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Plagiarism (unwieldy.net)
1230 points by endtwist on May 14, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 311 comments

The old adage is you can't copyright facts and there was certainly no requirement for TNW to do any "original research" to share these findings.

However, when you copy/use facts, you wade into hot water if you also copy the structure and the way those facts were originally expressed. The original TNW article shown here seems to step over that line with a barely masked copy of the original paragraphs.

What bothers me more, though, is that seemingly a CEO of a media organization has failed to do any damage control based around a genuine grievance (that wasn't even aggressively delivered). Saying things like "think it's pretty ridiculous that you're even getting the slightest bit annoyed about this", "needless to say, we'll be staying well clear of anything ur involved with in future for fear of ridiculous reaction" and using "u do realise that about 50% of all publications is content sourced from other publications right?" as a sort of defence is a horrible PR line for a proprietor to play, even if that's his honest opinion.

Yeah for me the CEO's response is the absolute worst part about this... very aggressive and defensive, he could have just said sorry we should have asked. And they definitely should have - I'm sure the author wouldn't have said no.

In fact, he said on twitter: " I don’t have any problem with you sharing my post. By all means! But the last two paragraphs were barely rewritten." (https://twitter.com/#!/endtwist/status/202089166975148033)


Sadly now, we should expect the classic "Oh crap, this story hit the top of HN, so here's a half-assed reactionary apology to try to save face" tactic that we've all seen before, which is incredibly lame.

Had he not been, for lack of a better term, such a defensive prick initially, and more upfront (or at least professional, you're the CEO for crying out loud) that would have been much better.

Plagiarism is not about copyright, it is about citing properly. A direct quote has to be indicated as such, a paraphrasing has to include a reference.

I learned this in my freshman year in college, this is so basic that an "editor" cannot claim ignorance of these rules.

Fundamentally, plagiarism is about passing someone else's work off as your own. Note that this is possible even if you cite that work.

For those who are confused about what plagiarism looks like, here's an example from 1918:

Plagiarism In 1918 http://mikecanex.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/plagiarism-in-1918...

Looks awfully similar to Plagiarism in 2012.

I love Zee comment when he tries to teach him that 50% of web is a rewrite. What an asshole!

Wonder if an average theft or rapist should be walking around with recent statistics of population being behind bars and why it should be ok to steal or rape.

while he may be being an asshole, your comparison is ridiculous.

I agree with your 1st sentence, but not your 2nd. Citation is the act of declaring a source.


(To be honest, I got this link from wikipedia :)

That's my entire point: declaring a source does not save you from plagiarizing. It is still possible to give the reader the impression that something is your work even though it is not, yet still citing a source. I think that the revised post on TNW is just that.

Yeah, I didn't want to wander into the muddy puddle of discussing plagiarism. As a moral offence it's harder to quantify and discuss than copyright infringement in a concrete way. Nothing wrong with discussing journalistic ethics, of course, I'm just not the best at it ;-)

The legal precedence is in the Feist Publications vs. Rural Telephone Service supreme court case


That case is hardly applicable. It's a copyright claim on phone book entries, otherwise knows as a table of data.

You would still have to cite your sources, even if you copy the data. And any annotations are not part of the dataset. These annotations would ble equivalent to the article text, which was copied pretty much word for word.

Here in Norway they would expel you from all higher education for a minimum of 12 months for such plagiarism.

My basic question is this: may _I_ copy content from TheNextWeb without crediting it and publish it myself? After all, "50% of all publications is content sourced from other publications".

"Sourced" is what they call it now? So if I torrent a bunch of movies, at the lawsuit I can just say, "no I sourced those, 50% of all movies are scenes sourced from other movies," and it's fine, right?

I'd honestly much rather be brutally honest than go down the artificial PR route.

False dilemma. The third and correct option is "don't be a dick".

I upvoted you (really) because I totally agree with you: CEOs like you should be completely, brutally honest. Especially when this reveals you to be oafish and unprincipled.

This policy is good for customers (so they can avoid your products) good for investors (so they can avoid investing in your company) and good for prospective employees (so they can not).

I think that could make a fascinating blog post and then discussion on HN. If you want to ride on the back of this one (you know how HN has flavors of the week), consider it! :-)

I up-voted the grand-parent because it is great to have the opinion of the other party involved, even thou I don't agree with it.

I'd honestly rather you not be a dick than use the "brutal honesty" cop-out[1]. I mean, yeah, sometimes the truth hurts. But I'm not convinced this is such a case. And the fact that you see nothing wrong would seem to reinforce that lack of conviction.

[1] Not that brutal honesty is always a cop-out, mind you.

Brutally honest is OK. Brutally stupid, which is what your tweets look like to me, is not OK.

Brutal honesty tends to work when you are performing a critique, not when you're addressing a complaint from someone who unwillingly made your business money.

Zee, Judith Griggs with Cooks Source was 'brutally honest' as well. You would probably do well to give her story a read:


It obviously has some keen similarities to your situation (particularly in the "editor's response" department).

While I'm a fan of fair use (it's what makes the world wide web go round), I'm also a fan of attribution...and more importantly, of handling PR like someone who's the public face of a company. I think the responses here on HN show that most of us think similarly.

It appears we are following your advise. Please allow me to add my voice to the general baying - don't be a dick. Don't plagiarise the work of others.

Apologising for plagiarism isn't artificial PR if you mean it.

All I get from this comment is that you basically don't give a shit, which also means you really should not be an editor as that role is entirely about accepting responsibility for what gets published.

Have you been taking notes from the tabloids by any chance?

If you have you had better have the bank balance to back the attitude because that is the only way they get away with this kind of shit while still remaining in business.

Update: image credit added after I posted this. Still, the image should be removed, this is copyright infringement.

TheNextWeb is infamous for plagiarizing images for that section. Take this article, for example: http://thenextweb.com/entrepreneur/2011/05/23/stylish-techno...

The image at the top of the article is taken from this Dustin Curtis blog post: http://www.dustincurtis.com/press_on.html (the filename of the image is even Screen-shot-2011-07-10-at-12.08.40-PM-520x245.png). There is no reference to Dustin Curtis's blog at all on the page, either.

It is ridiculous that they find repeatedly doing this to be acceptable.

And another[1]:

    You should credit @dexterous for screenshot used @ http://thenextweb.com/in/2012/05/03/indian-isps-reportedly-blocking-access-to-vimeo-and-some-torrent-sites/ Citation: http://twitpic.com/9gr7y9 https://twitter.com/#!/dexterous/status/198036547830947841
[1] https://twitter.com/#!/dnene/statuses/198122429447548928

To clarify: I credited the source where I found the article, quite clearly, in the text prior to the image. I thought (wrongly, it would seem) that Rediff News had produced the image themselves.

I did not see the tweet from Dhananjay, and never got an email or anything else about it. Now that I have seen it, I have credited my source, as I always attempt to do.

Thank you for at least mentioning that you work for TNW in your profile. It makes this ...


...less annoying.

Compare that to zeedotme's ...


...which just feels sleazy.

we have a strict policy in place to make sure this doesn't happen.

If it does, and it really shouldn't have beyond a year ago (when we really clamped down on it with our authors)... we fix it.

If it ever does happen, I assure you that all it takes is one email to office@thenextweb.com and we'll have it resolved.

But I assure you that this "care free" image you might have of us when it comes to posting other peoples images just isn't reality.

You really don't get it do you?

> If it ever does happen, I assure you that all it takes is one email to office@thenextweb.com and we'll have it resolved.

I'm sure it does. But the point is that you should ensure through process and not through policy that you do not end up with other people's stuff on your site without attribution or compensation.

The fact that you'll take it down to avoid further damage is not enough to put you in the clear, this is not 'user generated content', these are people with who you have a relationship where you have them create works on your behalf.

You're responsible.

One way in which you could do this - consult your local legal eagle - is to ask your authors to sign a release stating that they are the original creators of all the content they submit, and that they are within their rights to re-sell this content to you.

No, he really doesn't get it.

From his public "apology"[1]:

"The debate on paraphrasing, rewriting and quoting we should save for another post."


[1] https://docs.google.com/document/d/1M92qqFrK2zlqCoaQV_l_wuxI...

We do have processes AND policy in place to make sure this doesn't happen. But it can still happen unintentionally and when it does, we react activity and proactively.

> we react activity and proactively.

That does not parse but I think you're confusing aggressively with actively and proactively with defensively.

All at once. And you look pretty silly in the process.

Just apologize to the guy, make sure you'll never do it again.

