The case against WebProNews

Filed as General on September 12, 2005 12:14 am

by Duncan

Repost This


I posted late Friday (US EST) my weekend cryptic question here, but now its time to pressent the case for the prosecution against WebProNews.

I read WebProNews, have since the days it use to be an ezine delivered to my inbox, back in the dark ages before blogging emerged. Sure, I don’t read it as much these days but the blog related stuff gets picked up in my Google News Feeds. A lot of their stuff is republished from other sites, Darren Rowse of Problogger is one such blogger (and no: similar to Darren was the “Pro” in the puzzle) but they also hire their own writters as well. One particular writer has stood out for me recently because he keeps writing about stuff I’ve seen elsewhere, or even written about myself: Jason Lee Miller.

Mr Miller is creative, I’ll give him this, because when he writes he usually tries to put his own spin on things, or as the case may be, re-writes others ideas and presents them as his own, but it really, really pisses me off when time and time again I see anyone presenting idea’s, qoutes or otherwise as their own, and don’t give attribution. Sure, a lot of bloggers are ametuers and don’t know any better, or if you dug through the archives of the Blog Herald I’ve probably done it by accident once or twice as well, but when your a paid writer for a leading internet portal you shouldn’t just know better, you do know better, and when you don’t play by the rules its not an accident, its a concious decision.

Item 1: idea theft
Vigilante killer blogged confession: The Blog Herald vs
Killer Confesses Through Blog: WebProNews

Times: my post at the Blog Herald was posted at 1am 9 September US EST and followed from an AP article that referred to bloggers hailing the murderer as a hero and only mentioned in passing that he had blogged it. I also refer to a post at the Dark Side Blog that refers to the confession but uses the words “Michael Mullen confessed online, then apparently deleted it” and refers to the blog post as a “AOL WebPages”

The post at WebProNews was later the same day. I am unable to ascertain when, but I didn’t discover it until the next day (my time), so one would presume that it would have been during the day US time.

The words are the same story but re-written. Same link to a shot at the DarkSide Blog (although he doesn’t actually credit DarkSide as providing the details, basically a deep link without credit, that sucks in itself) and a link to a Seattle Times piece that doesn’t even mention that the murderer blogged a confession.

There was one phrase I used in the Blog Herald post that was unique, in that it was gramtically incorrect but factually correct, I tossed up whether to use it or not, but I did because I thought people may not know what an AOL Journal was, so I used the term “AOL Journal Blog”. Nothing significant you may well think, only problem is so did the post at WebProNews. I’ve Googled the term, it has 100 hits, many of which aren’t used the same way (for example AOL Journal/Blog etc…). Technorati shows 20 hits, again mostly variations, with 2 blogs using the term after me, one quoting my story, one quoting the WebProNews story. Basically its pretty close to being a completely unique use of words, and certainly is in terms of THIS STORY. Coincidence? Bullsh*t. No one uses this term and then I use it and it mysteriously appears in a story on the same topic at WebProNews which completely fails to credit any source…..

But just in case you think this might be a one off case, I’ve suspected Miller for a while on the old idea/ content/ quote theft side, so I’ve done some more digging.

Case 2: quote theft
Staff sacked after email fight, News.com.au
vs
Woo Hoo! Secretary Email Catfight!, Web Pro News.

I picked up this one because News.com.au is one of my daily reads. This story has been run across the world and has featured on sites such as Slashdot and others, but if you were reading WebProNews you’d be thinking that Mr. Miller broke the story and spoke to people, because the story is full of direct quotes from News.com.au without any credit, accept a very small passing mention, without a link to the source, towards the end.

News.com.au:

“Yesterday I put my lunch in the fridge on level 19 which included a packet of ham, some cheese slices and two slices of bread which was going to be for my lunch today,” Ms Nugent said. “Overnight it has gone missing and as I have no spare money to buy another lunch today, I would appreciate being reimbursed for it.”

WebProNews:

“Yesterday I put my lunch in the fridge on level 19 which included a packet of ham, some cheese slices and two slices of bread which was going to be for my lunch today,” Ms Nugent said. “Overnight it has gone missing and as I have no spare money to buy another lunch today, I would appreciate being reimbursed for it.”

with NO mark that it was taken from news.com.au,

but wait, there’s more:
News.com.au:

Ms Nugent taunted Ms Bird for being blonde. Ms Bird replied “Being a brunette doesn’t mean you’re smart, though.”

Ms Nugent e-mailed her co-worker: “Let’s not get person [sic] Miss Can’t Keep A Boyfriend.”

WebProNews: Miller re-writes it a little bit for effect:

Apparently, nobody talks to Nugent that way, especially not a dumb blonde like Bird.

“Being a brunette doesn’t mean you’re smart, though,” scolded Ms. Bird.

