels that mysterious power Ghandi refers to.  Ghandi believed (and stated later in the same speech), that the mysterious power was God.

Final sentence and close

I was stunned.  The blockquote code (the code that makes the Ghandi quote centered) was even left in indicating it was likely that the professor put her cursor on the text, went down two paragraphs and just pasted inside the context of her blog post.  This "paste" was almost half the entire post.

Note that she preceded the block of text with this sentence... "In the words of another writer, M Burgoyne:"  but there were no quotation marks, other than the ones in the Ghandi quote... no indication of where M. Burgoyne's words stopped.  And my first name was carelessly left out and no referring link given to me (I have two blogs and two websites - pick one), and no link to the site where she took the text or photo.


How did I discover the plagiarizer?  Google Alerts.
You can use Google Alerts to notify you via email any time a particular term comes up in a web page scanned by the Google search engine.  I have several - one for Thin Places, Thin Place, Mindie Burgoyne, Haunted Eastern Shore, Viral Networking.  This helps me discover when web pages come up with these terms.  I can find press coverage on me and my book, reviews, and scan competitive projects.  I can find out what people are saying about me and the subjects I write about. Google Alerts doesn't pick up everything, but it delivers a lot.

My Google Alert for thin places actually sent me to another website of a blogger who had quoted the plagiarizing professor!  This blogger didn't include two paragraphs - only two sentences which she put in quotes and gave credit to the plagiarizing professor with a reference and weblink to the professor's blog. This is what led me to the Professor.

Truthfully, the subject of thin places is rather popular, but the coverage is small.  Because it's a mysticsl subject and hard to define, people have trouble putting it into their own words.  So they quote others.  My definition of thin places appears at least once a day on the web (according to my alerts).  Many people reference me on thin places both on the web, in hard print media including books.  Sometimes it's stealing - a photo, a few sentences. But it doesn't bother me.  Sometimes these people credit me, sometimes not.  If I find a few verbatim sentences or a photo, I'll email the offender and ask for a weblink and reference.  This helps me get more followers to my own blogs so I don't mind so much. But I have never found someone who copied and published whole paragraphs, then topped it off with snatching a photo too.

How I confronted the Professor
I immediately commented on the post and was surprised that it appeared immediately. By default, the Blogger software has comment posts set to "moderate comments before posting" which allows the owner of the blog to read the comments then approve before they are actually posted.  But she let hers go right through so comments appeared instantly.

Here's how the comment stream appeared beneath her offending post.  The stream includes me, the plagiarizing professor, and a few friends who received my early alert about the offense. The full stream is shown as in it's entirely as it appeared the last time I reviewed the comment stream, shortly before she took the post down.  There are a few edits for clarification.

All I can say is .... can you effing believe this?  

MINDIE:
This post plagiarizes several posts on my websites www.writingthevision.comwww.thinplace.net and www.thinpaces.net.  And the photo belongs to me.  No permission was requested or granted.  Please remove the post.

ANONYMOUS POSTER
I love Mindie's writings and am shocked to find them here.

PROFESSOR:
Please note the following in my blog:
In the words of another writer, M Burgoyne:
What is a thin place? Having mentiond the author, I then quote.  I mentioned everyone who is a source, including the person whose last name I don't have - from whose lecture I got most of my information.
I apologize profusely for the using the photo. I will remove it.

photo is removed. No changes made to text


MINDIE
What exactly are the words?  Where does the quote end? The page that you took the quote from has a copyright statement followed by the  words All Rights Reserved.  Laws require you request permission for reprinting.  As an educator and a researcher, you should know this.

I wouldn't have minded the post standing as is if you had ...
1. Used my full nane
2. Added the link where lifted the two paragraphs ... (even the Ghandi quote has the same blockquote tag)
3. Used quotation marks to identify my specific work.
4. Given credit for the photo
5. Let me know you were posting the text

"Mentioning" sources in a mix of text and direct quotes is not giving proper credit.

PROFESSOR
Hope my e-mail to you clarifies some of the issues.  And I will make your suggested changes.
I will look again at your page.
I did rush through this post, as I was going out of town, and didn't contact you.
Apologies.  Hope we can straighten this out.  Thanks.

MY PERSONAL FRIEND WHO IS A WRITER
That's not much of an excuse.  Unfortunately the question you won't be able to ever answer is how you would have handled things if you weren't called on it.  If carelessness is the reason, then delayed carefulness can't be a solution.  I sat on an academic plagiarism board and "I meant to go back and cite" was the number one (and lamest) excuse for people caught verbatim lifting.
AND
This isn't even a paper.  If you borrow at length, adding a link to the original isn't only right and proper but courteous.  It only takes a second.  You could do it right now.  You've responded (kind of) to being caught but with an apology rather than a fix. This isn't 1995; linking is a button not a coding nightmare.
If you want to straighten it out, go into your admin space, delete the post, then post something more original.

At this point, Professor adds in my first name and types out a web link with no hyperlink attached and quotes only the first paragraph of my text leaving the final paragraph appearing to be her own. She does not delete the post as requested by me and suggested by my friend.

PROFESSOR
I can apologize for taking the photo. I have added the link.  And added Mindie's first name.  I thought saying 'as writer M. Burgoyne says' followed by a colon was enough for  readers to understand the lines that followed were from M. Burgoyne.  I was wrong. I thought it was pretty clear I was quoting, not using my own words. But I was wrong.

MINDIE
You might extend the quotation marks further to include the additional words taken from my site.
quote of uncredited second paragraph written out here
In fact the entire lower portion of your post - 280 words - was directly copied and pasted with no edits from my site at http://www.writingthevision.com/thinplaces,htm

I find it hard to believe that someone with a PhD, former vice provost of [x] University, and current Associate Professor in the College of Education wouldn't know better than to place her cursor on nearly 300 words of text - copy & paste - and with no edits drop said text into a blog post ...AND lift a photo too - then give no credit to the source of either, save a lame first initial and last name followed by a colon.

