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Author Topic: The Ethics of Sharing Information  (Read 8264 times)
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« Topic Start: April 24, 2010, 03:52:38 pm »

I've known several folks in the past who've had their original work on Pagan or new age topics (one was a tarot expert) plagiarized and put up on other websites. I've also found spells from books posted on websites with no attribution to the original source.

Why would someone do this? Sometimes the explanation is that they wanted to share the information... that information should be free. Or, that because it's common practice to not charge for teaching someone the Craft that it isn't stealing. (I don't know how other pagan paths handle teaching).

So... what do you think about that? Is it right to share information online like that without attribution? What about copying things down into your personal journals or Book of Shadows and then sharing it with friends later? How important is it to trace the sources of your information?

I have a lot of stuff copied into my BoS from the internet. That was how I started off learning. Everything has a URL with it, but most of those websites are long gone now (I started learning about Wicca in 1996). So is my attribution system still ethical if I can't get to those sources now?

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« Reply #1: April 24, 2010, 05:01:22 pm »

I've known several folks in the past who've had their original work on Pagan or new age topics (one was a tarot expert) plagiarized and put up on other websites. I've also found spells from books posted on websites with no attribution to the original source.

Why would someone do this? Sometimes the explanation is that they wanted to share the information... that information should be free. Or, that because it's common practice to not charge for teaching someone the Craft that it isn't stealing. (I don't know how other pagan paths handle teaching).

So... what do you think about that? Is it right to share information online like that without attribution? What about copying things down into your personal journals or Book of Shadows and then sharing it with friends later? How important is it to trace the sources of your information?

I have a lot of stuff copied into my BoS from the internet. That was how I started off learning. Everything has a URL with it, but most of those websites are long gone now (I started learning about Wicca in 1996). So is my attribution system still ethical if I can't get to those sources now?

Karen

Here goes, if I see something that I know has been cut and pasted from a website, (like th eoriginal author's), I will report them to the original author and let them handle it.  If you know where it originally came from (like cunningham's stuff has been copied onto the internet interminable time), I'd attribute that, not where you got it from, and you might, if the offending website is still up, point out that they are A) breaking the law, and B) making it difficult for pagan authors to make a living, since most of them are not millionaires, and if the author is still alive, give them a heads up on their website.

I like free stuff as much as the next guy, but you know, A personal BOS is different from the internet.  If you want to copy Cuningham;s herbs into your BOs, after checking it out from the library, go for it, it's personal use, but don't put itup on the internet for just anyone.
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« Reply #2: April 24, 2010, 05:17:59 pm »

I've known several folks in the past who've had their original work on Pagan or new age topics (one was a tarot expert) plagiarized and put up on other websites. I've also found spells from books posted on websites with no attribution to the original source.

I tend not to care any more if my stuff is put up elsewhere so long as the folks putting it up aren't claiming to have written it or selling it. It's more hassle than its worth to get it taken down.
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« Reply #3: April 24, 2010, 07:00:08 pm »

I've known several folks in the past who've had their original work on Pagan or new age topics (one was a tarot expert) plagiarized and put up on other websites. I've also found spells from books posted on websites with no attribution to the original source.

My own religious practice, probably unsurprisingly, grows out of my professional practice: it makes no sense for me to be advocating one thing professionally, and something entirely opposite in my religious life (about the same basic concept.)

I think about what I tell my 9th graders when they start doing research: there are two reasons we cite stuff.

1) So that other people who are interested in where we found cool, nifty, intriguing, or curious information can go look for themselves, and see what they think. Sharing the nifty stuff is a good thing for the world.

2) So that we give credit to others for the work they've done - but even more importantly, so that we get credit for the nifty unique stuff we've done. If we don't cite anything, no one knows what our nifty stuff is, and what's other people's.

In practice:
- I almost never copy someone else's direct work online. I sometimes do a brief teaser before a link, but even that is pretty rare.

- I'm quite careful to note major influences - both because I think it's polite, but also so that people can go look at the nifty stuff that inspired me, if it's available. (And I generally provide full citations unless I get an indication that someone would rather I didn't.)