Forgetting she had already gotten personal, Nugent responded with “Let’s not get personal Miss Can’t Keep A Boyfriend.” Hissssss. Reeeeer, Scratch!

The only reference to news.com.au from Miller, with no link at all

“This is magic. You can’t script this sort of stuff,” News.com.au quotes a “high flyer” as saying.


Case 3: wierd attribution

(am I blacklisted from WebProNews??…If I wasn’t before :-) )
Yahoo threatens to sue Spanish blog network over information from third party site: The Blog Herald
vs
Yahoo! Spain Threatens Blogger Over Piracy How-To: WebProNews
This ones slightly different, because Miller has at least credited his direct source, the Search Engine Journal where I’m occasionally syndicated with permission (although he fails to actually link to the article), but what’s even more bizarre is that he quotes me referring to the Blog Herald in the story!
The Blog Herald:

“Julio Alonso of Weblogs SL has advised the Blog Herald via email that he believes this is the first time one of the large internet companies has sent a cease and desist letter to a Spanish blog.”

WebProNews:

“Julio Alonso of Weblogs SL has advised Blog Herald via email that he believes this is the first time one of the large internet companies has sent a cease and desist letter to a Spanish blog,”

So he’s writing a quote from the Blog Herald, mentions the Blog Herald but doesn’t link to it as the original source.

Case 4: different takes, same mistake
Kill your competition on Blogspot day: The Blog Herald
v
Saturday Is Flag Day For Splogs: WebProNews

This one’s a bit different, because this case isn’t as strong (I don’t have the exact posting times) but I do know one thing for sure, when I originally posted I got mixed up and thought the proposed “Flag Day” was the forthcoming Saturday (September 10). I realised a bit later and amended the post, but not before WebProNews published 10 September as the date and used the same reference points. Interesting…..

Others:
I’m not going to dissect a whole lot of other posts from Miller because I’ve got other posts to write, but I’m going to list a few that he’s mysteriously reported like it was an original idea.
Make Way For E-Driving, links to third party site without written attribution for a story that featured on Weblogs Inc’s Engadget and others (idea theft)

Kazaa Rocked In Australia Court: stolen quotes with no source reference.

Geek Discovers Girls stolen quotes, no source, featured widely prior to appearing on WebProNews.

And thats only September. There are probably a lot more examples as well.

Fair use some might say? what’s fair about ripping entire paragraphs from commercial news sites and presenting them as your own without attribution?

If you’ve got any other examples of dodgy practices by WebProNews or others make sure you leave a comment or drop me an email. I know from reading the comments at the earlier post that it looks like WebProNews and Jason Miller aren’t the only ones doing this sort of thing.

Update: photo is from the very excellent “Rumpole of the Bailey” of which I own at least 5 VHS tapes of the series. (c) Thames TV. Got to go and buy the rest of the series on DVD. Leo McKern (RIP) was also Australian, and born in my home town of Sydney.

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  1. By Joe Brooks posted on September 12, 2005 at 12:36 am
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    If you do pursue something like this legally wouldn’t it just open up a can of worms that might end with some sort of censorship on blogs?

  2. By Zoli Erdos posted on September 12, 2005 at 1:02 am
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    What a coincidence .. today I investigated what  I considered a bad case of plagiarism, and it turns out the “author” is a contributor to WebProNews.  The facts:

    In my post on On-Demand Software I quoted from an article by The Deal.com
    The article at The Deal.com is dated Aug. 5. 2005.
    Following a trackback to my post I noticed a link to “The CRM Blog” by David Cowgill who posted the identical article without any reference to the source, dated Aug. 11. 2005. 
    It sure looks like he just stole it … yet I still had some doubts, the guy appears to have a decent professional site.  Further googling his name lead me to WebProNews, he is a contributing writer there.
    Oh, well… :-(

  3. By Steve posted on September 12, 2005 at 1:13 am
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    Hopefully, outing the practice will suffice and no legal action will be needed. I will be following this at my website.

  4. By Duncan posted on September 12, 2005 at 1:19 am
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    Joe
    I dont want censorship, god, if you knew me you’d know I’m an anti-censorship zealot, but I do believe that fair use comes with strings attached. If I read something somewhere else and run with it, I give it credit.

  5. By Joe Brooks posted on September 12, 2005 at 1:29 am
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    Duncan, good to hear! It’s a catch 22 because the only way some people “do the right thing” is when they are slapped with a court order. It’s unfortunate but the world we live in!

    I wish there was a way to introduce a blogger “flag” to all websites.

  6. By Steve Johnson posted on September 12, 2005 at 1:43 am
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    I don’t follow WebProNews enough to know what you know, but I’d like to point out that copying ideas without giving due credit happens in the main stream media, not just blogging. So much so, that news organizations make big productions out of breaking news, as a way of branding themselves to an idea. While I agree with you in principle, airing out this kinda stuff is about as fruitful as going to South Korea and complaining to the authorities that the cafes are serving dog meat.

