Saturday, April 18, 2009

Sweet clone Alabama

screengrab design professor

The term “fair use” in copyright legislation allows for the unauthorised reproduction of limited samples of copyrighted works for the purposes of news, review, comment and criticism. Fair is fair however and fair use does not license the unauthorised lifting of unlimited material, notably with zero attribution to the original. Those who partake in the unauthorised lifting of volumes of material without attribution to the original, and who attempt to pass said material off as their own work, are known as plagiarists. They walk amongst us in the media and academia and hold their heads up high - until sprung. As a blogger, moreover, I, like many others, have to contend with "content aggregators" – blogs and other websites which scrape content from around the blogosphere and repost entire blog posts under their own banners, with no permission and usually, with no attribution. When you spend a lot of time researching original material and others simply sit on their asses and rip it off – worse still, even receiving remuneration in the process – it’s enough to put anyone off blogging. But I really did have to giggle at the net’s latest content aggregator: Alabama-based academic Dr Marcy L Koontz.

Dr Marcy Koontz claims to be an assistant professor in the Department of Clothing, Textiles & Interior Design of the University of Alabama College of Human Environmental Sciences.

Koontz appears to operate a blog called Design Professor - which links through to her website and business email address.

On her blog, Koontz goes to some trouble to promote the importance of original content.

Indeed, the blog’s headline logo, writ large in bold type across the top of the blog is:

Also at the top of the blog, in plain view, Koontz notes:
“I am an educator who tries to constantly inspire, encourage and motivate my students to be original and cutting edge.

To be successful, you have to think outside the box, and continually challenge the mainstream.

In a world full of imitators & second-handers, being original is unique.

BE ORIGINAL - do not copy the looks & trends you see in mainstream papers & magazines if you want to be taken seriously as a designer. Industry experts will not be impressed - neither will 12 year old Tavi !”

That’s all well and good and this journalist wholeheartedly supports original thinking.

Like many other fashion blogs, Design Professor includes a blogroll of well-known fashion blogs and websites. Koontz calls those listed on her blogroll, “Inspiring People”.

The problem arises when you start scrolling through the actual content of Koontz’s blog, only to discover just how much inspiration has been taken from material published elsewhere.

Now frockwriter would like to give Koontz the benefit of the doubt in assuming that this whole thing may be some kind of misunderstanding. Lazy assistant perhaps who forgot to include links? Still wouldn’t give Koontz the right to aggregate the content without permission. Or is it not Koontz at all, but some kind of joke?

Frockwriter is seeking comment from Koontz and will let you know her response. But do check the blog as it stands – and prior to the removal of any incriminating material. (UPDATE 19/04: the blog has now been deleted, see Koontz's response below).

The only reason Design Professor popped up on frockwriter’s radar is because of a news alert on the term “Australian Fashion Week”. One recent such alert drew our attention to Design Professor’s cut-and-paste job of our own recent RAFW and Diet Coke story. It’s the entire first half of the post, complete with images (which were linked to sources in the original post). No permission was sought for this and there is no attribution whatsoever.

Curiously, Design Professor also picked up this journalist's recent social media story from WISH magazine – but on this occasion, chose to merely highlight the opening par and link through to The Australian’s website. Which suggests that Design Prof’s plagiarism may be selective.

But the Diet Coke story is just one example of a litany of Design Prof’s ripoffs, which include a cut-and-paste job of a feature from Fairfax’s The Vine website on RAFW’s Fashion Design Studio designers and another wholesale ripoff, complete with original layout, of Forbes’ Most Powerful Fashion Magazine Editors story from September 4.

One of the more alarming examples is a reproduction of The Business of Fashion’s “Valentino: Still In The Spotlight” post from April 2nd. It’s another cut-and-paste job, with a few subtle differences.

Carefully edited out of the original - conveniently drawing attention away from the fact that Design Professor did not actually sight the Valentino documentary at a special screening, or talk directly to people in the industry – are the following phrases. The original words that have been edited out are highlighted in bold type:

“I enjoyed the film at press screening in New York in October and have been waiting to see what the broader reaction would be after its wider release”.

I think what I took away most from The film shows just how much fashion has changed. Fashion has become a world where companies focus on image creation and the marketing of dreams and cultivation of aspiration to drive sales. And, the film frames Valentino as the last of the great couturiers which, in and of itself, is a depressing thought”.

But, I hope this is not the case. The more I speak to people in the industry, the more I think we are returning to a time of great craftsmanship, design and timelessness in fashion. The hope this that this is not the case. The more you hear from people in the industry, the more you understand that they are returning to a time of great craftsmanship, design and timelessness in fashion".

All links to earlier BOF stories have been removed from Design Professor's version, with the exception of one retained outward link: the story’s reference to the French L├ęgion d'honneur.

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

UPDATE 19/04 @ 10.16AM: Well if you did not get to check Design Professor after this post went up late yesterday, it's too late now because the entire blog has been deleted.

Overnight Koontz sent me the following, cryptic, email:
"This is | was an unfortunate and disappointing situation that is being corrected on many fronts."

Yes, extremely disappointing - and primarily because Koontz fails to provide any explanation whatsoever.

Koontz may have deleted the blog, however evidence remains via screen grabs taken by frockwriter - and of course all the material that remains cached on the web.

UPDATE 22/04 @ 8.15AM: Twenty-four hours after sending that initial, cryptic, email which offered no explanation, Koontz sent another, much longer, email, using what is known in cyber security circles as the "unknown hacker defence". Koontz now claims that her computer was hacked. In the interim I have been attempting to procure more detailed information from her - and other independent parties. Pending some other work commitments, will update as soon as possible.


Anonymous said...

Content aggregators (thanks for telling me what to call them!) give me the royal irrits. Especially when the cloned material is lifted from the likes of Wikipedia and not updated as the articles change, meaning people spout all kinds of things as 'fact' without back-checking what often is original research and/or bogus to begin with.

Gotta say, it's very ballsy to lift articles while proclaiming not to - and the removal of first-person narrative (as you pointed out) shows they know exactly what they are doing. I doubt you'll get a reply Patty, but at least their cover has been blown!

Anna Wintour said...

How do you feel about content aggregators (does the term even apply in this instance?) who re-post partial stories, with attribution, but without permission alongside their thoughts on said stories (which is what 90% of the blogs I look at do)? Should you always ask permission before reposting parts of someone's work, or is it OK to partially repost without permission as long as you link to the full story?
If you wait to ask permission before reposting bits and pieces, the news is often old by the time you get a reply back, and therefore not worth writing about at all.

Patty Huntington said...

AW -

that comes under fair use, for the purposes of news, review, comment or criticism. it's how news spreads across the web. and these parties are citing their sources and driving traffic to the story originators. which is more than can be said for many mainstream outlets that crib blog stories.

of course, once the info is in the public domain, it's out there. there's no copyright on information, just the expression of that information. in the case of Design Professor, entire blog posts and stories were quite clearly being reproduced word-for-word.

Michelle said...

heh. i love accountability on the 'net

DP pwnd!

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