- In group work, I do make a note of material from other sources at the end of ritual scripts (or at the end of my planning notes, if there isn't a script). I don't generally do this for ideas, unless it's a particularly specific one (Beltane celebrates love, lust, and creativity vs. here's this really great idea for a Beltane focusing on X, Y, and Z)

But I do source for any texts, and for any songs where the attribution isn't already available in one of the standard sources we use as a group. (For example, I don't specifically note chants from _Songs for Earthlings_ because that's always handy, and in almost all cases, a little basic research would find the chant source again anyway.)

- When I'm saving to private notes, I include as much detail as I can (name, title, title of site, date found, date it appeared to be uploaded, site address, etc. etc. etc.) There have been a number of times that some of this has helped me dig back in http://archive.org for copies.

- I do save full text versions to my computer for items I really don't want to lose (this is a standard practice for formal study). However, I don't share those directly with students or others: either I point them at the original source, or I do a summary or continuation with clear pointers at my inspiration.

- I actually don't know of any substantial portion of my work getting copied elsewhere. I ask that people don't, because most of what I write works better in context, and pointing at my own site gives people a chance to do that. I am often likely to give permission if someone asks, but if someone didn't, and just copied, I would, in fact, go after getting it taken down.

(I suspect that I just plain don't write stuff that people want to snag wholesale and it's easier to link or get permission. Short, pithy, or spell-centered are not my usual mode.)

- I do still have some stuff in my files that isn't ideally cited. Mostly, I look for other sources if I want to cite something related. But actually not as much as you'd think.
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« Reply #4: April 24, 2010, 07:23:29 pm »


I think plagarization comes down to basic ethics issues - if you're okay with stealing, you're not ethical and you're not someone I want to be dealing with.  However, there's a difference between taking *a single* copy of information available and keeping it for home use and copying someone's book onto the internet.  If I put work available on the net, I ASSUME some people are going to make single-person copies.  It's there so it IS available.

As far as "it should be free" ... that's where I get into weirder territory.  Because I DO believe that basic information on a path should be free.  (I recognize this isn't universally accepted, especially among Mystery religions.  I agree to disagree.)  I think you should be able to get enough of the basics to know whether or not this interests you without making any kind of commitment, even so much as a book purchase.  It won't necessarily be complete or cohesive, but it should be available.  At the same time, I totally think that someone putting their effort and skills into writing something should be compensated for it.  It IS work and it IS time and energy that could be going into other things.  People deserve compensation for the energy they put into things.  (that compensation is not always monetary, but that IS the standard).

Ripping people off is theft.  Sticking your name on other people's work is theft.  Theft is wrong - it might be least wrong, depending on the reason, but it's never *right*.  People that advocate it .. well ..... I don't want much to do with.
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« Reply #5: April 24, 2010, 08:18:26 pm »



I'm not really sure that there is a hard and fast answer here Smiley That said, when I'm considering ethical issues, I tend to focus on fairly traditional ethical criteria: beneficience (seek to do 'good'), non-maleficence (seek not to do 'harm'), self-determination/autonomy (let people make their own decisions), justice (are competing interests treated fairly?) and fidelity (is any implicit/explicit compact being broke?).

So, in the case of using work that is associated with another person or organisation (generally by way of finding a jurisdiction that recognises ownership in ideas), I would be asking questions like: What is the benefit that I intend by using this information? Is the benefit for myself, the putative 'owner' of the information, or people more generally? Is there economic benefit derived from the usage? Who may be harmed by the usage? Is any harm that may arise of the sort that a reasonable person would protect themselves against, as a matter of course? How likely is the harm? Is the harm intended, or merely consequent? Does the use and any attribution afford the reader a possibility of making their own decisions in relation to the information (or does your selection of material to use (from within a given work) mean that you have made your own decisions about what it means and are not presenting sufficient information for a reasonable person to be able to meaningfully question your decisions)? Has the putative 'owner' of the information given their permission (explicitly?/implicitly?) for the intended re-use? Are you breaching any agreements, promises, etc. in reusing the information?

