Plagiarism: The “Orange is Controversial” Controversy

We love it when other websites link to IBD. Whenever we see that we’re getting hits from another site, we click right away to see if we need to alert our web host that we’re going viral. (“Batten down the hatches! Della Jane’s baseball quilting group posted a link on Facebook!”)

So when I saw a few weeks ago that we had gotten a couple hits from a site called Dream Stream, I went to check it out. It was a surreal, Inception-esque moment when I saw on this other site my own words from a recent post about the color orange. And not just a few of my words, but all of them from that post (though none of the images from the post were included, which is a little funny, because the text specifically references the images). I don’t want to link to the site, but you can see a bigger version of the screen capture below by clicking on it.

It was even more jarring to see that not only was I not credited for the article, but someone named Philippe was.

I should point out that I get called Phil all the time. One person I know has called me Phil for the better part of a decade, and I was once quoted on the front page of The Wall Street Journal (true story!) as “Phil Caputo.”

I have several theories for this: There’s a famous author named Philip Caputo (no relation). The names Phil and Paul are easy to confuse since they both start with P and end with L, and they have the same number of letters. And finally, I root for the Phillies. (I sometimes wonder if IBD Phil and Other IBD Phil root for the Paulies.)

But I don’t think it was confusion over my name that caused my intellectual property to show up on another website attributed to someone else.

It was difficult to find contact information for the site, which is run by a company in Brussels. Comments on the blog post were closed, so after some research, I found a general mailing address on the company’s Facebook page and sent a message indicating my displeasure and asking them to remove the post. I received this response:

Dear mister Caputo,

Please accept my apologies for this. We usually put the source of each article on our internal blog. We have added your source immediately to the article. I hope this suits your request.

Kind regards,
Philippe De Wulf

Philippe had added this attribution at the bottom of the article:

I debated writing back and saying that it was not enough, and I debated trying to start a Cooks Source magazine style Internet campaign against Dream Stream (see Nerd Rage: A Response to Internet Thievery). But the wind was out of my sails. I had received an apology and attribution, though not exactly in flashing neon lights (I should have asked for my name in an animated starburst), and the prospect of a trans-Atlantic copyright battle seemed fruitless.

So words that I wrote still exist on this other site, looking to all the world like they were written by Philippe. At the very least, Dream Stream’s use of my words falsely attributed to someone else is immoral. At the most, it’s illegal copyright infringement. I can’t say for certain whether the folks at Dream Stream are simply ignorant or actively malicious, but this episode is a reminder that it’s incredibly easy to steal copyrighted materials that exist online, and that there’s a gross misunderstanding of what that little copyright symbol at the bottom of the page means.

I likely never would have known that I had been plagiarized if Philippe had thought to remove links to IBD’s other “Get to Know a Color!” articles contained within “Orange is Controversial,” but I get the idea that he didn’t look too carefully at the article before taking credit for it.

All of that being said, I hope Philippe’s Belgian friends got a big laugh at his insightful and hilarious jab at the New York Mets.