Please do plagiarize me, I don’t care: a blogger writes about #ReceptioGate

On Christmas Eve, a blogger named Peter Kidd launched an attack on Twitter on a Swiss academic named Carla Rossi and her RECEPTIO foundation, with a blog post headed “Nobody cares about your blog!” Dr Rossi had helped herself to some images and some of the research on the blog while doing her own research, and had not credited her source.  Unfortunately for her, in fact Dr Kidd was not “just a blogger”, but also a professional, working in the world of manuscripts for the Bodleian and Sothebys, and he took exception to what he saw as plagiarism.  His blog, Medieval Manuscripts Provenance,  contains much original research and supports his career. He wrote to Dr Rossi and complained.  What he got back was an insulting brush-off and a threat of litigation.  His blew the whistle: the business went viral, and a lynch mob formed.  It turned out that Dr R. had also created various shell organisations in order to apply for funding.  Other examples of the use of other people’s work appeared.  Dr Rossi’s reputation is severely damaged thereby.

But I have not followed every twist and turn.  I don’t unreservedly agree with either side.  I notice that Neville Morley at the Sphinx blog raises some of the same issues that I can see.  This business reveals much about the modern “Academia” business, and the pressures upon academics to publish, publish, publish.  I don’t think that using stuff off the web is wrong.  Copying stuff off the web is what everybody does.  All of us need inspiration from somewhere.  Creating one-man institutions in order to jump through the hoops for funding is how everything in academia starts.  Despite the hoo-hah, much of what Dr R. has done is venial at worst, and the beating that she has received is really disproportionate.  But I also think that people shouldn’t dump all over those from whom they borrow.  It will all blow over in a while, I am sure.

None of this is any of my business.  Unlike Dr. Kidd, I am indeed “just a blogger”.  I am not an academic.  I do not have a career.

All the same, I’d like to make clear my own attitude to the use of materials uploaded by me by others. This blog, and everything I do, is a labour of love, nothing more.  Plagiarize me as much as you like!  I do not care.  I am, indeed, gratified if you do.

I place online all sorts of stuff. I have done so for twenty-five years now.  I continue to do what we all did in the early days of the web; to contribute.  I borrow images from wherever, and I don’t credit where that is, quite often.  But I really do not think that it matters.  There is neither money nor prestige to be found here: only honest enthusiasm.

I am very happy for anybody to use anything that is mine, and I don’t expect credit or attribution.  I do not even care.  I don’t care whether the person using my stuff is an academic, or a member of the public.  Both are equal in my eyes.  Help yourselves.  I’ll do what I can for you.

My own purpose is to make the world a larger and better place.  I want people to read ancient texts, to learn, to have better lives and to know more.  Access to this stuff is difficult.  Even an amateur like me can do something.  So I do.  Doing all this stuff makes my life better, and gives me a purpose in life.

I don’t do any of this for recognition, and I don’t really want any either.  I do feel glad when I see evidence that what I do is having an effect.  In some cases I have uploaded some text or other, and found that, over the next few years, a series of academic publications have taken place upon that same text.  None of them mention me, of course, and perhaps it is a coincidence.  But I can hope that it is not.  Sometimes the project clearly  did arise because of my work, which is great.  And they often do right in not mentioning me, because academia is as snobbish as hell, and you can damage your own reputation by mentioning non-academic sources.  I understand.

I don’t want #ReceptioGate to stop people putting stuff online, or using stuff that they find online.  In the end it is just an academic spat.  But the culture of sharing and reuse benefits everybody.  Please… plagiarize me!

Update: From the comments, I ought to make clear that I don’t in any way endorse academic plagiarism, or failure to cite sources.  But use my stuff as you like!

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12 thoughts on “Please do plagiarize me, I don’t care: a blogger writes about #ReceptioGate

  1. Your web pages are invaluable and have contributed much to get people interested in Early Christianity. The reduce the friction of doing quick check of primary sources.

    Plus there are some material found no where else.

    My Papias book has you in the bibliography:

    Eastbourne, Andrew. 2001. “The Fragments of Philip of Side,” in Early Church Fathers: Additional Texts, edited by Roger Pearse. Online: http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/ philip_of_side_fragments.htm.