As long as you keep spinning this will make you look worse and worse.

It's obvious that you don't have a process in place because then this would not happen.

This was not unintentional, there is 0 chance of that.

Nobody copies a chunk of text like that unintentional, nobody behaves like you did in this thread and elsewhere unintentional.

The cover-up is worse than the crime, if you had been a responsible adult about this in the first place it would have gone away long ago.

It was dumb. Only you can stop it.

And spam the guys twitter saying he is overreacting and that its ridiculous that hes getting the slightest bit annoyed at the fact that you ripped his work off? Wow.. Just WOW.

Don't be ridiculous, this wasn't "unintentional". Additionally, it's impossible to react proactively.

Excellent point re: reacting proactive-ly. At some point you've taken so many action items on-board, uplifted so much capability and re-purposed to much content that all the corporate buzz-words just start making perfect sense.

By telling the original authors you'll be sure to 'steer clear' of them in the future for being upset that they weren't credited until it made you look like an ass? Yikes.

This was not unintentional, though. The writer clearly took a screenshot of someone else's work and made no effort to even credit work that should not have been used in the first place.

You know, we were already convinced you're a sleazebag. Lying to our faces in an attempt at damage control was unnecessary.

I don't suppose your policies and processes allow for the actual author to receive the ad income from your use of his story, do they?

Proactive and reactive are complete opposites. You cannot 'react' 'proactively'.

talk about a great way to ruin a company image... just shows that a company can't do this anymore to the masses, the people are not as silenced. Its now actually in a companies best intrest to be legitimate ;)

It's clear that you react to it (reading through the CEO comments)

You are a hoot.

Quit using manager-bullshit-speak. Here, let me write your entire "processes AND policy" manual for plagiarism:

1) Don't do it;

2) If it occurs, fire the guy who did it;

3) Apologize and try to make it right;

4) Shut up.

You seem to find each one of those steps challenging.

Actually, the boss should carry the can: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Command_responsibility

Wow, no apology. Wow.

Zee, everyone can see the online record, which shows you plagiarized Joshua Gross, publicly threatened him on Twitter, and then publicly denied plagiarizing him.

And you're still not apologizing?


Have you considered not personally flaming the original authors in public?

I up-voted the parent comment because it is quite relevant to the history. OTOH, I find the opinion expressed in the parent comment quite disgusting.

I DO NOT think that down-voting relevant content we don't agree with is a good idea. Do you agree with me?

What's up with the down voting? The score is now so low that you have to play with the screen contrast to read the comment. Does it enhance the quality of Hacker News when we can't read a side of the argument? This is judgmental crap, not mature debate.

I just highlight with the mouse.

A strict policy that includes insulting the original poster, accusing him of being "too extreme" and vowing on Twitter to avoid him in the future. At least this policy was written down, agreed to in advance and followed to the letter in practice. There's leadership for you. Or chutzpah.

Strange that this has been greyed out? Not condoning the act of plagiarism but seems fairer to allow all parties to say their bits?

I do wish this wasn't downvoted to grey. This is content I think most of us will find interesting and relevant to the discussion.

I understand that HN allows downvotes of disagreement, even though in this case it buries the most relevant information.

I vehemently disagree with Zee in this case, but I upvoted his posts because I believe his position deserves to be heard. This goes double for when the other person is mis-handling the fallout. I recommend putting half-baked defenses to the top so everyone can see the person's poor character.

I actually think the grey has the opposite effect, makes the post really stand out and i go out of my way to high-light and read it, if only to see why the person was downvoted so much.

To stay on topic I can't believe the guy still hasn't apologized. Judging by his attitude and replies he's probably too busy self-rationalizing about how he's right and if everyone else wasn't an idiot we would all agree with him.

Mentioned elsewhere: I'm not complaining about the specific text contrast. My concern is with downvotes being misused (albeit for my own definition of misused).

Downvoting also has the effect of lowering the comment's position relative to other replies. No matter the color, the comment will appear below someone who gets a higher score, even though I can't imagine a more relevant comment than from the guy this entire thread (and post) is really centered around.

Highlight it then and read it. Or change your browser colours.

It's not the text contrast that bothers me. It's that we're effectively trying to censor someone directly related to the article, if only for the fact that we believe him to be wrong. I would prefer that his comments are perceived as most relevant to the discussion at hand, and upvoted (or at least left alone) so that the comment can stand on its own.

Zee's 'punishment' shouldn't come in the form of mass downvoting and censorship. His punishment should be publicity. Let the community see what he has to say and judge his actions, not his comments.

How are his comments censored? I managed to read them perfectly fine. Censoring would be removal of a comment, not changing the font colour.

I think that's a rather narrow definition of censorship. Maybe you would prefer the term 'suppressed'. Either way, the intent is to signal to readers, "the community consensus is that this comment is not valuable, or does not add to the discussion. It is likely not worth your time to read".

The whole point of voting is that higher-rated comments are brought to the top of the page, making them more visible. Most people don't read every comment.

It's our way of voicing very clear disagreement.

Anyone who wants to read his words still can.

You think otherwise he might not know people disagree? Voting really shouldn't be punitive to people with unpopular opinions.

I think otherwise he might not realize the breadth and depth at which this community disagrees with him. He is not merely expressing an unpopular opinion, he's demonstrated an inability to grasp certain basic concepts. Don't think of it as punitive; think of it as a wake-up call.

Also, according to pg, it is and always has been perfectly fine to downvote people for disagreement: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=117171 http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=392347 http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=658691

Why shouldn't it? The only way to get rid of bad ideas is to shame them out of existence.

What is bad idea to you could not be a bad idea to me

Nobody is stopping you from upvoting his posts.

Really? That's the only way?

It's because of people downvoting him.

Yes, you were plagiarized. TheNextWeb was in the wrong, and they made it worse by their reaction.

But I also feel that the main insights of your posts were not your own. They were that of the NY Times reporter Michael M. Grynbaum. That is, I feel the main insight of your post were two things: the doubling of tips, and the attribution of this to the buttons on the credit-card machine. Your contribution was to look up a few other stats to get the $144 million figure.

...and that constitutes a fair use of the NYT's reportage to draw a new insight...that's a bit of difference than plagiarism

I think you bring up a reasonable point: that the forced tipping system with no values below 20% was previously discussed in other articles such as that of Grynbaum from January 8, 2012:


In fact it's not a secret at all since New Yorkers and those visiting the city are quite acquainted with the system, it's no secret, so I am not sure Mr. Grynbaum is a reasonable original source of information about the system, millions who have taken a taxi are reasonable sources.

Worth mentioning is the article on the usability blog from which Mr. Gross hotlinked his image of the interface, dating back to February 2011:


Their reaction was similar to many others, that a design that forces a minimum tip of 20% is an annoying dodgy system for forcible shakedowns of hapless credit card customers, and sure to enrage many people.

GoodExperience's blog's conclusion was nearly the opposite of Mr. Gross's:

> The lesson: details matter. One change to one button in the interface changes the experience from delightful to annoying, leaving the rider feeling taken advantage of.

The cab customers are the victims here, they are in essence a captive audience who can not seek competition since the system has been dictated system wide by the same government that profits well from the system since it prevents drivers from underreporting tips.

Mr. Gross's original contribution was to point out that by looking at this from the viewpoint not of the customer, but of the business and the government, the system was a success as it has resulted in much profit for them.

Mr. Gross published this yesterday, on May 13, 2012. TheNextWeb published their "article" a few hours after Gross's article reached high on Hacker News. This is likely where Harrison and Zee became aware of it as it seems they are readers of HN. Harrison's article was then published today, May 14th.

None of the previous articles about the system bring up Mr. Gross's main points, that the design of the system has the advantage of increasing profits for the business.

Not stated but worth discussing is that it only works because there is a captive audience with no other choices who do not discover their tipping options are so limited until they go to pay at the end of the ride. These issues would make interesting discussions for even more articles. Perhaps TNW could have even written one. Instead they copied an article, stole it, because I have personally compared the articles word by word and found that it is a LIE to say TNW published original content or that the article was truly written by Harrison.

Under Fair Use I am now citing BOTH for comparison lest there be any doubt.


> The average New York City taxi cab driver makes $90,747 in revenue per year. There are roughly 13,267 cabs in the city. In 2007, NYC forced cab drivers to begin taking credit cards, which involved installing a touch screen system for payment.

> During payment, the user is presented with three default buttons for tipping: 20%, 25%, and 30%. When cabs were cash only, the average tip was roughly 10%. After the introduction of this system, the tip percentage jumped to 22%.


