What is plagiarism?

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by Aggie, Sep 21, 2006.

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  1. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    I have recently been wondering about this subject. Is it plagarism to share your knowledge about something you do, then have that person use it, and after claim in the broader world and in news media that it was their process? Or is it being happy that your idea and process was used by another to further photography? Is it doing similar work, IE if you were a landscape photographer, and having someone else claim you plargarized their photo by shooting a scene that was also landscape? It is a broad subject, and one I have no real answer to. As photographers I would like your input. What is really photographic plagarism? If there is real plagarism being done, what do we do about it? Do we expose the person(s) or do we just sit back and let it happen?
     
  2. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Simplest explanation (probably inadequate) is that it is taking the work of another and purporting it to be your own with no attribution to the originator.
     
  3. Robert Hall

    Robert Hall Subscriber

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    You're not going to get any firm answers here. :smile:

    I've seen it more in commercial work. A relative of mine had a photographic concept that was "re-shot" about 6 years later by a local photographer.

    The real problem is the difference between the morality of it and what case law and copyright law have to say about it.

    Most of the images from which I make money have been shot many times over. Even with the attempts of some well known photographers to try and copyright their tripod holes, I hope my images look a little different.

    But I guess one could argue as well, I have 4 negatives of a hoodoo down in southern Utah and each one is different because of the clouds moving by.

    If each negative was taken by a different photographer moments later, would that be plagiarism?
     
  4. Paul Sorensen

    Paul Sorensen Subscriber

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    I think that plagarism is tough to define in photography. When someone does a rephotographic survey it is often looked at as homage or a historical document. When someone does landscapes in the style of Ansel Adams or portraits in the style of Penn, for example, that is sometimes looked at as cheap imitations, but sometimes with a little more respect. In pretty much none of those cases is it considered actual plagarism.

    Plagarism is usually defined as appropriating someone else's work as your own. Unless you steal a photograph off of the web or from some other place and represent it as yours, you are still doing the "work" to at least some extent. The idea and inspiration may not be yours, but the effort and skill it took to create the item was all yours.

    Another example can be found in literature. You can steal a story idea or even the style of another author without it being plagarism. For it to be plagarism you have to steal the actual writing. You may be a hack if you just write fake John Grisham novels but it is not considered illegal unless you use his words or actually pretend to be him. I think that it is the same with photography.

    This does not mean that just going around stealing other people's ideas is good, but that it is not necessarily illegal. (Software has gotten around this with patents of the look and feel of the product. I doubt you could do this with a photograph)

    Another issue here, as you allude in your post, is that there is a massive gray area, in fact in this are it is mostly all gray. There is almost nothing that is not derivative of something. At what point is it considered bad form to rip someone's idea off and at what point are you appropriately learning from what others have done and moving forward with it? I think that each of us has to make that decision for ourselves and decide what feels right. As for plagarism, I am only going to worry if someone takes one of my photogaphs and represents it as their own. I can't do more than that.
     
  5. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    Did you mean: plagiarism

    Pretty tough in Photography. The obvious answer is when I see my photo in someone elses advertisement, but that's theft, not plagiarism.

    Solomon's wisdom still holds. There's nothing new under the sun. Get 5 legit photogs together like the Texas Church Project and I'll guarantee that even if all 5 happened to be working within feet of each other, their vision and their product will be as different as their personalities. Plagiarism is when someone has a brilliant idea that someone else sees, duplicates, and benefits from.

    We were on a workshop the other day when Juls had what I considered a brilliant idea for a photograph. There were nail holes in a tin building and shafts of sunlight were coming in through the holes. Juls picked up some glass insulators and set them on the dusty plank floor at the end of the shafts of light and those things just glowed with other-worldly light. I absolutely loved the concept. It's so rare that a photographer actually thinks. If I made the same picture 10 minutes later and got famous using it, is that plagiarism? Probably.

    Extremely hard to nail down. Like the preacher that actually invented film 3 weeks ahead of Eastman. In that case both were thinking in parallel with no knowledge of the other. Eastman had the money and we all know how that story wound up.
     
