CHARLES JAY: Content Crime Deserves a Takedown
By Charles Jay
There are certain stories I might not normally get into, unless there is some personal connection I feel to them, or there is something that is so outrageous that it can’t possibly be ignored. The story I’m about to tell you has a little bit of both.
I was probably one of the first boxing writers who really had a breakthrough on the internet. And engaging in the kind of writing I was involved with, there going to be things about my material that were either first, or exclusive. In the late 1990’s early 2000’s, this was sensitive because the internet wasn’t getting a lot of respect from the so-called “establishment.” I would often hear stories from internet writers who told me their stuff was being pilfered, somewhat shamelessly, by print “journalists” from daily newspapers.
And then it happened to me.
On the website I was operating at the time, I had penned two investigative pieces; one of them was about the opponents of Richie Melito, a heavyweight from New York who I had outed in connection with a fight where one Thomas Williams had taken a dive against him, and the other centered around the foes of Brian Nielsen, who was about to fight Mike Tyson.
Not that long after this story was posted, I was horrified to read a piece in one of the major New York dailies that was not only a composite of my own two stories, but also contained passages and unique vocabulary that was exactly the same as I used. Facts I had uncovered about the opponents who were part of my piece were recited almost word-for-word. It was actually pretty shocking that someone who would be paid to write for a paper in the largest market in the nation could do something like this.
I really didn’t do anything at first, probably because of that shock, but there were other people who jumped in. And there was a good explanation for it. You see, in those days when I wrote a piece I sent it out to a small email list, and also posted it on the boxing newsgroup. In other words, I was adequately “time-stamped.” A couple of my colleagues, who had no doubt seen this kind of thing happen to them, jumped hard on the writer. One of them went a little overboard. I guess this made me jump into the fray myself.
Well, it had escalated to the point where I had gotten an email from one of the asshole attorneys at this newspaper, threatening me with legal action if I made accusations about the writer. I probably would have gone up there and choked someone to death, if not for an email that came in almost simultaneously, from this writer himself. Obviously he had told a tale to the attorney, but then did some pointing and clicking and realized it wasn’t going to work in the end. So he apologized to me, told me it was an accident and said that he would put a retraction in the newspaper the next week, explaining where the story really did come from.
His own explanation to me was that he was that he was on the phone with a matchmaker who was, I suppose, reading my story to him, and his impression was that the matchmaker was speaking off the top of his head. Whatever.
On the internet – indeed, especially the internet – the apparatus is there for the truth to come out, sooner or later.
The day the retraction was supposed to go in the paper was September 12, 2001. For obvious reasons, it was held over until the next week. A couple of years later, sure enough, this gentleman got a “lifetime achievement award” from the Boxing Writers Association. From what I know about the way the BWAA has conducted some of its business, I’m not sure I would have expected anything different.
Alas, this story isn’t about me, but when you can relate to something, you just start writing. And writing. And writing….
Before the internet became a real fixture, it was, I suppose, understandable that a print writer would consider cutting and pasting from an online source without credit, since, after all, the pervading mentality was that the original source was “just an internet writer” and therefore, wouldn’t be taken as seriously as a print writer (yes, I’ve actually heard that). Of course, times have changed. Most breaking news these days comes from the internet, or is published there first. But what is especially disturbing is that in the case we have before us, it is one internet writer pilfering from another.
Shame on him.
On June 7, on this website, Bryanna Fissori published a story about what was said to be a pending Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), with her own analysis and interpretation of what the implications were. This was a story about the concept of anti-trust, and Ms. Fissori carefully explained what was meant by the terms “monopoly,” “oligopoly,” “tortuous interference” and more, and went into detail as to whether the UFC might be exposed from an anti-trust standpoint with regard to the way it has been doing business. Covered were issues such as television outlets, live programs, fighter promotional contracts, jurisdictional authority, and so on.
Ms. Fissori offered a rather thorough and objective legal analysis, and there’s a pretty good explanation for it. She happens to be a law school graduate, as well as a martial artist. Because she does such a good job, she gets many views to her pieces, and this one was no exception. What I’m saying is that the existence of her story was hardly a secret.
