Most writers agree that imitation is flattering. But they still want credit—even when the "imitation" appears in a blog.
City Councilman Derek Reeve, facing criticism for , offers a different view. Writing in today's Orange County Register, he acknowledged "carelessly" using "previously published material" while blogging for San Juan Capistrano Patch. But he dismissed accusations of plagiarism, saying blogs are informal musings "in which the standards of communication are relaxed."
Reeve didn't directly address instances in which he similarly lifted the copyrighted words of journalists and other authors for City Council staff reports and a press release he wrote.
Reeve, an attorney who teaches political science at two Orange County colleges, said the standards he applies in his legal and scholarly writings, in which he takes "pains to add footnotes to identify the origin of ideas," shouldn't be applied to his online words.
Academic experts and several of the authors whose work he copied disagreed.
Other Writers Criticize Reeve
According to those whose words he lifted, Reeve's actions were plagiarism and theft, plain and simple. But one writer acknowledged that bloggers often face less scrutiny for copyright infringement.
"There seems to be an idea that there should be a lesser standard for work on the Internet than work that appears in print," said Richard F. LaMountain, a guest columnist for the Oregonian and one of the writers Reeve copied. "With the increasing relevance and credibility of blogs, I think the standards really should be ... closer."
LaMountain said Reeve's blogs unquestionably bear more than a passing resemblance to his own words, but said he doesn’t intend to take any action against the councilman for duplications such as this:
If mandated for employers, it would deny those jobs to unauthorized alien applicants and confine them instead to citizens and legal residents. This would shrink our oversupply of labor, raise wages for lower-skilled jobs, and make those jobs more attractive to Americans.
If mandated for U.S. employers, it would deny those jobs to illegal-immigrant applicants and confine them instead to citizens and legal residents. This would shrink America's oversupply of labor, raise wages for lower-skilled jobs, and make those jobs more attractive to Americans …
"Some of the sentences are verbatim," LaMountain said.
Reeve didn't respond to a request for comment for this story.
Reeve similarly copied from a June 2010 opinion piece by former ABC reporter and commentator John Stossel. Richard Newcombe, the founder of Creators Syndicate, which sells Stossel's writings to newspapers and others, had sharp words for Reeve.
"It’s obvious he agrees with Stossel, he likes Stossel ... therefore he should show him the courtesy of attribution," Newcombe said. "If he’s going to try to plagiarize people, he should certainly not pick someone as widely read and known as John Stossel."
When Reeve copied Stossel's words without attributing them, he plagiarized, Newcombe said. "I think plagiarism is horrible, it’s theft," he added. But Newcombe also didn't seem inclined to take any legal action.
Questions About Academic Integrity
Thomas Bartlett, a reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education who has written extensively about professors who plagiarize, said the standards for attribution vary in different industries, but the same general rules apply: "Verbatim writing needs to be in quotes, attributed to the person, period."
The two colleges where Reeve teaches political science, Concordia University and Saddleback, declined to comment on the matter. A Saddleback spokeswoman suggested it would be inappropriate for the school to say anything because Reeve produced his blogs outside the academic forum.
It's not unprecedented for colleges to discipline instructors for off-campus plagiarism. In 2004, a committee at the University of New Hampshire penalized a professor for "scholarly misconduct" over a column published in Manchester's The Union Leader.
Gregory F. Scholtz, a director at the American Association of University Professors, said disciplinary decisions are often made by a faculty committee that weighs whether a teacher's work outside the classroom has any bearing on his professional competence.
Saddleback's code of conduct requires faculty to "exhibit intellectual honesty and integrity in all scholarly endeavors."
Although Reeve's work on Patch arguably occurred outside that realm, Scholtz said it still raises questions about his intellectual honesty. Scholtz referred to the association's statement on professional ethics, which says professors, "guided by a deep conviction of the worth and dignity of the advancement of knowledge ... practice intellectual honesty. Although the professors may follow subsidiary interests, these interests must never seriously hamper or compromise their freedom of inquiry."
Reeve didn't respond to Patch's request for copies of his academic and legal writings, including a USC dissertation listed on his resume. USC, where he earned his bachelor's and juris doctorate degrees, said it had no record of any dissertations by Reeve on file at its law library. (Dissertations are not a graduation requirement, and Reeve's might have been written for independent study, the school said). Reeve is also a doctoral candidate at Claremont University.
Roy Bauer, a philosophy instructor at Irvine Valley College who has taken jabs at Reeve's politics as a city councilman, is now blasting Reeve for the blog posts.
Bauer's blog, Dissent the Blog ... Life Among Neanderthals, questioned Reeve's integrity and fitness for teaching. If Reeve "repeatedly represents others' writings as his own ... [he] cannot be trusted to argue honestly; he certainly cannot be trusted to instill academic honesty in his students."