Textual Transgressions Online: Plagiarism and Fraud in Weblogs and Wikis

The following is our CCCC panel: myself, Rebecca Moore Howard, and Sandra Jamieson. Becky did a great job putting this together, so a public thank you is in order.

Session Description:

Contemporary life in the U.S. is awash in the discourse of transgressive textuality. Concerns about text owners' ability to profit from their property led to the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998, which extends copyright protection seventy years past the author's death. Many professional organizations include the subject of plagiarism in their statements on professional ethics; most colleges have established policies regarding plagiarism; and the Council of Writing Program Administrators has issued a Best Practices document addressed to college teachers, students, and administrators.

None of these addresses questions of plagiarism in weblogs and wikis. As Siva Vaidhyanathan has observed, plagiarism is a local rather than legal issue; it is adjudicated through institutional practices and policies. When one blogger plagiarizes from another—whether that plagiarism is unattributed quotation or wholesale appropriation of entire texts—there are no regulations to remediate the situation. Copyright infringement has occurred only if the appropriation deprives the originating blogger of income, which is seldom the case. When no colleges or professional organizations are involved, the appropriation falls under no one's plagiarism policies. This panel explores how web users define and deal with plagiarism in the absence of official policy and procedure; the implications of their definitions and responses; and the larger authorship issues raised by the Internet.

SPEAKER 1, "Negotiating and Regulating Plagiarism in Everyday Blogging Practices"
"You hv posted a very kewl blog. I have stolen a few things from It just to start with my own blog." This message, a curious kind of indirect citation, was sent to Speaker 1. The sender, who wishes to start a weblog and wants some startup material for it, copies and posts material from Speaker 1's weblog. However, s/he notifies the author shortly afterwards, along with a compliment and an expression of thanks. Speaker 1 discusses both this illustrative case and an argument about improper citation of material on the popular group weblog Kuro5hin*. In a comment thread at Kuro5hin, one poster publicly called out another for plagiarizing material from Wikipedia, and another poster made the argument that Kuro5hin "isn't exactly a formal publication." This is a moment in which notions of intellectual property and plagiarism are staunchly disagreed upon, and these cases demonstrate the complexity and variety of views of these concepts. Speaker 1 argues that these cases reveal a segment of the cultural milieu regarding the concept of plagiarism and that further exploration of plagiarism in nonacademic, everyday public discourse can enrich the existing body of classroom research about intellectual property, authorship, and plagiarism.

SPEAKER 2, "Troping Plagiarism in the Blogosphere"
Speaker 2 offers the results of a rhetorical analysis of the discourse of plagiarism in the blogosphere, as bloggers talk about the experience of being plagiarized. The analysis will focus on the tropes employed in this discourse and compare them with the tropes used in print publications to discuss plagiarism. What assumptions about plagiarism are shared in the blogosphere and in print? How do the assumptions diverge? What can the similarities tell us about the cultural work that plagiarism discourse accomplishes? What can the differences suggest for institutions' and organizations' plagiarism policies?

SPEAKER 3, "Fraud narratives and the anxiety of author(ity)lessness"
Media reaction to textual misrepresentation differs radically depending on whether it occurs in print or online. A work of creative nonfiction that is too “creative” is condemned, while misrepresentations online are treated as more evidence of the unreliability of the web. Plagiarism excites a similar response. While many have adopted pedagogical responses to misuse of print sources, the use of electronic sources causes teachers to throw up their hands in despair and call on electronic policing programs. In each of these cases, the internet is presented as a corrupting factor causing rather than simply enabling misrepresentation. Anyone who believes a blog or wiki that turns out to be a fraud is presented as gullible, whereas those who believe a similarly fraudulent print source are presented as victims. In the former, our trust humiliates us; in the latter, the one who betrayed our trust must be humiliated. The problem is one of authority, and more specifically the author-function, and understanding the difference between the author-function in each medium helps us to understand the narratives of fraud in each.
Extending Derrida’s discussion of the relationship between speech and writing, Reed Way Dasenbrock claims that electronic texts create a stronger illusion of presence than do print texts, but Speaker 3 argues that it is the absence of that illusion of presence that explains the differences this presentation describes. This “obvious” absence causes electronic texts to lack authority (and students to believe there is “no one to cite”). In contrast, the print-text author occupies a strongly imagined presence and it is discovery of absence—whether the author is found to be speaking the uncited words of another or to be really non-existent in the false memoir—that carries such a deep threat and incites such anger.

* And yes, I'm familiar with the "Kuro5hin is not a blog" argument. Everything's a blog nowadays! I was reading the Chronicle forums a few days ago, and people were even referring to those as "a blog."


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Most Excellent

I am so there. Sounds like a brilliant panel, and I hope they give you a big room. I submitted an individual proposal this year for a presentation that I hope will be an in nuce draft of a CCC or JAC article that recaps my diss argument about "Here's how comp can theorize economy, and here are the reasons why we should." Hoping I get accepted, and -- if I do (knock wood) -- curious to see who I get empaneled with.


I'm glad to see some people

I'm glad to see some people are addressing this issue. I've noticed, in the past few years, how the cut-and-paste-ability of the internet seems to have caused people to show a lack of regard for the importance of citing a source. I see it everyday in web forums where someone will cut and paste the text of a news article or blog and not give a link to the original source! Its outrageous to me that people think this is acceptable, even though webforums are the "deep web", and even though nobody really intends to present this as their own writing. You just don't present someone elses writing without giving them credit!

This is going off topic a little bit, but I've also noticed, since I recently had my first and last experience with grading student papers, how students now-a-days don't seem to consider the credibility of their sources. I had many many students cite wikipedia in their papers. Others cited random people's aol homepages. This is for information on physics and history, mind you. There's no reason that this information could only be found in certain websites. When I was an undergrad, you had to go to the library and search the library of Congress subject headings to find what you needed. You couldn't simply do a google search because google literally didn't exist yet. It's crazy how quickly things have changed -- I wasn't an undergrad that long ago. Now google is a good thing, but it doesn't do anything to verify the credibility of the source. It amazes me that so many of my students didn't consider that the random person with an aol site might not know what they are talking about!!!

"Everything's a blog

"Everything's a blog nowadays! I was reading the Chronicle forums a few days ago, and people were even referring to those as 'a blog.'"
Yes, and some bloggers refer to their entries as "articles," which just cracks me up.

Blog posts as articles

At The Valve, posts are called articles too, in the URLs anyway:


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