> The average New York City taxi driver makes $90,747 in gross revenue per year (less some hefty operating expenses). In 2007, NYC required cab drivers to begin accepting cards, which involved installing a touch screen system for payment in all ~13,267 cars.

> During payment, users are shown three default buttons for tipping: 20%, 25% and 30%. Back when cabs were cash-only, the average tip was around a modest 10%. But since this system was introduced system, the average tipping percentage jumped to 22%.

Who here will respond to this post and claim that Harrison Weber is not an unrepentant plagiarist and Zee Kane his belligerent defender? Speak now.

> Worth mentioning is the article on the usability blog from which Mr. Gross hotlinked his image of the interface

Although Mr Gross did not hotlink the image. Notice the images locations and file types are different.

Thanks for the correction there, you're right, he actually provided a link back to GoodExperience and even set the images Title tag to state that the photo was from GoodExperience.

I felt that the NY Times article by Grynbaum clearly covers the idea that cabbies are pulling in more tips because of the default tip buttons on the credit card machines.

I love to imagine how the phrase "But since this system was introduced system" was coined by TNW's journalist :-)

Regardless TNW took his article almost entirely word for word! Only two or three words were added/removed in TNW's version. This isn't about facts, it's about copy-pasting someone else's words and then sending 6 incredibly defensive and dickish tweets after othe original author complained (barely).

At the end, Zee says he'll steer clear of the original author's work for fear of ridiculous accusations as if to say "you should be happy that we plagiarized you, now we'll punish you by never flattering you with another plagiarized article again".

He couldn't have made it any clearer that he was the author of the original after a complaint.

You can't even play devils advocate on this one. TNW is so deep into "wrong" territory that nothing short of removing the entire post and replacing it was an admission of plagiarism will redeem them in my eyes.

You are correct, which is why I called what TNW did plagiarism in my parent post, and elsewhere in the thread. Their understanding of the concept is both sad and frustrating. (Check my comment history.)

I'm making a separate point, that the contribution of the article in question is minor. And that, combined with the level of outrage, just makes me a bit uneasy.

I think the majority of the outrage stems from Zee's response to this situation, and less from the actual plagiarism itself.

My mistake on not seeing the previous comments but even if the original work (not the TNW version) offered little extra value at least it was written from scratch using the authors own words. His outrage was minor, Zee's outrage is seriously overblown and I think our outrage here is justifiable.

"You can't even play devils advocate on this one."

Very insightful comment. I don't think they should delete it at this point though which would be covering up what they did at this point.

As far as what to do about this, word for word plagiarism that is barely altered so that it's technically not an exact word search isn't a mistake or momentary slip up by a paid author/journalist/blogger, it's overt plagiarism and fraud. There is absolutely no other thing to be done when it is found but to openly and publicly FIRE the fake "author" who stole another person's work, and issue a public apology to the true author.

That would have resolved it and enabled this company to save face and appear on the up and up.

The handling by the CEO was so abysmal and so wrong here though that it destroyed the entire reputation of the site. His continuing to trying to spin and lie is just an embarrassment to himself, his reputation is ruined.

As far as whoever owns this company, at this point the only thing they could possibly do to recover at all is to fire both the CEO and the plagiarist and issue a public, heartfelt, sincere apology.

Zee/TheNextWeb has a history of copying others' work without permission, including for one period HN comments. See:


Note that what I was concerned about was not respectful excerpting: for a time, they were scraping every HN comment related to their links back to their site, without permission/notification to authors, without threading, with NOFOLLOW.

Would be great to have a kickstarter for suing dirtbags, like in this example. Classactionstarter or something...



Why can’t PG or some hacker news admin simply block any stories from thenextweb?

Thanks for linking to this. Looks like there's a pattern here. Too bad for Zee.

TheNextWeb is basically a content farm whose business model is to rapidly push out rewritten posts as soon as possible and as often as possible. Your story doesn't surprise me at all because I see it every single day with many other websites, both popular and not. All you have to do is look at Techmeme to see this in action, every single post is rewritten by some TNW writer, and sadly Techmeme's human curators favor TheNextWeb as a preferred source despite their post model being 100% spinning of existing content. The best case scenario - if the original creator is lucky - is a tiny link to the original source in the footer of a TNW spun article.

To be fair, Huffington Post, Mashable, etc, do the same thing.

However, to HuffPo & TNW's credit, they do have original content that is mildly interesting. Mashable's original content is laughable at best.

Update: see this comment on HN. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3972875

Zee from TNW here.

Someone has to explain to me exactly what we should have done differently here.

I honestly have absolutely no idea what we should have done differently here to illustrate an interesting fact with our readers and reference the original source (we did that twice in the article...even with his full name (a screenshot of which he conveniently didn't include in his post))...and still he comes out guns blazing like he wrote a full-on opinion piece and we decided to just copy/paste.

We work immensely had to product original content as well as link to original sources when deserved...this case was absolutely no different.

I'm honestly amazed that this is crawling up Hacker News quite frankly.

Well Zee, I'm glad it is creeping up on HN so I and others will know to stay away from you and anything you and your people are involved in in the future since it is clear you are dishonest, a thief, a liar and someone who threatens the people you steal from - assuming that his citation of your tweet mentions were not fabricated, which I assume they were not since you didn't claim that in your response here.

We need more naming and shaming.

Mr. Gross did original research and wrote an article of interest to people. Your person stole his research and content, initially without attribution according to him, and including "nearly word-for-word" citations. This is plagiarism and theft. When you were very politely called out about this by Mr. Gross, you did not apologize, instead you stated you would punish him by "staying well clear of anything ur involved with in future", and then lied by saying that his findings were not all original research, lied that your site was not copying his content, and in general justified your organization's wrong actions.

Now if you had apologized and handled it reasonably that would be one thing. But your insulting and unreasonable response to him shows what sort of person you and the people who work for you are. Liars and thieves. A proven fact as demonstrated by your outrageous, offensive and insulting comments towards Mr. Gross.

Someone has to explain to me exactly what we should have done differently here.

I'll give it a shot. What you should have done, in my opinion, is just provide a link alongside a one-line summary, along the lines of "Here's an article we found fascinating."

If the article you are writing is based on a single source, it's not an article-- it's a paraphrase.

We work immensely had to product original content as well as link to original sources when deserved...this case was absolutely no different.

so, which was this? It was more than a link, but it surely doesn't qualify as "original content" by any stretch of the imagination.

> it's not an article-- it's a paraphrase

If they had bothered to paraphrase, it would have been much better. They didn't - they just copied.

But a one line summary is too short to get picked up by Google News -- that's why all the tech blogs try to write at least 70 words on absolutely anything, no matter how thin it is...

Simple: don't copy-paste.

I'm looking at this now: http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2012/05/14/how-3-simple-but...

You reproduced everything he said. If I saw your post only, I would assume that what I was reading were Harrison Weber's words paraphrasing Joshua Gross. Instead, it is what Gross said. And not even in quotations.

So what should you do? After the original text by Weber, post a title and a link to Gross' post. That's it.

The author should have put quotes around the paragraphs that were blatantly copy and only slightly tweaked to show it came directly from the piece and wasn't written by Harrison.

Oh, and your Twitter response was laughably immature to me.

and your Twitter response was laughably immature to me.

That is what put it over the top for me. The astonishingly lazy copying was bad enough, but feeling entitled about it is shocking.

Here's the thing -- people linked from sites like TNW report little to no traffic (which, of course, is wholly the intention of sites like TNW -- they don't want the eyeballs leaving). Quite the opposite, in fact, because this blogspam (is it anything but? Was there anything of value added?) steals traffic and linklove that would have gone to the usurped.

TNW: Drop the laughable notion that you're doing anyone a favour when you steal their content. It sells to no one. Good content will find its way atop the social news sites quickly, and all you're doing is getting in the way and trying to steal off some of the traffic of other people's work.

that I can appreciate, but to come out and call it "plagiarism" publicly although we couldn't have done more to reference him...is absurd to me.

Feels like this guy is trolling every single one of us here - myself included - to get a reaction.

If I say, "This text is from John Doe," and then I proceed to quote John Doe to the point that the majority of my text is, in fact, John Doe's, then I have plagiarized John Doe.

In other words, attribution does not save you from plagiarism.

But that's the thing: you didn't do more, and that's the problem here.

I don't see him as a troll. I see him as a guy who posted something he put a lot of effort into and ended up having his work reposted without even being justly credited. He has every right to be upset and share his story, and people deserve to know this.