  6. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    I think you have to make a distinction between two things you mention: the image and the process whereby you arrive at the image. Replicating someone's image and taking credit for it is the most unambiguous type of plagiarism. Case closed.

    With process, i.e. Ansel's explanations of his photos, or Les McLeans's, etc. The problem is different. If someone showed you how to achieve a warmer tone in your picture, and your next portfolio does, then you've just acquired knowledge. But if you go further, and you try to replicate one's approach towards light, composition and materials, then the line between learning/imitation and plagiarism could be finer.

    There are plenty of photographic "tricks" that have been reused over and over: zooming while exposing, for instance, using a macro flash ring, etc. Some of these "tricks" are specific to certain photographers, but it would be foolish to copyright them. At the beginning, right after someone discovered such a trick, it's clear that the next photographer in line to reproduce it is probably directly copying the first photog's approach. Eventually everybody uses it, and with enough variations that it becomes just another tool of the trade.

    With computers we can go one step further: cf. the Ansel Adams filter computer program that came out. We are able to replicate a fundamental aspect of AA's photographic work. We're not just talking about an aspect of, but about the gestalt of his pictures, the look that makes one say "ha! it's AA." Yet even here, the stance taken by an artist towards this process should make a difference. If the picture is shown as the result of an original artistic quest, then it's plagiarism. If the picture is self-aware, or simply not claiming more than to be the result of a filter, it's not per se plagiarism for me.

    In the end, it leaves us only with the image as the real site of debate. Composition, subject, recognizable items. For instance, the debate here on APUG that Ara had about his shot of a woman in a bathub with a big gun, vs the one his buddy took after he heard of it. I think there are only shades of gray here between plagiarism, borrowing, and genre. Plagiarism would have been to reproduce the most important details, borrowing is to reuse some motifs, and genre is simply sharing conventional motifs.

    If you really want to debate plagiarism, in the end you have to limit yourself to what the law says, and if the law is not to your liking, you lobby your politicians to change it. My point is that plagiarism exists, is identifiable, and should be punished, but cannot be done so without taking a picture to trial. It's like the concept "obscene." You and I have probably a similar concept of obscenity, but what one of us would consider as such might differ considerably from what the other one would.
     
  7. John Bartley

    John Bartley Member

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    Jim,

    ( I don't think the quote is out of context, but say so if you think it is :smile: )

    It would only be plagiarism if you claimed the idea as yours excluding Juls from the credit. Taking the same picture later without giving credit to the scene composer is IMHO not plagiarism as long as you don't claim the idea as your own. The success "could" be due to your printing skills ...

    It's a fine line I know and one I would stay away from by giving credit for the compostion idea, but technically ...

    cheers

    EDIT :: - I guess MHV already said this didn't he ...
     
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  8. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    By definition Plagiarism is to steal the work of another and use it as one's own. Using the same idea as another, would not be considered plagiarism, in the rhelm of nature photography, it is almost impossible to create the exact same view as another photographer, even if you stand in the same footsteps as the original photographer, due the subtle changes in light, time day, etc. Now in a controlled studio situation, it might be possible to exactly duplicate another photograph..but I would still have difficulty in saying someone plagerized my shot, when they use different equipment and such...you can't claim an idea is only your idea, because several different people at any given time in space could conceivably have the same idea....and as defined it is the act of stealing the work itself that defines the plagiarism, not the idea

    Just my .02

    Dave
     
  9. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    What this is in regards to is two seperate instances. One involved me, and the other involved another member of apug, but it was played out on another website. For me, I free gave out how I did a certain toned look that I had played with given bits of information in a workshop. It was not given to me as a complete but just as an aside of what might happen but only for spotting purposes. In the end I played with the given information and acheived a new toning look. While I admit completely it was spurred on by bits of disconnected information, I did work on that toning processs and acheive a good look. Others might have stumbled on it as well. For me I helped this individual here on apug with using the said process I came up with. They asked several quesations and worked on it with me helping as they had failures until they acheived the same look. Then that person went on to acheive a bit of notority by claiming to a large company they came up with the process and it was a new toning look. No credit was given to me or even to those who helped to influence me. That person was written up in that companies newletter that went out worldwide to photographers. Now I could care less that it is out there.
    What bothers me was the claim that said person developed and it was theirs alone.

