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Scraping for new ideas: when is it considered plagiarism

By Cheryl Gill, La Crosse Criminal Defense Attorney on Tuesday, November 11th 2014

Now that the dust has settled from the 2014 Wisconsin governor race, let’s talk about plagiarism.

While challenger Mary Burke noted her jobs plan included some of the best ideas she could find from other effective jobs plans, she also acknowledged a campaign worker plagiarized ten paragraphs of the 49-page document and terminated that worker.

So what’s the difference between recycling others’ ideas and plagiarizing them? Why is one OK and the other not? It’s all in how you use others’ information.

The definition of plagiarism is using or presenting as your own material that has been developed by another person. It’s OK to use another person’s work in yours as long as you cite it, but you can’t use wholesale paragraphs without attribution.

Plagiarism is illegal if it infringes on an author's intellectual property rights, including copyright or trademark. When you collect data that someone else has originally collected and spent money to do so, that’s where the objection comes in. That party has the right to sue you for damages.

Recycling others ideas, called “scraping,” is about picking up information and ideas from a variety of sources and then consolidating them in a new way. Scraping is synthesizing ideas that already exist into a new creation of your own. An example would be looking at a number of recipes on Pinterest and taking the best of what you see to create your own new recipe. There are no laws about scraping.

People have different values around scraping and plagiarizing. With the wealth of information available online, it’s never been easier to do either. It’s better, however, to err on the side of attribution. This is another case where it helps to think about how you would want people treating you and your work.

By Cheryl Gill, Partner, Johns, Flaherty & Collins. For a criminal defense lawyer, call her at 608-784-5678. 

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