Saturday, January 14, 2006

Cop this for sweet revenge...

To the casual browser, the internet is a wonderful place full of information and lovely things to do (like getting foreign pages translated by google when you've had a few too many). To others, like meself and Sharon, my lady, it's our main source of income.

Look at your run-of-the-mill webpage. All those colours and words. On average, three people are involved. First off, there's the person who had the original idea but knows absolutely bugger-all about getting it onto your screen. So they hire a web designer who can make pages go green and yellow, get different coloured lines to go round the edge and make buttons work. He knows how to put the words on the page but like the first person, he's usually a functional illiterate. So, what happens is they hire someone to write what's called "content". That's all the information you're reading right now.

Now, some of the website owners and designers are scrupulous, have integrity and are clever enough to realise that being original is best and they hire the likes of Sharon and me to go away and research a topic like "300 uses for old bus tickets" or "Deviant sexual practices involving Volvos" and pay us enough money to make it worth our while. After all, it's our job and think how much you get paid to do yours. Without us you'd still be playing Pong.

Unscrupulous and highly irresponsible website owners (we'll call them "tight bastards") go to the bidding sites, like Scr*ptl*nce, where they auction off a project, usually to the lowest bidder. Sadly the lowest bidder is usually some recently qualified graduate with at best a shaky grasp of English and sitting in his tenement room in Mumbai to whom $5 for 1000 words will buy food for a week. In order to rush out his job he will look on the web for something similar and copy it, changing one or two words here and there to make it look different. I don't see them necessarily as criminals but the people who think that paying an insulting rate to price quality out of the market definitely are.

Different and original it isn't and it's called plagiarism and it's the bane of anyone who writes or does anything creative, especially on the internet. If you are going to research a subject you are unfamiliar with, the temptation to crib off somebody else is great, especially if you've got a deadline. It's simply not worth it though. The rule for re-writing is: read the original, shut the book or the page for good and write what you remember. That way you will be recycling the work but in your own words. If you're a writer of any talent you should be able to do it and not get found out. Your work should not bear any similarity to the original in wording or structure. There are some tests you can do to test for plagiarism but by and large, you know what used to be your own work when you see it. And to see someone else's name attached to it is a huge insult.

A couple of weeks ago Sharon was approached by somebody who'd seen her website and was interested in her doing some work for his new site. I visited the site but didn't venture too far in because it wasn't all that good and some of the existing content on the front page was a little too deliberately provocative for my liking. I promptly forgot about it until this evening when I asked her about whether she'd heard anything back from the site's owner. She then revealed what had happened but what she'd originally forgotten to tell me about.

She'd delved a little further into the site than me and had actually come across several articles that she recognised as being largely her own. She's been writing for the internet for many years now and has hundreds of articles out there, some anonymously, others under pen-names but many under her own name. If you sell your work, you're more often than not selling the rights to it as well and the purchaser can do whatever they wish with it and most append their own name to it. That's OK. But lots of these articles are published with her byline and contact details as it's a condition of them being used for free as a shop window for her.

The articles on this site had been changed slightly but the titles and much of the structure and wording was still easily recognisable as hers. What's more, her name had been removed and the owner's substituted. Now this again isn't an uncommon event and usually a swift email gets the offending article removed.

What has happened in this case is that the guy had probably paid for some original content and got sent Sharon's re-jigged work. If he'd plagiarised it directly he would have recognised Sharon's name when he invited her to put an estimate in. But, he's not done plagiarism tests so he's not spotted anything at all. He's probably thought to himself that he'll get away with it, no problems. The web's a big place and he'll never ever meet the original author if by chance he's bought hookey gear. That is until Sharon put her sensible bid for his work in with a note to say that she's spotted her work on his site and what did he propose to do about it. Needless to say, she's not heard anything from him yet.

Now, here's the rub and what odds would I have got for this if I'd put a bet on I wonder? Not only is he an unscrupulous little shite who got caught out doing naughties; he shot himself in the foot bigtime when he originally approached Sharon because...wait for it...out of the whole world wide web to choose from, he managed to pick someone to nick off who lives about half a mile away from him. Yep - he told us his address, and he's here in Crewe, just down from my favourite Indian takeaway. He must be bricking it. Oh such deep, deep joy. And what sweet revenge for us writers.

So then kiddies; what have you learned about the internet today? That it might not be quite as big and as easy to hide in as you first thought it was. Look behiiind you...

1 Vegetable peelings:

Blogger Tennessee Jed said...

I have been interested in making money on the internet, but have never seen anything that did not appear to be a scam.

I have never had the need to shop for information like you folks provide.

All good things in all good time and what comes around will go around for your plagiarism pal.

2:22 am  

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