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The Media United States News

How Plagiarism Helped Win the American Revolution 245

Posted by samzenpus
from the other-peoples-work dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Although today the stigma of lifting passages can haunt media professionals forever, Revolutionary War Historian Todd Andrlik writes that 250 years ago stealing another reporter's work without credit was an acceptable form of journalism. In fact, plagiarism was a practice that helped unite the colonies and win the Revolutionary War. 'Without professional writing staffs of journalists or correspondents, eighteenth-century newspaper printers relied heavily on an intercolonial newspaper exchange system to fill their pages,' writes Andrlik. 'Printers often copied entire paragraphs or columns directly from other newspapers and frequently without attribution. As a result, identical news reports often appeared in multiple papers throughout America. This news-swapping technique, and resulting plagiarism, helped spread the ideas of liberty and uphold the colonists' resistance to British Parliament.' For example, an eyewitness account of the Boston Tea Party by 'An Impartial Observer' was first authored for the December 20, 1773, Boston Gazette, but was soon reprinted without edit or attribution in other New England newspapers. News of the Boston Massacre, Battle of Lexington and Concord, the treason of Benedict Arnold and practically every major event of the American Revolution circulated among the colonies much the same way. 'Thanks in no small part to this plagiarism, newspaper printers fanned the flames of rebellion and helped colonists realize the conflict was closer to home than perhaps they wanted to believe.'"
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How Plagiarism Helped Win the American Revolution

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  • Also (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 2.7182 (819680) on Friday August 17, 2012 @08:10AM (#41022281)
    You could write an article about how murder helped win the American revolution. True, but relevant?
    • You could write an article about how murder helped win the American revolution. True, but relevant?

      Yes, relevant.
      It means that you cannot interpret the rules literally and similarly in every case. You just have to use your head. There are times when murder can be justified because you protect a greater good.

      Did that help?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      War fought in defense of your home is not murder. Please troll harder

  • by Cigarra (652458) on Friday August 17, 2012 @08:13AM (#41022295)
    So, two and half centuries ago, there were quite different values in place. What's so shocking about it?
    • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Friday August 17, 2012 @08:29AM (#41022391) Homepage

      But it's the American Revolution! This insightful revelation shows that the Founding Fathers not only approved plagiarism, but that it was vitally important to their cause! Obviously, our modern politics are far out of line, having been corrupted by this silly "evolution of society" thing. This should be a clear message for Ron Paul and other politicians who actually care about the Founding Fathers' ideals that all copyright should be abandoned because it didn't matter in 1776.

      It's perfectly clear that journalists back then had far higher ethical standards than modern journalists, because they wrote about the American Revolution! That immediately clears any doubt of their honesty, right? They wouldn't have copied something just because they could get away with it, but rather they did so out of a pure desire to spread the gospel of democracy.

      Next week, we'll see the full story on how cholera was an effective means of population control, how slavery protected American companies from labor unions, and how an expensive and slow postal system encouraged only meaningful correspondence.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Friday August 17, 2012 @09:19AM (#41022743) Journal

      These days we call it syndication, and it's used to quash dissent, not encourage it.

    • If this is meant to be a "Why is this on Slashdot"- Well, it's like this: The only way we can know that older societies had different values is if we can read about it. Ok?

      Anyway, it's quite interesting that plagiarism is apparently the one thing you can do to get the punishment of shunning [wikipedia.org]. Shunning was the practice of removing an individual from the good graces or even contact of the rest of a given society (whether that be a church, a village, or whatever).

      From a NPOV, it's quite interesting that almost

  • by Frankie70 (803801) on Friday August 17, 2012 @08:20AM (#41022337)

    When the USA had no good authors, Charles Dickens used to be pirated heavily in the USA. http://www.doctorsyntax.net/2010/01/charles-dickens-get-your-cotton-pickin.html [doctorsyntax.net]

    This primed the print industry in the USA. USA started worrying about piracy only after they had their own authors who needed protection.

    This is the reason it's hypocritical when the USA complains about piracy in the developing countries.

  • Obligatory (Score:4, Funny)

    by Hugundous (1210818) on Friday August 17, 2012 @08:22AM (#41022345)

    Plagiarize
    Let no one else's work evade your eyes
    Remember why the good Lord made your eyes
    So don't shade your eyes
    But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize
    Only be sure always to call it please "research"

  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday August 17, 2012 @08:25AM (#41022363) Homepage

    As others have pointed out, any and all businesses that depend on copyright in the US at one time or another (mostly in their beginnings but some even now) depend upon some form of IP infringement. The movie industry moved from the east coast to the west in order to escape Edison and his patents over the motion picture, for example.

