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!