P.S. Just stop with the Tweets, it's embarrassing not only you, but the publication you represent.

You copied and pasted the article and changed a few words, then made it look like Harrison Weber wrote the text, even though he did not. The attribution is great but in this case not enough.

Either the text should have been created independently, or it should have been made clear that it was a direct quote (fair use) from Gross.

You should have learned why this was wrong in high school.

> we couldn't have done more to reference him

Obviously you could have done more: reference him right from the start, not only after he made a stink about you copy-pasting his material verbatim. Timing matters, earlier is more.

This is unless he's lying that you did it only after the fact. Care to explain this point? Edit: I see you already did elsewhere in this tread.

I guess they don't teach this in the CEO school you went to, but it's not about crediting him more, it's about stealing from him less. There's a difference.

You do not understand plagiarism.

Way to go with the ad hominem attack! As has by now been pointed out many, many times, your plagiarism, subsequent tweets and then coverup aren't acceptable.

I cannot believe how stupid this guy is!! is he for real?? does anyone know his history at RWW? How did he get there?

> Feels like this guy is trolling every single one of us here - myself included - to get a reaction.

Wow, just wow. This just crossed the bullshit horizon.

The issue is you did not credit him initially. Are you saying that he was credited in the initial publication of the article and his screenshots that show this is not the case are fabricated?

This. It makes a huge difference whether you credit someone right from the beginning or just after he points it out to you.

It doesn't just make a huge difference - it's a different thing entirely. Credit where credit is due, initially and up front, is being honest. Changing it after and pretending like it was like that the whole time is trying to cover up your own actions - that's arguably even worse than the initial plagarism. (At best it shows the same underhanded streak as the plagarism itself.)

Completely despicable. Added TNW to my hosts file.

The screen shots don't go all the way down to where the current version online has him credited twice. So it is hard to say if they were already there or if all three credits were added at the same time after being called out.

> Someone has to explain to me exactly what we should have done differently here.

Completely frank and sincere feedback:

1. The two paragraphs taken from the source should have been block-quoted

2. The first paragraph of the story should have established source

3. The first link should have been to the source, not your own blog

4. The links used to backup the story should have been part of the blockquote or via'd

5. Misuse of 'via'. You didn't find the story 'via' Joshua, rather Joshua's post was the story

or options 2:

1. You realize that this is an interesting story for your audience, you check the license of the story and if it is permissible you republish it on your blog with Joshua as the author and a link back to the original


1. Have an editor check every post before it is published for fair attribution. It is common that a single person can miss an attribution in 1 out of 100 cases, but with two people checking that becomes 1 in 10,000.

2. Re-publish stories that you think may be interesting for your audience rather than re-blogging and wrapping them

3. Circulate something internally about standards of attribution and perhaps also publish a page about it on your blog with a contact email address if any problems arise.

4. Respond to criticism better, the customer is always right etc.

It is cases like this that cause the media to constantly deride blogs. I really think you should take a step back and re-evaluate your response to this, and I say that in all honesty, complete sincerity and with absolutely no disrespect (there are writers at TNW whose work I follow and enjoy and I have been a long time reader).

"4. Respond to criticism better, the customer is always right etc."

Keep in mind we're not paying for TNW - we're not "the customer".

(Having said that, without rewarding this poor behaviour with any more pageviews than necessary, it's not clear to me who _is_ paying TNW - I wonder if that 'cause their advertising roster is empty, or just 'cause they've geo-targeted me as being from the wrong side of the planet for their advertisers?)

"and we decided to just copy/paste"

You answered your own question.

Also, your reaction to the original author via your public tweets was incredibly unprofessional. If you want to respond with such toxic language, you should so do via a private email. You're the face, the vision, the voice of TNW and I now associate your rude remarks with TNW as a whole.

you should read that again, he was saying that they DIDN'T cut and paste, but the original author reacted as though they had

I read it correctly. My point was they _did_ cut and paste. The paragraphs are virtually identical. I was quoting him out of context to illustrate a point that he answered his own question.

> We work immensely had to product original content as well as link to original sources when deserved...this case was absolutely no different.

Zee, let me tell you something. When you lie, do not lie in a way that can be disproven by math. I mean, it was easy, so easy for me to take five minutes to plug in the article text to a difference calculator and find the result. And here's the outcome:

  There is a 58.632778264680105% difference between Unwieldy's article and TheNextWeb's (41.367221735319895.% similar).

  If you remove the intro from TheNextWeb's article, there is a 28.213166144200624% difference between Unwieldy's article and TheNextWeb's (71.78683385579937.% similar).
Do you want to say the words "original content" again? Because I just determined that your article is at least 41% similar to the one you copied. If we remove the cute introduction, the sameness of your article jumps to over 70% . I used the well-known algorithm called Levenshtein distance. It took me a minute to figure out how I would determine how much TNW's article was plagiarized. And because I do not copy, I will even show you how I got it.

First, here are the articles I compared (text only, line breaks removed): http://notes.unwieldy.net/post/23049725899/plagiarism and http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2012/05/14/how-3-simple-but...

Here's the code I used: http://ideone.com/BdNk2 (Java)

Here's the code I used to calculate the Levenshtein distance: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Algorithm_Implementation/String...

And here's the technique I used to calculate the Levenshtein difference percentage (thanks to Alex Martelli): http://stackoverflow.com/questions/3106994/algorithm-to-calc...

Now, what could you have done? You could actually admit there was no way you could produce "original content" from copying the original article unless you did actual research beyond what Joshua Gross found. You could merely post a link to the article and say, "This is cool. Check this out." And third, you could be nice on Twitter to the author you shamelessly ripped off. My god, when I can show 41% of your article to be the same as another, the least you should do is be 41% classy about it.

And, to boot is still in damage control mode, now that pretending ignorance does not work we're going for the 'unfortunate timing angle'.

Nice work on the distance calculation, I think you've just figured out a way to create a blogspam detector, if an article is linked from a newer article and there is a > X% (with X somewhere in the neighbourhood of 45%) or so similarity then it is blogspam.

Thanks, but the distance calculation is the work of Alex Martelli from Stack Overflow. It's one of the sources I cited: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/3106994/algorithm-to-calc... I cited. It's simple enough that I probably could have thought of it on my own if I spent more time on it, but then again it was simple enough to find with a Google search.

I could have sworn it was the work of Vladimir Levenshtein: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Levenshtein

The code I referenced measures the difference between strings (percentages), using Levenshtein distance--which states the number of changes between two strings. If you can find a source that states this idea of difference can be attributed to Levenshtein, then by all means I will acknowledge him. Until then, I will refer to Alex Martelli's code.

The code I referenced measures the difference between strings

Exactly, and the algorithm used is, as I said, attributed to Levenshtein. Expressing it as a ratio is hardly novel.

As for the implementation, Alex Martelli credit's Stavros Korokithakis[1], although Lev implementations are 2-a-penny, and this isn't a particularly good one (sorry Stavros).


> Exactly, and the algorithm used is, as I said, attributed to Levenshtein.

I cited Levenshtein by name in my original comment. I'm guessing you didn't read everything what I wrote, because I don't understand why you would think there's an issue otherwise.

> Expressing it as a ratio is hardly novel.

The whole reason I linked to Alex Martelli's post is because it's his work, not mine, novel or otherwise. I just cited the resourced I used.

It is nice to put a number on it, and perhaps this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back, but given Zee's initial reaction to what is clearly plagarism (using just plain-old eyeballing) it's doubtful that putting a number on the sameness will do anything for this camel's back.

This is just another one of those, "A young CEO with too much balls and not enough brains shoots his mouth off, revealing to all that he is not a Good Person." Of course, CEOs not being Good People is nothing new, but the refusal to even try to pretend to be one is something that I think really angers people.

Why do employees (and apparently CEOs) of online tech publications always seem to have so much trouble with basic English grammar/spelling?

"I honestly absolutely no idea what we should have done differently"

"We work immensely had to product original content"

I have a theory on this point, after witnessing this effect in a few other places (emails from prominent writers, CEOs, etc).

Writers write so much that their fear of shipping their writing is diminished through practice, so they write, ship, write, ship, write, ship. They're in creative mode, just putting words on the paper. They're busy, so they go quickly, so that they can get more done. They know that when it matters, they can copyedit—or have someone else proofread.

On the other hand, there are those of us who will spend an extra 5 minutes on every comment we post looking over it out of perfectionism or OCD or fear of the inevitable, "You sound like a moron" comment later in the thread.