    And it’s not just the media. The smaller political parties here in the USA have long complained that the larger parties are stealing their ideas as their own. Yet, American voters don’t care where the ideas came from, they just care about solving problems. I think there are some parallels of this in the media too.

    Also, the issue of “idea stealing” is exacerbated by worldwide globalization. The Internet has erased governmental boundaries, and hence, enforcement of ethics across religious and political ideologies is impossible. You’re better off fighting fire with fire, and stealing their ideas too, or lest be buried by them

  7. By Duncan posted on September 12, 2005 at 2:04 am
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    Steve
    I take your point, its not new, and indeed the problems with stolen content and spam blogs for example are another battle again, but I’d like to think that the Blogosphere plays by a better set of rules. If WebProNews were small time new bloggers who had 20 visitors a week I wouldn’t have written this, but simply a big company like WebProNews is syndicating a lot of good bloggers and clearly wants a slice of the blog market, so it should play by the rules. If they don’t want to play then they have to put up with people like me calling them out on it.

  8. By James posted on September 12, 2005 at 2:52 am
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    Great article Duncan… we don’t need rules what we need is people like you pointing out like this what’s goig down.

  9. By Kobayashi posted on September 12, 2005 at 5:56 am
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    I have a question about this topic. I just started a movie review blog. now i dont review movies personaly but link other review,trailer sites. Is there any problem about this.

  10. By Ajay posted on September 12, 2005 at 6:25 am
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    Plagiarism has always been happening since ages, but thanks to blogging and powerful searching, it is being exposed much easier than before.

    With so much witness, WebPronews has not much to defend and I hpe they do not repeat the same mistakes and bring more bad publicity to themselves.

    Regards,
    Ajay

  11. By Brian Turner posted on September 12, 2005 at 7:48 am
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    Representing stories isn’t really a big issue – though properly advising of the source is. However, the source it attributed, so the gripe is that he’s not using live links…?

    In which case, in doing so you would seem to be holding WebProNews to a higher standard than traditional media publishing, which rewrites press releases and then publishes online without live link attribution.

  12. By Duncan posted on September 12, 2005 at 7:59 am
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    Brian
    its a mixture of all of the above, sometimes he mentions the source in passing, most of the time he doesn’t at all.

    Sure, I’ll take your point that its a high standard, and I’ve seen times where the MSM are guilty as well, but remember this is a company that reprints bloggers and is aiming at us, its not unreasonable to hold them to a reasonable standard, and as you will read there are a number of examples of stories that literally seem to appear from thin air. I’ll cop that the roughly attributed ones are half-arsed for the sake of argument, but no attribution is never acceptable when its clearly taken from another source.

    On the flip side he did actually break some original stories in the last month as well. This doesn’t excuse the bad behaviour though.

  13. By Zoli Erdos posted on September 12, 2005 at 9:57 am
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    Steve and Brian,

    If you read my comment above (second comment after the article), you’ll see a case of the most blatant plagiarism: and entire article republished, without changing a single word, without any credit to the source… the thief built an etire site republishing such articles, and even “contributes” to WebProNews.

  14. By Cary posted on September 12, 2005 at 1:32 pm
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    Plagiarism is plagiarism, whether in the MSM or the Blogosphere…it shouldn’t be tolerated in either.

    I’ve noticed at least one of the bigger blog networks produces so-called “news” by paraphrasing Reuters, AP, etc, and then providing no attribution. While this may be strictly legal (ie, they aren’t directly quoting, and you can’t copyright facts) I personally think it’s rather slimy, and I’m positive it does damage to the perceived validity of blogging. I prefer to give credit where credit is due.

  15. By Jim Kukral posted on September 12, 2005 at 1:42 pm
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    Integrity is earned, not stolen. Sad to see. Not the first WPN issue I’ve seen either.

  16. By Jason Lee Miller posted on September 12, 2005 at 2:45 pm
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    I found the need to rail on me, to understate it, surprising. That claims were unfounded and exaggerated, I found even more surprising. This whole thing seems not to be so much about attribution, but the method by which sources are cited—which is splitting hairs for unknown motives (maybe traffic?).

    There are various methods for citations, many of which are covered under Fair Use, and the methods I chose were similar to many major news sources like CNN and CNet. A live link is not required, just enough information to let readers know where you got the information. In fact, Fair Use goes to greater lengths to protect unpublished works, more than published works—saying again and again that small blocks of content can be borrowed from published works for commentary, criticism, parody, et cetera.

    First and foremost, WebProNews is not a blog. The writers here are not bloggers. We are industry reporters relaying information that we find—and quite often this information comes from bloggers, rumor mills, emails, press releases, major news organizations. In short, we have many sources, and if a story is similar in content to someone else’s story, often it is coincidental. This is a concept known as parallel development. If 6 bloggers are talking about the same topic and all linking to the same original source, it is not my responsibility to cite all six bloggers. The original source should suffice.