  2. Thank you, Roger, for following the precept of “freely you have received, freely give.” The world does not function well when it is all about me, myself, and I getting some attention or money. May each of us do our part in killing “me”; Others may try to kill my reputation, but it is up to me to put “me” to death so that love for others may sprout.

  3. Well thank you and I’m glad to help.

    I have to remember that our academics live in a dog-ear-dog world where they must publish or lose their livelihoods and plagiarism is a very serious business. For me as a dabbler, of course, it’s far easier.

  4. Your generosity is commendable, truly. But the original author is not the only one who might be injured when someone publishes plagiarized work.

    Imagine two candidates for an academic job. Search committees must rely in part on publication records both due to the number of candidates and because they usually lack expertise in the topics they’re hiring for (that’s why they’re hiring someone!). Candidate A is hired on the basis of a stronger publication record, but many of those publications make extensive use of plagiarized material, in part because Candidate A lacks the necessary skills to produce their own original research. Candidate B, in truth the better scholar, ends up leaving the field because their personal circumstances are such that they can’t do research without a university position (perhaps they need the money, or need the job to maintain their visa status).

    Candidate A’s plagiarism has not only injured Candidate B (and all the other candidates for the job), but also the institution that hires them, which is now saddled with a substandard scholar and (very likely) a colleague who behaves unethically in other ways. At best, the institution wastes time and resources eventually firing that person and hiring someone else; at worst, the unchecked plagiarism is eventually uncovered and damages the institution’s reputation.

    Plagiarism isn’t just theft, it is also fraud, and fraud injures many more people than just the victim of the theft. Even if it doesn’t matter to you, anyone who substantially uses material from your website is still morally obligated to cite it as a source.

  5. Dear M. Pearse,

    Your kindness and, frankly, service to the world in producing and distributing so much scholarship in such an open way is most commandable. This is why I have never hesitated furnishing you with content when I had any which might be of interest to you. It is also why I do feel that anyone using your ressources should properly cite you for both moral and scientific reasons, with the same being true for the work of any other scholar.

    For while I can understand how you came to form the views you promote in this post, but I would suggest you think on the issue in terms of the exact same work you often do on ancient texts : uncited quotations and plagiarisms make it more difficult to find the origin of an idea, concept or conceit, and you who have spent so much time disproving dubious claims supposedly based upon ancient quotes can quite certainly understand why the practice is despicable and simply unacceptable from a professional scholar.

  6. (Drat: I hit the wrong part of the screen).

    I agree with you entirely that people need to reference properly. All the same, I don’t want to see anybody hesitate to use my own material.

  7. Hello,

    I have been a follower of, and enjoyed reading, your blog for several years.

    I do not feel that I need to defend myself or colleagues on Twitter, but I think that a few comments on your post might make my position clearer.

    “he took exception to what he saw as plagiarism”.
    I took exception mostly to the rude and condescending way in which I was treated.
    You seem to be implying that there is a way of seeing the extensive copying of my work, without acknowledgement, as something other than plagiarism. If so, what is your definition of plagiarism?

    “supports his career”
    This is true only insofar as the blog makes me slightly better-known. The blog provides me with no financial benefit.

    “I don’t think that using stuff off the web is wrong. Copying stuff off the web is what everybody does.”
    I agree with this — to some extent — if we are only talking about informal online contexts such as blogs and tweets. But even High School students, let alone PhD students, or Professors, know that it is unacceptable to copy a paragraph from Wikipedia or anywhere else without citing the source, in the context of schoolwork, theses, or publications.

    The whole point of Prof. Rossi’s condescending attitude is that her work (unlike my blog) appears in a publication that is “peer reviewed”, “scientific”, and “published by academic publishers”: such publications are supposed to operate under completely different rules and scholarly conventions than blogs and tweets. Citing ones sources, and avoiding plagiarism, are absolutely fundamental to the academic publishing environment in which she claims to operate.

    “I don’t want to see anybody hesitate to use my own material.”
    Nor do I. The whole point of my blog is to share my work/ideas/etc. But if they are going to get material benefit from it (e.g. a 20,000 CHF publication grant), basic good manners, let alone scholarly integrity, dictates that they should acknowledge my work among their sources.

  8. These are all very good points indeed. Thank you.

    It occurs to me that verbatim quotation of your material without permission or attribution is surely a violation of copyright? Since it was done for commercial advantage, aren’t there damages here?

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