I've taken to really admiring the type-type-type get a million emails/comments/tweets/posts out a day style.

Move fast and break things. Edit later.

That's the problem though. These 'writers' tend to demand respect and be acknowledged as journalists, yet can't even proof their own words. I don't think I've gone gone through a day where I don't find grammar and spelling errors on high volume news sites like HuffPo and Techcrunch.

I think when you have such a high profile and mass visibility, the bar for quality is raised higher (or should be), even in the context of speed posting and scoops. Your product influences a generation that is sadly forgetting and ignoring the value of proper grammar.

> They're busy, so they go quickly, so that they can get more done. > Move fast and break things. Edit later.

What if time("go quickly... get more done") + time(fixing "[broken] things") > time("spend an extra 5 minutes")?

> I've taken to really admiring the type-type-type get a million emails/comments/tweets/posts out a day style.

I can't tolerate this style. In my experience, the type-type-type individuals often express their ideas in unclear ways.

Measure twice, cut once. I proudly spent 6 minutes writing this reply.

I might have to steal/quote that last line.

"Move fast and break things. Edit later." Perfect.

Release early and often.

The prolbem ocrcus wehn exprsesd tghins are had to undrestnad, or the idaes pooryl tghought out.

Interestingly enough, most people will be able to understand exactly what you wrote there. People can easily recognize common words "by shape". They only ever have to look at the first and last letters.

I'm not saying people won't notice there's something wrong with what you wrote. They will. But they'll be able to understand you perfectly despite that.

I'm aware people can understand that, but it's certainly not as easy as the properly formed words. I used that technique to make sure my point was carried across.

> Move fast and break things. Edit later.

Ironically, you can't edit posts on Facebook.

You sound like a moron!

Probably the same reason they don't recognize plagiarism when it jumps up and bites them on the ass.

I prescribe a copy of Strunk and White with a healthy dose of proofreading.

Here's my impression of the sequence of events, based on the blog post:

1) You post an article which includes several facts that are taken directly from Joshua's article. No credit is given to the original author.

2) Joshua publicly calls you out on this.

3) You quickly edit in a credit and a link to the original article.

4) With the awareness that future readers will see this credit and assume that Joshua is making an unfounded complaint, you send a series of aggressive tweets attacking him for bringing this issue up.

Now, it's possible that this isn't an accurate timeline, and now would be a good time for you to clarify what happened. But understand that the issue here isn't (entirely) the fact that you paraphrased another person's article; it's that it looks like you didn't give him credit, acted very deceptively to conceal that fact and save face, and that you did so in a particularly childish way.

The facts are one thing. What's really damning is the structure in which those facts are presented. If you compare the original appearance of TNW's article with Joshua's article, the paragraphs are almost identical, with a few words changed here and there.

> Someone has to explain to me exactly what we should have done differently here.

Since you asked:

Ask the original author if it would be ok to include his contribution in your derived work.

> I honestly [] absolutely no idea what we should have done differently here to illustrate an interesting fact with our readers and reference the original source (we did that twice in the article...even with his full name (a screenshot of which he conveniently didn't include in his post))...and still he comes out guns blazing like he wrote a full-on opinion piece and we decided to just copy/paste.

Crediting someone does not automatically give you the right to copy their work without their permission. That's a misplaced sense of entitlement, and one I would definitely not accept from a site with the visibility of TNW.

Would it be ok with you if I copied TNW and linked back to your pages to credit you? No? Why not? Where would you draw the line of what is acceptable and what is not?

Oh, and you did just copy/paste.

> We work immensely ha[r]d to product original content

So don't cut-and-paste interesting bits you find on the web.

> I'm honestly amazed that this is crawling up Hacker News quite frankly.

The Next Web is featured on HN quite frequently, so it is logical that any criticism of your website would feature here as well. And I wouldn't call it crawling, you've got top billing.

I'm honestly amazed that you did this, and how utterly wrong your stance is. For a person associated with a publication I would expect a much higher level of knowledge of things like 'how to cite' and 'how to attribute' and maybe a dash of copyright 101. How hard is it to ask someone if you can use their stuff? Just ask, worst case they'll say no and then you can always simply link to them to make your point. It's not like he's suing you for $125K per copy, he's just upset that you didn't have the common courtesy to ask.

The fact that people usually are not upset and that people don't care does not change a thing with respect to what's right or not and asking is the normal thing to do.

I've had my content cut-and-pasted so often that I no longer care but it seems to me that if you want to write original content you should simply write rather than try to pick up which bits are trending on certain websites to re-package those for a larger audience. Besides the fact that it does not say much for how you produce your content it also shows that you don't even bother to do your own fact checking. You could easily be set up to parrot incorrect data like this.

Do your own homework, write your own text supported by facts that you have researched yourself and cite your sources. That is original content.

> The Next Web is featured on HN quite frequently

I never understood the appeal of the TNW. Of the articles that did make it to the HN front page that I've seen, I've always thought the quality of the TNW's content was quite low. So I guess what's transpired today is not much of a surprise to me.

Jacquesm, I +1 you.

Funny that such basics have to be taught to a CEO of a technology blog.

The board should vote him out _immediately_

How can you not understand what you should have done differently here? You may have linked to the author's post, but by not quoting him, you were passing his work off as your own to anyone who didn't click through to the link.

One of your employees fucked up in the first place, and then you made it worse by not admitting what happened was wrong and apologizing. Had you done so, that would have been the end of it. But now here you are.

that's a common problem I've been noticing lately. People can't take the blame when they made a mistake. It's whether they blame someone else or they divert the subject. It's so hard to apologize or say "yes, I did it" and then move on.

another common problem I've been noticing lately... people do apologize but then we get this same post only this time they point out where the person admitted to it... and the same people bring out their pitchforks anyway.

I've been seeing a lot of that as well. My advice is to stay away from the aggressive response unless the plaintiff is being really nasty.

Being an observant in this web-publishing business for a short while, and speaking only from limited experience, I've witnessed some unfavorable twitter posts in regards to content and how an editorial team treats them. They look into the problem and validate, devise a response through consensus that they deem adequate and one person on the team reaches out and tries to make right.

In Zee's case, it appears that he decided that he "had this one" and went the bully route. That's too bad because since he picked such a great Twitter handle, this clown is going to be hard to forget.

Not copying text might help. I don't think anyone here takes issue with using the numbers, but copyin text verbatim (or very close to verbatim) is definitely uncool.

As for credit - one of you is lying. He explicitly claims no link back was provided in te original post, while you explicitly claim there was. So... Which is it?

Personally, if I were the author, I would want the portion that was pasted in to be styled (gray bg/italic text etc) as a quote. To me, it seems like the next two paragraphs are presented as a summary of what Joshua found, not the whole post verbatim. If you really wanted to get on my good side, the first sentence would contain a link to the original.

When I wrote a post that LifeHacker was interested in posting, they asked first about "republishing". When I said they could link with an excerpt but not do a whole-sale repost, they respected my decision.

That being said, I don't think this particular article is that egregious. TNW nearly doubled the word count, so it's not a one-liner + copy/paste job. It's certainly not as bad as other sites I've seen that will masquerade as if the author originally posted the story to their site or not link at all.

You basically did copy and paste. Probably more accurately, you copy-pasted, then went back in and reworded certain parts. So basically high school level plagiarism.

As others have said, you should have either copied the paragraphs exactly and put them in quotes (with attribution), or you should have written up an entirely original rundown using only the facts to guide you.

What's amazing is that you don't understand why people would find this to be shady, unethical behavior.

A case of poor timing, I think. TNW posts a non-attributed version of the article [1]. Author complains on twitter. Meanwhile, TNW notices the error and ninja-edits the post with proper attribution [2]. You check the updated post. Drama ensues on twitter.

Edit. Oi, I'm not saying TNW is in the right, people. Just pointing out something that their CEO seems to have missed.

[1]. http://cl.ly/0q1C3n1j323R3C131X0d/o [2]. http://cl.ly/1a0c2y2p291H1u2T2s3S/o

This doesn't change the fact that Zee was (pardon my language) a snarky asshole about it on Twitter.

Hence the "drama".

To me, it's not about the Twitter drama; it's about the way The Next Web poorly cited this piece and revised it without fixing the issue people had with it in the first place.

Certainly. In my opinion an explicit quote of part of the original article would have been better than paraphrasing. Quoting reinforces the value of the source (“we couldn't write it any better”), paraphrasing does the opposite.