In general, I believe that re-use should be attributed sufficiently to allow the reader to make their own decisions about both the content and origin of the information (right to self-determination). On the same basis, I would say that it is important not only to show explicitly where information has been left out of a reproduced section, but also to ensure that the original meaning is not significantly altered by such omission, unless you clearly state that this is so, and why. Where others believe they have a right to claim ownership over information (e.g. they live in an intellectual-property jurisdiction and have met its requirements for such a claim), the information should only be re-used in ways that seek to benefit its consumers (i.e. your readers) (beneficience) and in ways that do no actual harm to the person who believes that they have ownership rights to the information.

Where economic harm is claimed, I do not believe it is sufficient to claim that 'I might have wanted to make money from that idea one day' is sufficient to demonstrate harm.

That fact that someone claims to be the source of information and has found a jurisdiction that recognises information ownership as being a meaningful concept (itself highly questionable) and that the information is potentially profitable does not entitle them IMO to any of the proceeds. They need to have been demonstrably intending to gain an economic benefit that has actually been stopped by the re-use/sharing. As an example, music sharing meets the test with respect to claims of ownership, but it is arguable that economic harm can be demonstrated unless it could be proven that the person who obtained the information 'for free' would have paid for it, given no other alternative. An opinion stated in a forum may well fail on both counts. That is, most forum participants don't think of their posts as being 'copyrighted' (at least not until someone thinks of a way to make money out of them that the individual had not thought of or pursued) and most forums make no statement indicating that posts are so considered. Likewise, it is radically unlikely that an individual is seriously intending to produce a product from such posts.

I won't ramble on, as I'm sure you get the idea what sort of things I take into consideration when judging the ethics of these situations, which highlights that I do see such ethical choices as situational. There are no absolute rules that I have encountered in this area that can't be pitted against equally good claims for their alternatives. Note that the legal standpoint may differ wildly from ethical standpoints. In closing I'd say that one should always make sufficient attribution that people can look it up for themselves, that if you make money you should give some sort of cut (economic or recognitive) to the people whose ideas helped make it possible, and that you should always bare in mind that however much you may think an idea 'belongs' to you it was made possible by the people and environment around you.
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« Reply #6: April 25, 2010, 10:13:22 am »

I think about what I tell my 9th graders when they start doing research: there are two reasons we cite stuff.

1) So that other people who are interested in where we found cool, nifty, intriguing, or curious information can go look for themselves, and see what they think. Sharing the nifty stuff is a good thing for the world.

2) So that we give credit to others for the work they've done - but even more importantly, so that we get credit for the nifty unique stuff we've done. If we don't cite anything, no one knows what our nifty stuff is, and what's other people's.

And I think some of the problem is right there. Most of what I've seen with regards to Pagan religious information being plagiarized online is spells. I know I found one rain spell directly out of a Scott Cunningham book about a half-dozen times on different websites.

But I don't necessarily think those people were out to rip material out of a book. I think a lot of them just copy from each other. "Ooh, cool. I want to put up a spell website. Let's see what kind of spells I can find to post up."

In earlier days on the internet, there weren't a million sites on Wicca. When I first started out in 1996, I think there were a few dozen sites listed on Yahoo and I was a regular visitor to all of them. That's definitely not the case now, but two wrongs don't make a right. If I know something in my notes and papers isn't mine, but I don't remember where I got it from (or I can't find that source any longer), at least I can be honest that it wasn't my work.

Karen
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« Reply #7: April 26, 2010, 05:43:07 pm »

And I think some of the problem is right there. Most of what I've seen with regards to Pagan religious information being plagiarized online is spells.
Well, and going back even farther, there was just a lot of sharing of stuff (not necessarily spells).  I dunno how many times I had some or another bit of something I'd come up with, printed out on a dot-matrix printer, to pass out to whoever was interested at whatever local pagan kaffeklatch I was at, and others did the same - chants, poems, diagrams illustrating concepts, etc.  And before computer printers, people typed on typewriters and photocopied, and before widespread access to photocopiers, so they tell me, it was mimeograph.  Often they weren't signed, or were signed with only a single name, whatever the person was addressed as in that community - people mostly didn't think of their little bit 'o stuff being something that might get passed all over the continent, and if they did they were thinking less about intellectual property, and more about increasing the size of the common pool of stuff (which, up to the Pop Pagan Book Boom of the '90s, wasn't all that big).