Six full days after this (June 13), a story entitled “UFC Breaking News: Dana White Under Fire by the FTC” was published on another website by someone named Sean Farrell.
The story is 2246 words in length. The first four paragraphs belong completely to Mr. Farrell. Everything else, right up until the beginning of the final paragraph – we are talking about FIFTEEN paragraphs, mind you – was essentially scraped word-for-word from Ms. Fissori’s story. And when I say word-for-word, go see it for yourself: http://ringsidereport.com/?p=11454 (or contact Boxing Insider in the event they have taken it off the server by the time you read this). As determined by Copyscape.com, a service which employs special software to search for duplicate content on the web, 1541 words in Mr. Farrell’s piece were a duplicate of Ms. Fissori’s. Then consider that Ms. Fissori’s piece was only 1690 words long. That means he would have copied 91% of her work.
To go over the whole thing, point-for-point, is, well, pointless, because it was, for all intents and purposes, a cut-and-paste job. What was kind of interesting, however, is that as you go over the duplicate piece, you note the distinct difference in style, articulation, vocabulary and even punctuation between what came from Farrell’s own devices and from, as it turned out, Ms. Fissori’s own pen in that story. Even if one did not know about any alleged plagiarism going into the exercise, it would be no stretch for the educated observer to conclude that they didn’t come from the same writer. Just imagine riding in a car, over several miles of smooth pavement, and then running over a stretch of gravel. And it is well worth mentioning that when first discovering the copied story, Boxing Insider contact the website by way of the “comments” page, but the comment was erased off the site. That makes this particular piece even more necessary.
The website that published the dubious story is run by Brad Berkwitt of Woodbridge, VA, a former writer at Boxing Insider who was let go from the site several years ago. Mr. Farrell is listed as a “lead writer – MMA” on the site, listed right above someone named “Grim X.,” whose title is “Advisor to the CEO.”
I don’t know if I can even identify with the mindset that is at work when someone does the pure scrape, using a little window dressing around it to create the illusion (and an ineffective one, I might add) of originality. It could be that Mr. Farrell is mounting a campaign to run for president of the BWAA someday, but that would be giving him too much of an “out.” There are a lot of people out there who basically turn a recorder on and let the interviewee essentially write the story for them, which makes them more of a transcriber than anything else, but when it comes to compiling something that requires original thought, a kind of paralysis sets in, which leaves certain writers to consider what might politely be described as “the path of least resistance.”
Mr. Berkwitt bills himself on the site as “CEO/Publisher/Webmaster,” so I am going to assume that nothing gets online without going across his massive desk first. Is it that he just doesn’t know his own writer that well? Or that he just believed there was a certain moment of divine inspiration that allowed for a point of view on topics so subtle and nuanced to be conveyed with such erudition? To me there would have been dead giveaways, like this passage that cried out for an editor: “The UFC is boring point blank. MMA is not boring just the UFC. I see many fights with no name guys and prospects who put on great bouts and great cards where you seldom see a Jon Fitch Dry Humping Spectacle like you would in the UFC.” Hasn’t anyone heard of a hyphen?
Perhaps Mr. Berkwitt doesn’t edit the articles, but does he check to see if they are plagiarized? As we pointed out above, there is a facility to do just that. But if the “CEO/Publisher/Webmaster” does not perform enough due diligence, and he’s not getting the right kind of “advice” from Grim X., it’s nice to know that there are avenues for the victim to explore. One of them is DMCA.com. That’s if you want to spend some money. Another way is to file a complaint with Google News, which picks and chooses who is included and who is excluded from its pages, and is cracking down on duplicate content more than ever right now.
You can also contact me, which is not the best news, Google or otherwise, for ANY guilty party. I didn’t have time to ascertain whether a lot of other stories on that website could survive Copyscape scrutiny, but we’ve found someone who has offered to do just that.
I really don’t care if a guy can’t think of anything original, finds himself on a deadline, thinks he’s flying under the radar, regards it as an innocent offense, doesn’t know how to write, or is just plain lazy.
If I catch you stealing material, you’re going DOWN, in any way that’s feasible.
Do you “copy” that?