    • by Nerdfest (867930)

      In this case I don't think the result would have been any different if attribution were given either. It was not won because of plagiarism, only spreading news.

    • by mounthood (993037)

      As others have pointed out, any and all businesses that depend on copyright in the US at one time or another (mostly in their beginnings but some even now) depend upon some form of IP infringement. The movie industry moved from the east coast to the west in order to escape Edison and his patents over the motion picture, for example.

      The USA changes the rules to maximize business. Right now, extreme copyright enforcement and radical extensions will make more money for US businesses. As evidence in favor of this, I would suggest that (a) businesses think they know how to maximize their own profits better than outsiders (wise-crowds not withstanding), and (b) the US government does what businesses want, consistently and with vigor. If we want copyright laws changed, those are the important points to argue against. The fact that business

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Friday August 17, 2012 @08:25AM (#41022365)

    Not much changed. These days newspapers across the world (especially English-language papers) have identical articles too. They just take it from "the wire" and reprint it without any editing usually. I literally see the same articles in a local Hong Kong paper that I see later linked from /. so some US online paper.

    The only difference is that nowadays this exchange goes a lot faster, and that papers usually pay for the privilege.

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      Not much changed. These days newspapers across the world (especially English-language papers) have identical articles too. They just take it from "the wire" and reprint it without any editing usually. I literally see the same articles in a local Hong Kong paper that I see later linked from /. so some US online paper.

      The only difference is that nowadays this exchange goes a lot faster, and that papers usually pay for the privilege.

      Well, it's a bit different these days - in that newspapers getting syndicated

  • Boilerplate (Score:5, Informative)

    by flyingfsck (986395) on Friday August 17, 2012 @08:26AM (#41022367)
    The practise was known as 'boilerplate'. Smaller newspapers would buy printing plates from larger newspapers and only add their own title block and a few local stories. That doesn't mean plagiarism though - it was a sale.
  • Newspapers of the time could have obtained the same results without any plagiarism (e.g. by hiring field correspondents).

    The alleged cause-effect relationship exists only in the author's obviously underpowered mind.

    • This is a bit like saying "The Apollo program could have achieved the same results by providing the astronauts with laptop computers".

      Journalism as you know it today -- field correspondents! -- hadn't been invented yet. At the time, newspapers were either gentlemen sending letters around or a summary of whatever people were saying. The idea of professional fact gatherers was a fairly recent development, and one hopes, not a transitional one to whatever we do now.

    • by T Murphy (1054674)
      You don't even have to go that far- the author stipulates that plagarism was what helped unite the nation, but plagarism is both copying and failing to attribute the work. It seems copying was the actual contributing factor- the newspapers could have cited the original source and news would get around just fine.
    • Newspapers of the time could have obtained the same results without any plagiarism ...

      Absolutely correct.

      ... (e.g. by hiring field correspondents).

      No. They simply needed to cite the original author.

      The alleged cause-effect relationship exists only in the author's obviously underpowered mind.

      Certainly the relationship only exists in the author's mind and not in reality. The personal attack diminishes your argument.

  • by somaTh (1154199) on Friday August 17, 2012 @08:28AM (#41022387) Journal
    There's a lot to be said here about the ends you're trying to achieve. Getting the news of the Boston Massacre out was more important than who makes the money selling the paper. There's also the consideration that republication happened in markets that weren't competing with the original source newspaper. In a time when horse and buggy was the primary mode of transportation, newspapers in other cities reprinting the stories was just how the story was distributed. There was no way to reach everyone, and telling how atrocious the British were being was everyone's goal.
    • Because all of the XVIII century newspaper editors were spiritual being who disregarded money. Is that your point?

      Also, I fail to see how a line saying "This news is republished from such other newspaper", or paying a fee to the original writer would have hindered the spread of the news (less important news could have been omitted, but not the headlines).

      Yes, they had another set of ethics so in their eyes it was not bad. But to say that, without those ethics the news would have not spread that far is a big

      • by somaTh (1154199)
        No, my point is that if you're spreading the local gossip and a rival newspaper is printing the same thing, you're going to want to be paid for that, mostly to dissuade the rival from using your stories. I'm saying that the story presented non-rival newspapers repeating stories that the rulers of the country are committing these atrocities, and I could understand where, in cases like that, you might not hunt down every newspaper that's reprinting your article.
    • Man. It was still about money. They were buying the rights to the articles when they bought the printing plates from other newspapers. You don't think they just reset their own plates do you?