That, and the "surviving preChristian religion" bandwagon that everyone was on, made for an atmosphere in which the focus was strongly on "common pool of stuff"; there were always people who wanted to think that the things in that pool hadn't been made by a particular person (especially, not a modern person), but were "traditional".

Jenett said, "Sharing the nifty stuff is a good thing for the world."  That idea was one of the things that made the neoPagan movement a movement, but it often wasn't thought of, or applied, in a structured way, so it led to a lot of folks having a fuzzy sense (or no sense) of the courtesy of recognizing the person who created a given bit of nifty.

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« Reply #8: April 26, 2010, 08:13:13 pm »

Jenett said, "Sharing the nifty stuff is a good thing for the world."  That idea was one of the things that made the neoPagan movement a movement, but it often wasn't thought of, or applied, in a structured way, so it led to a lot of folks having a fuzzy sense (or no sense) of the courtesy of recognizing the person who created a given bit of nifty.

Yep. One of the problems, of course, is that sometimes some stuff got attributed to the wrong people, which is not so great when the people who actually created it use it with different attribution.

(A good friend had that happen for something she wrote and made available online - in non-Pagan context - which was then printed in a book with inadequate attribution. She still periodically - a decade later - gets nasty emails about her having copied their work, even though the date is pretty clear on most online versions of her original (it got posted regularly as a FAQ in a Usenet community, so there happen to be tons of clearly time-stamped copies that predate the book by a few years.))

It's one of those things where I sort of go "Ok, let's move on from the past. We can do better now, so we should."
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« Reply #9: April 27, 2010, 08:21:34 am »

Is it right to share information online like that without attribution? What about copying things down into your personal journals or Book of Shadows and then sharing it with friends later? How important is it to trace the sources of your information?

IMHO, in all my sites that I run on a personally level, for friends or professional-wise, I always attribute content. Attribution is a sign of respect for the author (on the principle that he is the real author), as well as a way for your readers to follow other paths of information.

I have a lot of stuff copied into my BoS from the internet. That was how I started off learning. Everything has a URL with it, but most of those websites are long gone now (I started learning about Wicca in 1996). So is my attribution system still ethical if I can't get to those sources now?

I do think that the attribution should not only include the URL but always (when possible) the name of the author, even if only a nick- or artistic name.
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« Reply #10: April 27, 2010, 11:24:20 am »


I suppose if I was going to use some information... (((if I can unboggle my mind long enough to imagine actually being able to write something about religion/spirituality... but this is hypothetical, right?!))) ... there are 3 kinds of 'levels' I'd be looking to credit...

-- direct quotations - kind of obvious, but not just copying huge chunks of someone's work and passing it off as your own... I mean that's just blatant, ne?!  Id just make it into a proper quotation and attribute it in brackets or by a footnote.

-- writing down of ideas, principles, etc... (not sure how to describe it exactly)... you're not directly quoting somebody's work/writings, but taking an idea expressed by them (in a book or on a website) and putting it into your own words - perhaps simplifying it, shortening/paraphrasing - in this situation I'd probably credit it at the end of the piece of writing so as not to interrupt the flow (e.g. "with thanks to XX ZZ for the principles set out above, as in their book/website YY")

-- a more complicated piece of writing where you're weaving together influences from a variety of sources, not quoting directly, and probably doing a bit of compare/contrast of the "some sources say this, others say that" nature.  In this case I guess a lot of the information you're using might be attributable to several sources and might also be quite generalist in nature (depending if you're doing an academic study or more of an all-out mish-mash  Grin).  (take for example, if you wanted to put together some "suggested rituals for Beltane", to use a really basic example.)  In a case like that one, a lot of the ideas might be your own (say from your experiences holding various rituals as part of a coven/group and/or by yourself) but it would be really hard to say you *hadn't* drawn from any other sources, e.g. in your research while learning about your chosen religion, from your teacher/s, from a coven/group leader/s and/or other members......... and so on.  In that case I'd be more likely to treat it like an academic study which should have references at the end, but not referencing it so tightly and just adding a note at the end saying something like "this [whatever] comes from ideas within the writings of XX, YY and ZZ" (citing books and websites where possible/appropriate).
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« Reply #11: April 27, 2010, 01:04:31 pm »



So... what do you think about that? Is it right to share information online like that without attribution? What about copying things down into your personal journals or Book of Shadows and then sharing it with friends later? How important is it to trace the sources of your information?

