Chip Shots by Chip Griffin

Ownership of Ideas in the Age of Information Overload

Jeremiah Owyang today writes an open letter to a speaker who apparently cribbed from his blog in making a presentation — without offering any credit:

It’s a professional courtesy to cite others, especially if they’ve worked hard to get the knowledge that they have. Also, it adds to your credibility, as third party sources can validate your point. Since we’re in a very open community, people talk, and people will find out anyways if you use someone’s work without their permission.

First, let me say that Jeremiah is absolutely correct that if you directly take someone’s information or ideas and use them in a presentation/speech/article you should attribute them.

The simplest case is in citing concrete information or data. If you copy something, you need to credit it.  But what about ideas?  I read hundreds of blogs posts every day, and I know that my thinking is deeply impacted by what I read.  I often find myself saying things — perhaps a factual tidbit or a concept — that I think I may have read elsewhere.  But if I don’t recall specially, how do I cite it?

A simple case in point occurred last weekend with me and Jeremiah, ironically.  I had remembered seeing a particular photograph but I couldn’t remember where.  I described the photo on my blog and the fact that I didn’t know its provenance.  Jeremiah helpfully commented that it was from his blog, so I linked over to it so my readers could see what I was talking about rather than being forced to visualize it.

Obviously, I have no idea the circumstances that motivated Jeremiah to write his post.  I imagine it was something clear-cut and egregious.  But in a world in which many of us are reading huge volumes of material every day, ownership and attribution of ideas becomes a much more difficult concept to wrap our arms around.  It doesn’t mean we should ignore it, it just means we have to work that much harder to be aware of the challenge and find ways to address it as well as can be done.

Similar Posts