More like: TNW posts a non-attributed version of the article. Author complains on twitter. TNW sees this shits their pants and ninja-edits the post with poor attribution. People still complain. TNW ninja-edits the post one more time, now with proper attribution. The CEO (who looks like a total asshole in his pictures btw) posts an obvious PR Google Docs (??) letter to try and talk plagiarism good, which uses this post that tries to insinuate some kind of seconds -later-it-would-have-been-fixed-even-if-the-author-never-would-have-said-anything BS.

funnily enough...that is actually exactly what just happened and I literally (only seconds ago) discovered it. Will be putting a piece up about it soon.

Please pay attention to what else we're saying - that the second piece isn't acceptable, either.

yes I appreciate many of you agree a quote should have been included rather than an attempted rewrite.

I agree, that would have been better.

However, calling us out for plagiarism does feel far too extreme when the updated piece clearly states the source of the facts. The original piece only included links without a name and that I agree is 100% wrong. I hadn't seen that original piece before we were called out on twitter and my reactions were clearly based on immediate emotions...never a good time to reply.

Again, will put all this into a single post soon.

They are calling you out for plagiarism because your company is a plagiarist. It's just as clear as seeing a person who is burning and telling them that they are on fire, or a person who is dead and calling them deceased. You do not have the right to lift entire articles from other's sites, even if you DO give attribution.

If you as CEO have so little common sense that you don't even know what plagiarism is, then you need to step down quickly before you open your company up to lawsuits against people who actuallY DO have the money and the time to pursue a suit.

Seems odd that he could become CEO of a publishing company without knowing what plagiarism is.

Citing sources does not protect you from plagiarism. That is what I mean by the second version is not okay. If the lesson you're learning here is "I just need to make sure we link to the original" then you're learning the wrong lesson.

It would be sort of funny if you included copy/pasted comments from HN in your PR-cleanup post.

Yes, you attributed. But you very deliberately copied the article and posted it as your own work. You can't even say that you forgot to add quote marks as the text was slightly altered - evidently to give you an "out" if anyone accused you of direct copying.

Your threats afterward made things worse - much worse. Not understanding plagiarism (go look up the dictionary, or Wikipedia already!) whilst being an edito of a publication just makes this bad thing horrendous.

Make a full apology. Don't do it again.

Zee, I think it's pretty ridiculous that you're even getting the slightest bit annoyed about this. Needless to say, we'll be saying well clear of anything your are involved with in future. http://notes.unwieldy.net/post/23049725899/plagiarism

Do you honestly not understand why even your "ninja-edited" version of the post is not acceptable?

Real life needs some serious mutexing.

My answer is, instead of copying his text word-for-word, you post the link and that's it. (See: Gruber.)

In this case, it's not like there was a ton of content in the first place, but by copying all of it (including the picture) you essentially gave the reader no reason to go back to the original source.

Are you an aggregator or a publication?

If you're an aggregator, then the thing to bring to your readers' attentions is the link to the original blog post. That way you drive traffic to the original content. For good examples of what this looks like, see Hacker News or Techmeme, or any of John Gruber's link posts on Daring Fireball.

If you're a publication, and it seems to me that you're positioning yourself that way, then write your own original stuff. You can still play off stories like this, but the way to do it is to extend the story with your own original reporting. Interview cab drivers about it. Dig out the story of how those buttons got into that interface. Who decided to put them there? Who build the software? Who designed the interface? In other words, add value.

Did you have a license to create a derivative work from this guy's words? The minimal rewriting didn't elide the substantial structure and organization of the original work. Just linking to the guy did not attribute the paragraph.

For me, it's caught red-handed and trying to stay out of legal hot water. If I thought highly of you, I'd wish you best of luck.

I'm not trying to be rude here, but as the CEO of an online magazine, why can't you write with correct grammar?

"I honestly absolutely no idea…" "work immensely had to product"

They're called typos. Everybody makes them — even professional writers. In writing that's intended to make money, they're usually caught in editing. If you yourself write without ever producing a typo, that's nice, but it's not really all that important to the craft of writing — much less to owning a business that employs writers.

At any rate, I don't see any reason to expect perfect prose in an informal context like a comment thread. As long as you're understandable, what do you gain from spending more time on nit-picky details?

Typos are fine, but there is a limit. I read through some of his comments here, and there are enough typos that it makes it fairly annoying to read.

Slow down just a bit and read it over before you post. You'll still make mistakes, but not in every other post.

AKA: Laziness. (Edited to fix spelling pointed out by child comment. Thanks.)

I don't require perfection, just competence. If you don't care enough about your output to make it easily understandable (I don't have to put effort into deciphering your words), why should I care about it?

Ironically, if you'd spell-checked your comment, you would have seen the word you were looking for was "laziness". On the other hand, there's no easy mechanical way of noticing that a small word ("have") was omitted, which is one of the typos for which Zee was being criticized. So what you did is actually lazier than what he did. But I don't look down on you for this typo either. Both your comment and Zee's are pretty easy to understand.

Nobody's perfect. I make mistakes like this all the time, and I'm a professional editor. It's not incompetence — I simply don't have the time to carefully reread, spellcheck and grammar-check everything I write to make sure it's all flawless. And I know many intelligent people who make more mistakes than I do. So when I see somebody get called on a typo, but it's perfectly clear what they were saying in spite of the typo, I find it a bit petty.

It wasn't a typo. It was just a garden-variety spelling error. Thanks for pointing it out. I'll try to remember the correct spelling in the future.

I guess I hold myself to a higher standard than you do. I have old-fashioned ideas. Writers should be competent enough in the fundamentals that even their informal remarks meet a certain standard of composition. When you are a good writer, you put the same level of care into your work regardless of the purpose. Quite frankly, a writer who thinks, "The editor will catch it," doesn't deserve to be paid for the job. It's bad craft.

Unfortunately, in this case, the typos reinforce the idea this person is fundamentally disrespectful. Given that his comments here are part of a PR campaign, he should be taking more care with them in order to make the right impression.

I go by Michele -- with one L. It is my actual middle name. People routinely misspell it with two L's. Sometimes they realize it and apologize for the error. I have found that how someone reacts to being told it is one L says a lot about their character. Decent people are quick to offer sincere apologies. Assholes are quick to use it as a new excuse to piss all over me and make fun of me.

Sure, I agree, there are lots of aspects of his public persona that he could stand to work on. It doesn't make calling out typos less petty or more interesting. The difference between "Person makes harmless typo" and "Person I don't like makes harmless typo" is in your emotions, not in the substance of the comment.

That isn't my point. My point is that when someone is upset with you, attention to such details matter. He appears to not even be trying. It looks very likely that he is either a social nitwit who should appoint someone else to handle his PR or guilty of the degree of disrepect of which he is accused.

Because you hire editors to do all that stuff?

It looks to me, reading the screenshots of both articles, as though the source piece was used as the basis of the article and reworded. (Note the odd placement of system in the sentence about installing the system.) Copy original article over, paste in, and then do some quick rewording so that it's not a 100% copy-paste job.

What should have been done differently is the original article read, notes taken, and then observations made and the original article linked to. Had someone re-written this from a blank screen, it would not have ended up so structurally similar and looked plagiarized.

Your Twitter response was completely stupid. As people above mentioned, there was no effort put into spelling (although it is Twitter, so I'll give some slack). But blasting the dude with like six hilariously "ridiculous" Tweets just made yourself look worse.

If you had used more quotations as supposed to plain copy and paste it would of made a lot of difference.

For example, .NET magazine covered one of our blog posts: http://www.netmagazine.com/news/startup-argues-dont-use-mp3-...

We were very happy they did this, and they did it in a very upfront and honest way. I didn't get that same feeling from your coverage of the OP's original article.

There's a fine line here I think TNW is missing.

Blogs quote other blogs all the time. But they make it look like a quote. Usually indented, offset, quoted, in italics, etc - with a prominent link to the source article. It's a small formatting detail but it has huge implications - it sends a clear signal that is immune to any plagiarism claims - "this is not our content but, dear reader, we still think it's worth your attention".

Also the twitter response is pitiful. Even if you're convinced that you've done nothing wrong that does nothing to change the fact that the original author feels slighted. Telling him that he's shouldn't feel aggrieved does nothing to fix the situation.

A simple apology along with an edit to the TNW article to clear up any attribution issues would have solved a small problem and prevented it from exploding into a mini-scandal.

What? Maybe not copy his paragraph word for word. I don't know, seems a common enough practice though.