    Second involves a type of photography that whole websites are dedicated to. On that other website two apuggers are at each other over the question of photographic plagarisim. (Yes Jim I can't spell worth a damn, that is why I have Tif around) One accusing the other of stealing their ideas. Where it is that same person who essential claimed my toning idea as their own, is now accusing another photographer of stealing their idea of how to photograph, when multitudes before them have done the exact same thing. Nothing new, just one is better at self promotion and such.

    So the real question comes down to one of ethics. When is it ethical or is it plariagarism (how ever you spell it) to take someone elses ideas and claim them as your own?
     
  10. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    It's never ethical to take some one elses work and claim it to be yours.
     
  11. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    Nick,

    Awe but therein comes the question, no it is not ethical to take someones "Work" but can an idea be claimed as work? the line is very thin and very gray...

    Dave
     
  12. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Aggie,

    Note: this was posted after three or four other posts, including your own, and is correspondingly reduced in value. I thought of deleting it but reckoned that its modest contribution might still be worth while.

    Plagiarism is not usually very difficult to detect with the written word. If I lift your work wholesale, and pretend it is my own, then I have plagiarized it. But there is no copyright in facts, so if I describe your process in another way (better or worse), it is not plagiarized. If you are the only possible source, it is in poor taste not to credit you, but not plagiarism. Unless your process is patented or (less likely) falls under some other form of intellectual property protection, there is nothing you can do. Remember too the possibility of simultaneous invention, which happens surprisingly often: some people tend to imagine that their ideas are unique, even when they are not.

    When it comes to photography, forgery is a good deal easier than plagiarism: if I make a picture in your style, then pass it off as one of yours, that is forgery. But if I make a picture that makes people say, "Oh, that's just like an Aggie", then sign it with my own name, it is somewhat like a copy of a painting: no plagiarism, no forgery. If I actually photographed one of your photographs, made a print, and signed my name to it, that is the only way I can see to 'plagiarize' a picture, but it would also be breach of copyright.

    Reproducing an idea in a studio may be reprehensible, but it is not plagiarism. If used (e.g.) in advertising it might be 'passing off' but even that would be hard to prove. Any agency that made too much of a habit of doing this might find its credibility diminished, insofar as 'credibility' and 'advertising agency' can be associated.

    My own feeling is that 'plagiarism' is an almost completely inappropriate concept in photography. I also believe that 'secret weapons' (or secret processes) are generally of less import than talent. If you can make great pictures with your process, and no-one else is as good, it doesn't matter, and if someone else is better, well, be grateful you've helped a better artist than yourself.

    Cheers,

    Roger
     
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  13. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    Spurred by this, I consulted my little pocket legal dictionary (I keep the biggie at home).

    Firstly, plagarism is usually defined within the context of literary work. And is not "illegal" - but certainly, most would agree, is "unethical". Legal matters only arise if the work that is appropriated has been protected by a copyright such that there is copyright infringement.

    As such, it would be hard to argue that "mimicing" someone else's style of photography is "plagarism" and it certainly isn't illegal. Publishing someone else's copyrighted photo would, of course be illegal.

    As to Aggies two secenarios:

    The first seems to be one where someone else has "copied" a darkroom technique she believes she developed. While the person(s) who did this might be "unethical" I don't think their actions lie in the realm of plagarism.

    If I watch you (or if you describe to me) a methodology you "designed" for obtaining an effect on photos and then use it, I am not being "unethical". If I go around telling everyone I designed the method - I am being a sleezeball but, unless you somehow patented the methodology - I am not breaking any laws.

    As the the second scenario - someone who "mimics" another photogs style is no engaging in plagarism - so much as displaying an enormous lack of talent such that she/he is incapable of developing their own vision.
     
