Thursday, August 5, 2010

GBD & Etiquette Part III: Plague-rism (originally posted 1/12/09)

We’ve covered a bit about intellectual property with choreography and presentations in the first GBD Etiquette article. Now we’re going to examine some other areas concerning intellectual property.

At dinner with friends the other week, one made the comment along the lines of “I don’t know how you put up with people copying your designs.” At that moment (and into my second glass of wine), I said, “There gets to be a point where it doesn’t bother you so much, but every once and while, it builds up 3-4 instances colliding at once, and I have to confess, it makes me want to fly off the handle, then I get over it and move on. You can copy me, but you can never BE me.”

And then a few days later, I alerted to a piece of writing that was so much taken directly from the Gothic Bellydance Resource, that if you highlighted the text originating from the Resource, there would have been very little text left. The kicker was, nowhere was the website credited, AND the author had the nerve to tell others to make sure to credit HER if they use it.

At first, I was just blown away by the blatant audacity and disrespect. And then I got to thinking about what to do about it.

I realized that the one big thing my RISD training did not impart upon me was dealing with theft of work. While there were business classes for artists and discussion of copyright (how much you can change an idea legally), nowhere was it discussed what to do if someone copies your work, your intellectual property. And I won’t even go into the lack of action regarding stolen supplies and damage to work. Perhaps they assumed that since many RISD students come from well-off families, we’d just hire the family lawyer to take care of it? Real practical thinking there, especially for folks attending on scholarship and loans up the wazoo. I’ll add a lawyer to my list of things to have when I’m independently wealthy.

So I could blame RISD, but that’s not exactly responsible behavior either. It’s really a twofold personal issue. One, my natural default is “nice, easy-going, relaxed individual who earnestly believe that all people want to be good to others.” Yeah, a bit naive, but at 30 years, it doesn’t look like I’m about to outgrow this anytime soon, even if it means I’ve got more abuse coming one way or another. And two, I really don’t have the time and energy to waste tracking down every infraction of copyright and plagiarism.

Then I realized, something in the depths of my education did give me tools dealing with plagiarism. No, it wasn’t at RISD. It was my exceptional AP English teachers in high school who taught us the correct way to write essays and article while quoting sources. And these teachers really were phenomenal, and I wish everyone could have had them in high school.

So rather than write this particular plagiarist personally, I thought I would help the greater situation by educating. I’m just not the kind of person to out the individual and post the offending work either, but I also have no doubt that they are also a member of this tribe, and perhaps this will get through to you, while helping out other people. Because the issue doesn’t just reside in the lifting website content by one person, because others have also done it, plus issues of swiping workshop titles and descriptions, workshop content, and other similar behaviors that in the long run don’t do anyone any good. And I believe a lot of it comes because people just don’t know any better.

First, there’s a wonderful website that everyone should take a few moments to investigate:

And I shall quote here, directly from their website: What is Plagiarism, located at…rism.html

“Many people think of plagiarism as copying another’s work, or borrowing someone else’s original ideas. But terms like “copying” and “borrowing” can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to “plagiarize” means

1. to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own

2. to use (another’s production) without crediting the source

3. to commit literary theft

4. to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else’s work and lying about it afterward.

But can words and ideas really be stolen?

According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property, and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

* turning in someone else’s work as your own

* copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit

* failing to put a quotation in quotation marks

* giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation

* changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit

* copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules)

Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism. See our section on citation for more information on how to cite sources properly.”

* * *

From their section of types of plagiarism ( ) I think most offenders in the dance community fall into the following:

“The Potluck Paper”

The writer tries to disguise plagiarism by copying from several different sources, tweaking the sentences to make them fit together while retaining most of the original phrasing.


“The Poor Disguise”

Although the writer has retained the essential content of the source, he or she has altered the paper’s appearance slightly by changing key words and phrases.

Meaning, if I can clearly identify MY work in yours, even if you’ve added a few phrases and switched the adjectives around, it’s still plagiarism if you don’t credit the source.

So what does this have to do with bellydance, and specifically Gothic Bellydance? Well, I’ve seen plenty of infractions in both communities, and I feel it’s my job to help us (that wish to be) be as professional as possible.

That means,

- if you use material from a website that is not your own, whether it’s on your own site, in a class, in a flyer, in an article, in a workshop, etc – you need to use quotation marks and cite your site. CITE YOUR SITE! (that’s easy to remember) It’s always a good idea to ask the source if you can get ahold of them, but don’t use that as an excuse not to cite the source!

- if you’re not ready to write your own unique description and title for your workshop, then you might not be ready to teach it. Because if the material within the workshop is all of your own, then you should have no problem writing a description for it. Yes, at some point, the basics of a description sound the same, but it should have your own voice and concept.

- if you use a move or exercise in a class or workshop from someone else, you owe it not only to that person, but to your students as well to tell them where it came from. You may think that showing your source makes you appear weak, but it actually makes you stronger, because eventually, they (students or the individual the material came from) will find out. Why not be upfront about it? You should be! Even if it’s a little thing, students enjoy hearing where things come from, and it makes them more well-rounded. In fact, they’ll learn from your behavior and credit YOU when they go on to teach.

I could go on, but this is already pretty long. Essentially, if you want to make a name for yourself in the dance community, if you want to earn respect and kudos, then you need to be honest to yourself, honest to your students, and honest to the people who have inspired you. Respect them, and you in turn will earn respect.

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