But even so, in no case whatsoever behave like you did on twitter. That was not only unprofessional but full-on juvenile. Just look at what you wrote on twitter vs. what he wrote.

> I honestly absolutely no idea what we should have done differently

hey Zee no worries about it! Most psychos don't see anything wrong with what they did; it is the judge who puts them behind bars for a life (or gives electric chair) who is the bad guy!

Hopefully your stupid behavior will get enough publicity that soon you will share CEO Thompson's fate.

> "Someone has to explain to me exactly what we should have done differently here."

Obviously there are things your writer (Harrison Weber) could have done differently:

1) include the attribution and link at the outset

2) either provide true quotes or true rewrites, rather than slight paraphrases of the original text

And you yourself could have behaved differently as well:

3) when challenged, be friendly, even if you are (or appear to be) in the right. Summarize what you're seeing and then ask a question, instead of making accusations or insulting Joshua.

If your first tweet had instead said "we cited you as a source, which is standard procedure. Is there something else that's bothering you?" and then you waited for a response, you'd have given Joshua an opportunity to clarify his stance regarding the ninja edit, and you'd have given yourself an opportunity to apologize on behalf of your writer for the initial mistake.

Even if you had been right and everything had been sourced correctly from the start, a friendly stance and a few kind words would have done wonders. Consider this exchange: "...is there something else that's bothering you?" "Your wording in paragraph X is very similar to mine" "I've turned it into a direct quote. Does that resolve the issue?" With the issue resolved and no insults thrown around, Joshua would have had no reason to escalate, and instead of reading about plagiarism, the HN audience might be reading an article about conflict resolution, with your behavior put forth as a shining positive example.

It's clear from the screenshots the original author captured that you tried to deny responsibility after you changed the plagiarized content. If he didn't have the screenshots you might have gotten away with it.

Since he had the screenshots, your posts all come off as dishonest (which they obviously are).

Your attempt to bully the original author on Twitter looks bad too.

I think every comment you make is digging a deeper hole for you. Odds are you will be forced to resign over this.

Speaking of the screenshots, it's not only what you say, but on Zee Kane's twitter feed, he has accused the true author of having misrepresented the before and after screen shots:


> Zee Kane: "he [Mr. Gross] doesn't have screenshots of the whole article…You don't that's pretty sly?"

It is clear this is highly disingenuous argument and a false implication that Mr. Gross's screenshots misrepresent the situation. This is a carefully constructed and extremely dishonest (because it's false) attempt to attack Mr. Gross's credibility, which is blatantly being done in bad faith.

In addition to this attack, elsewhere on this thread here at HN, Mr. Zane, after all this went down and he knows what really happened, accuses Mr. Gross of being a troll:


> Zee Kane: "Feels like this guy [Mr. Gross] is trolling every single one of us here - myself included - to get a reaction."

This leads one to speculate whether what he then calls an "apology", posted as a bit.ly link at http://bit.ly/JxoWae which then redirects to an obscure Google doc link rather than on his own web site, is sincere.

Maybe this was staged and Zee never wrote any of those comments. The Google doc link is suspicious.

That is a very interesting theory. Do you believe his Twitter account was hacked then and he has been out of town and has no idea what the attacker has been posting there about this while impersonating him?

...and had his HN account hacked, and was unaware of any of the posts being written here?

Right, that too, apparently it's a big hack!

At this point, I'm invoking Hanlon's razor.

True or false, Zee - it is acceptable for another site to scrape TNW and repost its content verbatim, as long as it says where it got the content.

How about: "xyz user did some calculations on what a few buttons did for NYC taxi drivers. Read his excellent post, the $144 million button here"

See how that gets the users to clickthrough?

You could have just taken the entire article, said it was written by the original author and then linked back to the site.

Instead of taking the premise of a popular article to raise pageviews on your site. It should have never said "by HARRISON WEBER"

Rewriting an article on a proven subject doesn't count as producing original content.

>Someone has to explain to me exactly what we should have done differently here.

Well, besides writing an original content or asking the original author for permission to republish the article:

1. Don't copy an article word for word. Change the words and the structure.

2. Once caught, don't back-paddle and be defensive. Apologize.

Isn't republishing someone's work without permission a blatant copyright violation?

Pretty obvious: 1) if you're going to copy a story, try to re-word it a bit and 2) when you get caught, apologize, make the changes, provide some credit to the original author and don't be a jerk.

>>I'm honestly amazed that this is crawling up Hacker News quite frankly.

This may be an indicator that you're in the wrong. Just a thought.

> I'm honestly amazed that this is crawling up Hacker News quite frankly.

C'mon, it's never been pointed out that you're kind of a douche? Seriously, never?

Thanks for letting us know about this. Your article was obviously original research which many "mainstream" media outlets have given up on. The article referenced was clearly copied directly from your original research and article without giving proper attribution or payment. It also misrepresented the source of the material by claiming to be written by a "Harrison Weber". In addition, the exchange shown with Zee where, caught in a lie, he threatens you by saying he will punish you by "staying well clear of anything ur involved with in future", shows that he is a disreputable person. Thank you for warning us about this site. I will stay away from TheNextWeb and anything they or their present staff are involved in in the future.

I think there is an overarching issue here because I've experienced it myself several times.

1) Person writes about something out of passion and posts it for free (the blog carries no ads)

2) Person who gets paid to write reads it, has no record of ever writing about that topic before, and then does his/her own take -- hitting all the same key points (including using quotes from others that were in the original post) making him/her look like a thinker.

3) Original person is never cited, never acknowledged, while paid person merrily collects paycheck for "work."

Having experienced it firsthand, I at least know several people never to take seriously as "thinkers" ever again.

I'm pretty sure there is an XKCD about this.

Didn't we conclude yesterday that there was a fundamental flaw in the original author's assumptions in how tips get reported and preliminary evidence suggests Taxi drivers are now making less?

Now that a major tech publication has picked up the story it may legitimately be cited as fact in a Wikipedia article.

Now that a major tech publication has picked up the story it will probably also go as an unquestioned anecdote in a thousand VC pitches.

The XKCD is a little different:

1) Find (false) fact on Wikipedia. 2) Include fact in your important paper (journal, etc) 3) Fact is found on wikipedia to be false, and is removed 4) Fact is later found in your journal, and is then added to Wikipedia with a reference to your important findings. 5) Fact cannot be removed because it was been referenced from a journal

The missing step:

6) Since the fact is attributed to your journal, it is only relevant to document what your journal says. Wikipedia article gets updated to reflect the fact your journal is wrong.

I think the big sites that have been SEO'd to death (esp. HuffPo) don't have journalistic scruples; content is merely means to an end for them.

They've basically turned journalism into Demand Media - churn out SEO'd, cheap, content with the added bonus of sites like HN, Reddit etc adding SEO weight when they're lucky. It's even cheaper if someone else writes that content and they just have to reword the important bits.

It's sad to see HN starting to vote up AOL, Gawker etc crap, and it's sad to see other blogs adopting that model because it works so well.

It's unfortunate but true. These were my thoughts exactly. I can see the situation from both sides.

You can't copyright facts, but The New Week article didn't have proper citation. In no work of academic writing or real journalism are you allowed to put one link at the bottom and call it a citation.

I would never allow a post at interchangeproject.org to have that sloppy of citations, nor would I allow someone to write there very long if this is what they consider proper attribution. Is it plagiarism? I don't know about that, but the attribution in that post is appalling.

The post is so close to the original that it should have just been one giant block quote. That's not journalism.

TheNextWeb did this to me a while back, if you remember the Only One Cloud meme. http://thenextweb.com/apple/2011/10/16/apples-icloud-icon-it... I went back and forth with the guy on Twitter and he was nice enough and updated it, but it's still curation, not creation. They are link blogging essentially, but with too much "copy and paraphrase."

I've experienced this and I sympathise with you. I don't know the specifics of this case, so my comment from here on is about the general practise of content theft and barely-there attribution.

This is unfortunately a way of life for many of the larger tech sites, and will be until they adapt or suffer their inevitable faith.

For every one person who linked up my Android vs Condom post (which went hyper-viral), 10 more stole the images and put in a tiny gray on white text link somewhere at the bottom of the post. And these weren't no name sites, they were big 200K+ reader sorta sites.

There are a small number of respectable people who link to a site with the genuine intention of sending traffic its way (Daringfireball would be one of them). The remainder do their absolute best to hide it, as you noted, some only do it when called out.

Zee again. Full response: http://bit.ly/JxoWae

Wow. This entire thing from start to finish is like a textbook example on how NOT to handle PR crises.