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  15. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    Along with what Roger said, "trendsetters" or people that had an original idea and produced that idea, can often start a trend that many people follow and the lines become blurred even more.

    An obscure person may start a "trent" and a famous person "adopts" that and makes it his "style" and is credited for it, even though he didn't originate the idea.

    There is also the people that place their tripods in the holes created by the greats and produce replicas of his work but then they are generally referred to as "devotees".

    There can also be "movements" where at a certain time and place in history number of people start to produce work that is similar, but can be explained by an evolution of materials, or equipment or "trends" that would not be necessarily considered "copying".

    Michael
     
  16. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    Depends on how much of an idea you copy. If all you do is photocopy some body elses work it's clearly wrong. If you take some one elses work and use it to inspire you then it's clearly fine [at least to me]

    Lets say I might not be able to define it but I know it when I see it :D
     
  17. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    As to my process that got lifted, yes it was used almost verbatim in the article that was written up. Sad thing is the old saying of, "What goes around comes around." will come into to play. Seems I'm now in contact quite a bit with those same people who wrote up that orginal article that the other apugger claimed as their process. It is all documented right here on apug who said what and where that other person got the information. I can easily push as discredit that other person. BTW this site and information there in is Seans property. Ultimately he holds the copyright of it since i freely discussed it here. Copyright laws are strange here in the USA. If you have it printed you still hold the copyright even though you did not formally get it documented and paid for via the copyright office.

    Who I feel for is the other person being falsely accused of plagarisim. There are hundreds if not thousands doing exactly the same thing. In fact the person accusing orginally got their insights from still another apuger who generously heped aide them in learning photography and how to get the special nuances. So I really was truely wondering when the lines are crossed of ethics and plagairism.

    I agree the person doing all of this is a sleazeball as has been described. Not much the others can do about it. I just find myself in a situation where I can do something about it, and discredit this person. Will I do that? I don't know. Would it be using my position in this adversely? or would it be righting a wrong? I don't know. All things are blurred on this one.
     
  18. Kirk Keyes

    Kirk Keyes Member

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    Copying a process is not plagiarism. Tha'ts pretty simple. If you had a patent,
    then there could be some recourse.

    If you are not going to try and patent your toning process, you could describe it here in great detail and record forever exactly what you do. That way, when someone points out that they invented a new process, you can point to this thread and show them that you were first.

    And the same with style - you can copy a style all you want.

    Why not give a link to the thread and let us see the situation firsthand?
     
  19. Kirk Keyes

    Kirk Keyes Member

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    "BTW this site and information there in is Seans property. Ultimately he holds the copyright of it since i freely discussed it here. "

    My understanding is that original posters retain copyright for what they have written, not the web site that is hosting the post. The web site has copyright of the site itself, and not the posts, unless you agreed to release your rights.

    Think about all the photos in the Gallery - does APUG own the copyright on them? I hope not - same with the posts.
     
  20. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    Aggie, I have to believe you would never regret taking the "high road". The sleazeball types are almost always their own worst enemy.
     
  21. Aggie

    Aggie Member

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    I would but it also involves three other very well know apuggers. Best to keep it at "they" rather than get a huge fight going. I know they are reading this, and hopefully it will end the ethics question as to what the one is doing. I really feel for the ones who are falsely being accused. That to me is reprehensible. Self promotion is good. I applaud people who are go getters. I do not applaud them when they do it in such a sleazy manner. I do not condone it when they go out of their way to discredit another fine photographer that has worked just as hard and is not copying the first style, but a general style that hundreds world wide are actually using. It comes out to the pot calling the kettle black. So more feedback as to what ya'll think is ethical will get the message across even though I doubt any of the others will join in. It is up to us as photographers to understand what is acceptable even if it is not breakign the laws. Do we police ourselves, or do we wait until there are laws enacted as a result of some really ridiculous outrage? It is an ethical cundundrum. Albeit minor in the overall day to day scheme of things. Besides what happened to me happened well over a year ago. So you can see that I have taken a lot of action about it. I was just one of a number who has been used in this persons climb to recognition.
     