    • There's a lot to be said here about the ends you're trying to achieve. Getting the news of the Boston Massacre out was more important than who makes the money selling the paper. There's also the consideration that republication happened in markets that weren't competing with the original source newspaper. In a time when horse and buggy was the primary mode of transportation, newspapers in other cities reprinting the stories was just how the story was distributed. There was no way to reach everyone, and telling how atrocious the British were being was everyone's goal.

      Citing the original author would not slow the news, cause papers not to sell, etc. Plagiarism contributed nothing.

  • I don't doubt that plagiarism was the order of the day(even in academia, the idea that plagiarism is a bad thing hardly goes back to the beginning); but I would be curious to know why...

    The incentive behind copying things is pretty obvious; but mere copying isn't plagiarism. It takes lack of attribution to get to that level, and the incentive to not attribute isn't nearly as obvious. If I'm a newspaper editor in Baltimore, reprinting a story from a Boston paper, why wouldn't I include "As lately printed in

  • with stories about plagiarism and how "its okay" or "rooted in history" I wonder at the timing. After all it wasn't like someone at a major news magazine recently got stung. Astroturfing anyone?

    • by cffrost (885375)

      [W]ith stories about plagiarism and how "its okay" or "rooted in history" I wonder at the timing. After all it wasn't like someone at a major news magazine recently got stung. Astroturfing anyone?

      You're probably right. Big Public Domain up to their usual tricks.

  • Who's to say there was not an agreements in place that allowed the sharing of newspaper articles without attributing to the source, it may be that as long as no one put their name atop the article that it was acceptable with the other papers. Writing anything anti-colonial may not have been attributed to the writer to protect the writer from imprisonment or the gallows. Many of the major newspapers owners did know each other and were sympathetic to the cause so a simple arrangement is a very likely scenario
    • by Wovel (964431)

      Exactly. The conclusions this piece draws are not supported in any way. I am not even sure the author could define plagiarism.

  • It seems copying even went as far as picking a flag...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_the_United_States#History [wikipedia.org]

  • by bmo (77928) on Friday August 17, 2012 @09:01AM (#41022605)

    This was not plagiarism. This is how things were done. Calling it plagiarism is demeaning to the efforts made to spread information back then. They didn't have the mass media that we have today. There weren't even analogous syndication services like AP and Reuters to syndicate columns and act as clearing houses for news articles. The societal infrastructure for syndication simply wasn't there. There were no methods for collecting royalties on articles except being paid through the local paper. Stuff got repeated and nobody got their panties in a twist. It's different today, because there are mechanisms in place for attribution and for people to get fairly paid.

    Plagiarism is the *wrongful* appropriation of literary content. Back then it wasn't wrongful. Ergo, TFA calling it plagiarism is intellectually dishonest, at best.

    --
    BMO

    • by Smauler (915644)

      Plagiarism is the *wrongful* appropriation of literary content.

      So buying an article online and submitting it as your own is not plagiarism?

  • So now plagiarism is okay, and a good thing? But, ..., don't we have all these laws against plagiarizing someone else's work? That means it's bad.... But, our founding fathers plagiarized, so that means it's good to .... Hmm... , let me think about this, ...., ...., .....***BOOM!!!*** (head explodes)
  • ...I will put my modern values into the past and judge people based on today's criteria story. If it was accepted practice back then you should STFU. You should also not promote it as a model of how to do things today. You can't go back to that exact time and place.

  • So let me see if I understand:
    Copyright violation helped people resist the rightful government of the time?

    Oh THAT'S going to be helpful in the discussion about the need to reduce/limit copyright. /tinfoil hat

  • I can't count the number of times I've copied some code from a web site and disassembled it to learn how it works. I've never just flat-out cut and pasted code without permission to go on a production site, but that initial copy to learn things would no doubt be considered "plagiarism" (or at the very least copyright infringement) by today's hyper-legal norms.

    The free flow of information benefits everyone, but that benefit rarely comes all at once from a single mind. More often, it takes lots of increme
  • So whats their agenda with this piece?
  • I believe all the reports were attributed to he Sam Pseudonym and none of the other papers had writers claiming the work as their own. Moreover, it appears there was same sharing arrangement between most if not all of the papers involved.

    This is not the world's clearest case of plagiarism.

  • Although today the stigma of lifting passages

    First guess: 19th century name for "elevator"
    Second guess: stirring paragraphs
    Third guess after reading headline: plagiarism

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