Heller Hall BY-NC jadammel/Joe D.
(photo taken at the U of M)
The following thoughts on plagiarism of public-facing materials produced at a public research institution are adapted from email conversations around the above situation - but might be worth thinking about in other instances of sharing and 'stealing'.
First off, copying a whole blog post without credit sounds like plagiarism - which is unethical, and in the academic environment is a punishable offense. But plagiarism is often not actually a copyright violation. At times like this, that can be frustrating, but there are actually good reasons for the law to work like that. When engaging with someone who may have plagiarized in a blog environment, I'd stick to talking about plagiarism in terms of journalistic (and blogger) ethics, rather than law - most people usually do care about behaving appropriately on these points, but can be pretty confused about appropriate ways to provide credit, or about what works are free for public use.
Depending on the facts of how a work is produced at the University of Minnesota and how the University copyright policies apply, the copyrights may belong to the Regents (i.e., to the University), to individuals, or to a combination. Bloggers (and others) may be confused about the public domain status of University of Minnesota materials, because the United States federal government does not own copyrights - all federal government materials are in the public domain in the U.S. Many states also have laws that make their own state laws public domain. However, the individual states, and especially units of those states acting as regular business entities, can own copyrights. It is quite common for Regents of state universities to hold copyrights in materials produced by their staff.
It's important to remember that even if the Regents do own the rights, bloggers - and anyone else - do have some rights to re-use the content without permission under the copyright concept of "fair use". At times, fair use does include even the use of an entire work - a concept that has recently been upheld in cases of bloggers reproducing news articles without permission.
Clearly, plagiarism of online content is problematic - but it is actually not true that every user would be violating copyright if they reproduced the whole article, and it is true that individuals do sometimes have the right to use quotations without permission. Because there really is room in the law for some re-use by individuals, I'd encourage anyone communicating with a possible plagiarist not to overstate what the law prohibits individuals from doing - although I understand why poor behavior and plagiarism might produce the urge to use some strong words.
It's also important not to overstate the limits of use rights in copyright because, as a public research institution, the Regents have articulated institutional commitments to sharing our work with the public - one of the guiding principles of the Regents' Copyright Policy is "The University's mission articulates a commitment to sharing knowledge through education for a diverse community and application of that knowledge to benefit the people of the state, the nation, and the world. In this spirit, the University encourages faculty and students to exercise their interests in ownership and use of their copyrighted works in a manner that provides the greatest possible scholarly and public access to their work."
Throughout the University, we rely on fair use a lot in our research, teaching and scholarship. It's important to remember that that's a two-way street.
'ed and 'ellow BY-NC-ND Alan Kaar
(photo taken at the U of M)