  22. JBrunner

    JBrunner Moderator Staff Member

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  23. Kirk Keyes

    Kirk Keyes Member

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    "I know they are reading this, and hopefully it will end the ethics question as to what the one is doing."

    Ahh, the Socratic Method in action...

    I hope that if you have knowledge (i.e. historical timing or otherwise) that could be posted in that thread, then perhaps it would be beneficial to do so.

    What is ethical - sitting on the sidelines and taking no action when others are being injured, or jumping in and helping to set the record straight.

    (You may be doing that already in the other thread, I don't know.)

    Anyway, I hate bullshitters and rarely miss to opportunity to point it out if I can.

    Kirk
     
  24. mark

    mark Member

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    Woohoo I just got back from a seminar dealing with this exact thing. If the process was written up using exactly or very close to your exact words that is plagerism. That being said, the least they could have done was give you credit. But from the sound of it this person is only guilty of being sleazy.

    Maybe two years ago (lost the citation when a hard drive crashed) the was a case where a photographer was contracted to take an image for a CD cover. After shooting it he gave the folks his bill and they balked. He took his image and left. The CD showed up on the shelves with an image that looked so much like the one he shot that he filed a lawsuit. The company fought it and lost.

    You might remember I had the same issue about a year ago or so when an idea I talked about here showed up in the gallery. It pissed me off, but there was nothing I could do about it, except realize that this was no place to discuss possible projects.
     
  25. Dave Wooten

    Dave Wooten Member

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    Plagiarize (Plagiarism)

    1. To steal and pass off as one's own (the ideas or words of another)

    2. To present as one's own an idea or product derived from as existing
    source. from Webster's seventh....my 1965 edition with no covers.

    As a public and private high school and college teacher for over 30 years I often hoped any original idea I might have used in a teaching or sharing situation would nurture further interest and hopefully inspire a student to "take the ball and run with it". The greatest reward is of course in watching those students put new life and input into the idea taking it to greater levels than I as humble teacher could ever hope to do...

    The information freely given in a teaching situation....does the student have to reference the teacher in use of the information given, no, certainly not. However, had I written a text on the subject in discussion with documented original information i.e. formulas, economic theories, etc. patented design etc... I would probably have some sustainable copywrite protection, and of course should be noted when quoted or used as reference. Can you put your name on my book? Certainly not.

    We make platinum prints, using a method created by another, do we always have to acknowledge, no we do not, can we tweek it a bit, yes, are we being original maybe yes and maybe no...nothing is new under the sun....but if you can print platinum better than the original inventor, as Dick Arentz does, you document your knowledge on the subject and publish it, that is your argument if one is needed..Now of course I can not put my name on Dick's book or even a chapter, however could I publish my results using the Na2 method, you bet, and if I used information from Dick's book, I would have to not only give credit and reference but probably also get permission.

    If one can show value lost, one might have a case. The best bet is to publish one s original concepts and ideas putting them to good marketable use to get the best protection. Even if one has a patent, the law does not protect you if you set on it...you have to act on it and defend on it. Information given via spoken word will be construed as freely given and that here is maybe where the smoke is veiling.

    What Roger Hicks has written a bit before is probably right on the mark in this situation.

    All said and done, it is pretty low to truly take from another an original concept and pass it on as one s own, that is plagiarism. The strength one has is in being able to prove that it is a new and totally original concept and that it had been presented in a venue with form and content as such..To make use of an idea in a new way is not.

    Remember Andy's Campbell Soup Cans? Remember Andy's portraits of M. Monroe.

    Then of course some folks are just scoundrels.....what s a body to do?
     
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  26. MattCarey

    MattCarey Member

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    Aggie,

    I would pose the question my own, personal, unique way:

    "Is it plagarism to share your knowledge about something you do, then have that person use it, and after claim in the broader world and in news media that it was their process?"

    Sorry, couldn't resist...

    I hope this all resolves somewhat reasonably for you, Aggie.

    Matt
     
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