I have a lot of stuff copied into my BoS from the internet. That was how I started off learning. Everything has a URL with it, but most of those websites are long gone now (I started learning about Wicca in 1996). So is my attribution system still ethical if I can't get to those sources now?

Karen

Well, if it's published and copyrighted, it's not to be copied. However, I tend to be of the school that feels the internet is a public domain, and all information posted on internet pages is for public consumption, at no cost. So, I would have no problem copying anything from the internet for my own use or the use of students.

Now, if the information I was was copying turned out to be copyrighted material (un cited) I might feel bad for the author, but would not consider myself to be unethical. Although I would probably cite the material in the future.

Any other information on line is subject to use by the masses, it is the nature of this beast. While I would definitely question the ethics of anyone using internet sourced information to make money (like a book, etc) I really can't see that sharing public domain information in a public domain is really wrong. Information on a website is sort of like graffiti.... who owns it, really?
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« Reply #12: April 27, 2010, 01:09:27 pm »

Information on a website is sort of like graffiti.... who owns it, really?

The person who created it, perhaps?

"On the Internet" does not equal "in public domain".  It's not free for the taking just because it's there.  Copyright does not disappear when you post something online.
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« Reply #13: April 27, 2010, 02:08:34 pm »

Well, if it's published and copyrighted, it's not to be copied. However, I tend to be of the school that feels the internet is a public domain, and all information posted on internet pages is for public consumption, at no cost. So, I would have no problem copying anything from the internet for my own use or the use of students.

Now, if the information I was was copying turned out to be copyrighted material (un cited) I might feel bad for the author, but would not consider myself to be unethical. Although I would probably cite the material in the future.

Any other information on line is subject to use by the masses, it is the nature of this beast. While I would definitely question the ethics of anyone using internet sourced information to make money (like a book, etc) I really can't see that sharing public domain information in a public domain is really wrong. Information on a website is sort of like graffiti.... who owns it, really?

excuse me, the writer owns it. Information on a website is not graffiti and it is owned by someone. My father wrote a book online for pinewood derby car making.  It is his work, he wrote it.  No one else has the right to take it and claim it is theirs.  Yes, it is online and easy to get to, so he isn't charging for using it.  But he has a blurb on the front page, to not recopy, but rather link if you want to put it on your website.  Every year around pinewood derby time, he has to deal with about 10 cubmasters taking his stuff wholesale and posting it on their website, and at least one claims it as their own. 
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ilaynay starcr
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« Reply #14: April 27, 2010, 02:20:43 pm »

However, I tend to be of the school that feels the internet is a public domain, and all information posted on internet pages is for public consumption, at no cost.

I have realized that I left out an important point in my initial reaction:  This isn't a situation where what you "feel" has any bearing on the situation.  "Public domain" and "copyright" are terms that have actual legal meaning.  They are not subject to what one school or another "feels" they should mean; they are subject to the interpretation of the courts enforcing copyright laws. 

I am not a lawyer, so it's always possible that I'm just out of the loop on this one--but I would think that if any court had made a ruling that declared copyright law null and void on the Internet, it would've made an awfully big splash.  While there are a lot of people on the Net who operate under Creative Commons licensing (which generally tends to involve allowing for redistribution in some form) or who have voluntarily declared their own work to be in the public domain (or just don't care about enforcing copyright), there are also a lot of people on the Net who are very concerned with protecting their rights concerning their intellectual property.  I can't see a decision like that going by without provoking an uproar.  As that hasn't happened, I tend to think that copyright is still in full force on the Internet.
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"The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced."
-- Aart Van Der Leeuw

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