Steal This Blog Post

Feb 19, 2009 / By Sheeri Cabral

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I have been talking more and more with colleagues about the Open Source community and licenses. Zak Greant recently wrote in Free Culture vs. Fear Culture vs. Fee Culture that, “People with bad intentions will do bad things . . . often regardless of the license on the work.”

And, unfortunately, he is right. If I release an article or presentation video with a Creative Commons license, it is still possible for my work to be plagiarized, and if it is, I will still feel violated.

Many of us who use Creative Commons or MySQL have an Open Source mentality. We often do not see value in pirating software—why would we use Microsoft Word (a legally licensed copy, or pirated) if we can use OpenOffice or NeoOffice?

In the same manner as Steal This Book, we rebel. But instead of stealing, we make things with less restrictive licenses, so that we can give them away for free, and so that people don’t bear the stigma of having to steal to get what they should rightfully have (good, accessible software). We encourage feed aggregators such as planetmysql to re-use our content.

Of course, we believe that just because we are “long-haired sandal-wearing hippies”, everyone else involved in Open Source is, too. Much as the preface to Steal This Book asserts, we believe:

Our moral dictionary says no heisting from each other. To steal from a brother or sister is evil.

So it surprises me when I encounter people in an Open Source community who have, in fact, stolen from others in their own community. It’s so easy to not steal, that I am amazed that there are people who actually go out of their way to steal on purpose.

According to Wikipedia, “Plagiarism is the use or close imitation of the language and ideas of another author and representation of them as one’s own original work.” For example, had I not quoted Wikipedia as the source of the definition, and just stated the definition without any citation, I would have committed an act of plagiarism.

Had I done the same with the MySQL Manual, I would be guilty also of plagiarism and copyright infringement, because the MySQL Manual is copyrighted; permission to use the material in the MySQL Manual must be granted.

Arjen Lentz wrote an article about MySQL AB’s expected employee principles, and asked what people would add to the list. Included on the list is, “Aim to be good citizens.”

Good citizens do not steal or plagiarize. Good citizens treat others how they themselves want to be treated, and this goes beyond stealing and plagiarism—if someone hurts or maligns him or her, good citizens will keep on doing what they’re doing. Hate and vengeance have no place in their hearts. To (probably misquote) Sun Tzu: “Never explain. Your friends do not need it, and your enemies will not believe it anyway.”

The points I am trying to drive home are that a good citizen is not merely someone who adds value to the community; a good citizen also does not detract from the community by stealing, plagiarizing, or spreading hate.

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