Are you really saying you didn't realize that was an infringement?

Really?

In your email response to me you stated, "...My major sources [for this post] are the speaker on Celtic Christianity whose name I cannot find and my brother, also a weriter ..." Yet you can't remember the speaker's name.

I've got news for you ... your main source was me, since 38% of the entire post are my words verbatim.  Throw in the picture and it's half your post.

If I were you, I'd take it down, and start over, and how about using your own words, Madam Doctor.

mb

Then, furious I posted a link to the blog post on Facebook and Twitter and the email barrage from fellow writers and friends began.  I'm sure it was uncomfortable for her and not worth whatever she gained by doing such a foolish thing as lifting text from an internet in order to explain a very complex subject.

Many friends demanded an apology.  One friend, Lyndy Forrester - a fellow economic development professional from Texas sent me an email she received from the Professor responding to Lyndy's expression of disappointment from educator and a request for an apology to me.  The professor wrote ...

I first removed the photo and apoogized for not asking permission.  An oversight on the photo.  There are no excuses for oversights.  Yes I do know Ms. Burgoyne is a published author and found my way to her website, ironically, because I was looking for travel info to the Thin Places of Ireland and Iona.  In my post I reference M. Burgoyne and quoted from her using a phrase ... As M. Burgoyne says:  and the quote

I have contacted Mindie Burgoyne twice by e-mail and commented twice in the comment space on the blog.  I made some changes, highlighting her name and website.  I then received another comment from someone so I deleted the post.

I did not steal content ... My post referenced three people, including M. Burgoyne

I've taken the morning off from work to sort this out.  I'm sorry you are disappointed in me, because there is not much I can do at this point.  I have a folder full of info on Thin Places and thought I had made clear those places where I used specific material from other sources.  I'm well aware of the rules of plagiarism and what it means to 'steal' someone's work. 
The definition or description of Thin Places seems to be fairly ubiquitous, with the only deviations being in the choice to emphasize God or not in the description and in the misunderstanding (or so I think) of Thin Place as a metaphor.
I really don't know what else to say.  I thought I had done the right thing, but obviously I hadn't. I appreciate your taking the time to e-mail me.

I can't believe she's still standing on the "I did not steal content" conviction.  Let's take a few paragraphs  out of Lost Symbol by Dan Brown and see if Knopf thinks that's stealing.  The truth is, I'm a relatively unknown writer in a small rural town, and she's a professor with several letters after her last name and connected to a education community at a large university.  Frankly, I'm easy to steal from.  .....well, maybe not that easy, since social media has become an instrument that seriously levels the playing field - as she found out.

What is so disturbing about this professor's response is that though she was attacked by my supporters, reported to her superior, shamed in public and forced to remove the post, she's still telling herself and everyone else, "I didn't steal anything."  She'll do it again, and again, and again.

But I'll be checking so I doubt she'll do it again to me.

A Good Mindset for Writers Who Are Victimized by Plagiarizers
Many of my friends have encouraged me to take this to the next level.  I'm not wasting my time or energy on this unethical, lazy (as my friend Carol D'Agostino defined her ... perfect) educator.  I can always write something else or take another picture.  She can't steal my thoughts, or my ability to think and create, however humble it may be.  Pathetic, really. She wanted to reveal to her followers a truth that is wrapped in mystery, a truth that is so exhilarating, so captivating.  But instead of defining her own thoughts and trying to express them to her readers, she stole mine.  The great news is I can still keep thinking, but if I look back and keep my energy directed at the wrong done to me, I might miss some good creative stuff.

So it's forward I go.  Let someone else kick her lazy butt.

Quoting and crediting is SO good for bloggers
Here's the sad truth the Professor missed. When you blog and give credit to others it encourages your followers to go look at that other blogger's site.  That other blogger will take notice of you, maybe mention you.  You start to share followers and both followings grow. Everyone in the social media community benefits when info is shared and credit given. This method is how bloggers and folks using social media platforms build communities, and when you need the community they come out in full force - as they certainly did for me when I mentioned the plagiarizing violation.

You can only win by giving credit and affirmation to other bloggers and social media connections.

I didn't mention the professor's name or specify the university because it's not important.  I don't want or need any further interaction.  It will just grow bad energy.  No one is going to change her mind.  I am thankful to the friends who commented and sent emails to the professor and her provost.  Feeling that support at a time when I felt victimized makes everything better.

By the way, she sent me an apology email today... the first sentence read, "Just wanted to apologize for the mess and for my unintentional blunder."  This was followed by three lines about how much she liked my writing.

Obviously!

4 comments:

  1. I've been following all this craziness on your FB since you were first alerted to it and was as shocked as everyone else by the whole thing. However, I have a feeling she'll think twice before pulling this trick again. She's obviously unaware of the power of Google Alert!

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  2. Good for you for standing up for yourself! Regardless of a person’s occupation, plagiarism is plagiarism!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'm not to up on all this plagiarism but when asked for forgiveness and esp when asked publically...I'm of a mind to forgive.

    I'd first be flattered by such an act and would simply suggest full acknowledgement on the offenders website......unless it were to appear in print for sale.

    As a songwriter...and a published author....I suppose I'd be angry at first but I do think plagarism is an unmistakeable form of flattery.

    D.

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  4. Maria Bennett7:42 PM

    There is no excuse for plagarism. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how to properly give a writer credit for his/her own work. This story was shocking indeed considering a University professor was the culprit.

    ReplyDelete