Let me get this straight: you're telling us the lesson you've learned is to not respond when emotional? You're posting this as a read-only Google Docs? As a CEO of a major tech publication? Seriously? Wow.

"Finally... Lesson learnt? Don’t respond while emotions are running high"

Wow, after all the drama you still don't get it. Lesson learned should have been: do not copy/paste, especially to such a degree where a majority of your "content" is actually not yours.

A Google doc, very interesting. The use of bit.ly is also interesting--someone may unwittingly click the link and reveal himself through his Google account. Perhaps the intention is to discover who is reading it (for what purpose I can only speculate). It isn't posted on TNW for reasons that are unclear (as others have noted). Perhaps the intention is to crowdsource the editing until the statement eventually converges to what passes for a sincere apology, which could then be posted on TNW. Of course the use of bit.ly and Google Docs could be entirely innocent.

> innocent

Yeah, well, after reading his responses here, I wouldn't go with that word, but rather with another one that starts with in - and ends with competent.

You have got to be joking. A Google doc that can be taken down and that isn't easily indexable to be associated with thenextweb. Why isn't this on TNW?

As for the comment "The debate on paraphrasing, rewriting and quoting we should save for another post" shows a remarkable level of cluelessness. That is the substance of the matter!!!

I can't even say that the title is not an attempt at dissembling. Making the title "Plagiarism?" indicates that you don't believe you plagiarised.

This is the worst non-apology apology I've ever seen.

This should be published on both on your Twitter page and should be a post on The Next Web, not Google Docs.

And you learned the wrong lesson.

Good lessons learned. We've all been there at some point in life (the rash response thing).

TheNextWeb usually has plenty of good, timely posts and it'd be a shame to consider it sullied so I, and hopefully others, hope some good can come out of this drama long term. (I've been in the role of editor and got the blame for sloppy fact-checking by one of my charges; it definitely helped me get my eye back on the ball :-))

"keep your mouth shut until you know all the facts"

I think you learned a hard lesson here, but it's one that many of us had to learn the hard way. It's good to see an apology.

"It's good to see an apology."

After reading the response I feel he was avoiding giving a proper apology. Only thing he apologizes is that he didn't have all the information at first, which is a kind of non-apology.

Yep, sounds like the usual issue-dodging non-apology damage-control bullcrap to me.

So are you going to fire the offender or what exactly are you doing to prevent this happening again?

The CEO's response amounts to the assertion that they will only plagiarize from people who won't call them out. What a nasty ungrateful insulting fellow.

And people still wonder why publications like these aren't considered serious purveyors of content. The goal isn't to spread information and break stories, instead it's to get eyeballs and sell advertisements.

The plagiarizer hasn't taken the care to assimilate an idea well enough so he can put it into his own words. The effort put into explaining something in one's own words has the powerful effect of spurring the imagination and intellect, which then can lead to new insights. The question is does Action Man care? Clearly not. Talk about steering clear of something -- thanks for the unintended warning.

Before I get angry about this I feel I need more info. Neither of the screenshots go down far enough to get to the bottom. The currently available article has Joshua quoted under the image of the tip screen and also has Joshua listed as a source at the bottom. Since this "plagiarized by TNW" article only mentions them adding the "here's what Joshua found" line in the middle & Zee seems to think they were pretty clear of sources, I am curious if those other 2 attributions were there the whole time or also added after the tweet. Also, the TNW article doesn't cite the source of that screen shot of the tip screen.. but then neither does Joshua's article. Where'd that come from? Is it stock imagery for anyone to use? or did Joshua take the photo himself?

Edit: oops. it appears Joshua's original article does credit the image (via subtle link "title") and links it back to the source article. However, that is a pretty subtle way to cite a source, IMO. The TNW article gives no credit for the image at all.

For what it's worth, the Huffington Post once did something similar with one of my posts, though it wasn't plagiarism, they basically just took my idea and ran with it. Even then, I'd say my situation was totally fair play. And given the content, it's not entirely inconceivable that they just had the same idea.

All of that said, I tweeted them about my article [1] (nothing accusative, just a sort of "hey, check out my similar article from eight months ago for a little more insight." They tweeted back something equally civil and added a link to their article [2] within a minute.

Anyway, that's a great way to handle such a situation, in my opinion.

[1] http://www.alfajango.com/blog/google-one-letter-suggestions/

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/08/google-instant-top-...

Great example of how the majority of news sites behave. It seems that others play by different rules. I thought the foundation of any journalism is quoting your sources and writing your own material. Maybe the web has changed (for the worst).

How is some anonymous Google Doc posted on the comments section of a Hacker News item an apology????

Make it public on front page of TNW.com

Tech journalism is broken. Someone fix it. Please.

Maybe we can start by not referring to a lot of tech blogs as journalism. Some are, but most aren't - including many that would like us to think they are.

Then we'd have to stop referring to a lot of what goes on TV, radio, and in the newspapers as journalism.

We sure do. I've been moving that direction for a few years now.

Agree with that too!

Here here.

HN has the readership to effect positive change in the tech journalism arena. Can HN blacklist the most egregarious plagiarists?

Interesting to note that exactly a month ago today, thenextweb pointed out a far less egregious or even obvious offense:


"And finally…

Nobody likes plagiarism, but an interesting nugget emerged this week. Poynter reported on a Fast Company blogger who said that he meant to steal from someone else when he was accused of plagiarism.

Author Josh Linkner was busted for stealing the opening lines of a blog post by Chris Dixon. Now, Linkner did respond on Twitter and moves were made to amend the ‘mistake’, but the comment he posted to explain/justify the non-attributed use of someone else’s text sounded a little…schoolboy-ish – he said a friend had sent him the excerpt. So let’s assume a friend did send him the excerpt…why wasn’t it attributed to him?

We’ll let you decide what really happened…"

Not defending this at all but I am reminded of my experience doing some freelance writing. I wrote a number of health articles. Several referenced published standard guidelines on how much exercise a person needs per week. In spite of stating the reference and altering the phrasing, I had articles come back to me for revision on the idea that I had copied and pasted some article I had never heard of which happened to also use the same source and cite the same figures.

Not the same thing as what happened here but I can relate to the situation. I think it is generally getting tough to avoid, given the sheer volume of material going up on the web.

"We have a great many writers that submit articles to us. We do our best to make sure stuff like this doesn't happen, but sometimes it does anyway. We'll fix it right now with credit and a link to your blog. Sorry about that, bro."

See? Fixed. Easy.

TheNextWeb could have provided substantially the same article to its readers by block quoting with attribution rather than plagiarizing with attribution.

Would that have been fair use? While a significant minority of people would say "No", I'm in the majority that would say "Yes".

But hey -- I once blogged something only to have Mashable post the same news, taking credit for it as original research (but without plagiarizing the wording). I think that behavior was worse. Pete Cashmore promised me he'd fix it, then didn't follow through.

Journalism ethics and standards taken from Wikipedia [1]:

The basic codes and canons commonly appear in statements drafted by both professional journalism associations and individual print, broadcast, and online news organizations.

The primary themes common to most codes of journalistic standards and ethics are the following:

-Accuracy and standards for factual reporting

-Slander and libel considerations

-Harm limitation principle


[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalism_ethics_and_standards

I have just noted that plagiarism is becoming the order of the day on the Internet.Someone has just plagiarised too a post a put on my blog last: http://edceekays.blogspot.com/2012/05/face-of-malawi-plagiar.... SOPA was bad but I think we need something in these lines to curb plagiarism.

Slate magazine picked up the story, but exercised responsible journalistic practice and credited Joshua Gross: http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/05/15/taxi_button_t...

And to think they did this without having to be told and without finding it necessary to insult the author--quite a contrast.

A CEO should never respond to a situation in that way. He lost his cool; big time! I have always respected TNW, but today changes that.

Sorry man, I read that article and thought it's insights were profound. I am sorry to hear that they basically just 'spun' your hard work. Doesn't seem fair that you do the hard work but they end up with the lions share of the hits...

To SEO Experts: Should they have given the original author a 'canonical' link from that page? Would that have helped matters SEO wise?

IMO giving SEO juice doesn't excuse plagiarism.

Wow.....it's May 2012 and 'tech-savvy' companies still don't know how to handle basic stuff like copyright infringement by employees, bad customer service experiences and disgruntled partners (and employees) as a direct result of your own actions?

Say sorry.

Shut up.

Avert PR crisis.

Move on.

Is it that hard people?


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