    Maybe we can question Mr. Riley about his 100 blogs in 100 days feature. Interestingly enough, Jennifer Garret (http://www.angelfire.com/grrl/jen_garrett/2005_08_01_archivednews.html) , at nearly the same time launched similar coverage entitled, wait for it, 100 blogs in 100 days. Is she an idea thief too? Just because there is simultaneous coverage of a topic, it doesn’t mean that everybody is stealing from the great and powerful Riley.

    When NBC, ABC, and CBS run the same story, are they plagiarizing each other? Do you ever hear exactly who all of their sources are? Yet, they tell the story “as if it is their own.� No one has exclusive rights to factual, publicly available information. Further, I’ve seen several examples you might chalk up to parallel development where I’ve broken a story, or expressed an opinion, or developed a clever headline, only to find an article very similar to my own within the next day or two. Did I get bent out of shape about it? No, it comes with job. There are more important things to worry about.

    But if I have improperly attributed, it was a hasty accident. I have no wish to be a thief, only an interesting writer providing interesting information for our readership. Improper attribution benefits me in no way and I try to at least cite the original source, if not all the supplemental sources. Let me reiterate: reporting on what people are talking about is not idea theft. It is reporting, plain and simple.

    Another interesting correlation: a short time ago, I criticized Mr. Riley’s opinion in this article on the state of the blogosphere (http://www.webpronews.com/news/ebusinessnews/wpn-45-20050826BlogBuzzCanBeMisleading.html). Isn’t interesting that a short time after I disagree with him in a widely read article, I am broadsided with several, perhaps libelous, accusations? Just pulling that up for thought.

    We, at WebProNews, do attribute. We do not, as a rule, always use live links (though often we do). This is not wrong in any way. Many mainstream news sites attribute without live links. The lack of live linking is not tantamount to plagiarism in any way. Follow these examples of news sources not using live links.

    http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/internet/09/12/techtest.googlebook.ap/index.html
    http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/09/09/spark.gizmondo/index.html
    http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/internet/09/08/katrina.data.ap/index.html

    http://news.com.com/iPhone+next+on+Apples+mobile-music+list/2100-1039_3-5860427.html?tag=st_lh
    http://news.com.com/A+journalist+and+blogger+tries+teaching/2100-1025_3-5859612.html?tag=st_lh
    http://news.com.com/eBay+to+buy+Skype+for+2.6+billion+in+cash%2C+stock/2100-1030_3-5860055.html?tag=st_lh

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9311134/
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9307764/
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/930780

    The examples cited by Mr. Riley do not illustrate instances of quotes that are not attributed.

    The story about the secretaries in Australia being fired over an email skirmish where Mr. Riley accuses me of “quote theft,� contains a quote that, when a Google search is done, returns over 100 sites printing the exact same quote. I borrowed the quote, a small portion of previously published material, and cited, although not in a way (live links I suppose) that Mr. Riley would like apparently, the original source News.com.au.

    The “Case 3: weird attribution,â€? is another example of citing a source in a method Mr. Riley apparently takes issue with. But, I did cite Search Engine Journal, as well as his site. So I don’t see the point. It looks like he’s grasping at straws.

    “Case 4: different takes, same mistake,â€? where he admits he has a weak case, is another example of parallel development where he somehow think all news is Mr. Riley’s news and therefore everybody else who reports on it is a thief. Well, note the first paragraph of that story and you’ll find I cite Blogger Buzz as my source. This information came straight from there and no where near Riley’s site.

    Let me ask this question, is reporting on a product from a major company with their own website about the topic somehow “idea theft,� as Mr. Riley continues to call it? How is it then, that my story about USB keys, where I link to the original sources an example of that? True, I didn’t invent USB keys. I’m not an engineer. Guess he got me.

    Geek Discovers Girls: widely reported across the net all citing the same source I did, Shanghai Daily. Do I read Chinese? No. But this seemed to be the original source.

    As for the assertion regarding a contributing writer (thief, again) “built an entire site republishing such articles, and even ‘contributes’ to WebProNews. Please bear in mind that when you run a site like ours and publishes submitted articles, we maintain that any content submitted from outside is the sole responsibility of the submitting author. Though we do take steps to insure they are legitimate, sometimes it is a similar scenario to the “chicken and egg� debate. If we find any author to be unreliable in this way, they are not allowed back into WebProNews for publication.

    Mr. Riley’s accusations seem mean-spirited, unfounded, publicity-houndish, mountains from molehills in nature, unsupportable, easily contradicted, not rooted in logic, and seem to convey the message that the world of news is his exclusive property. But here’s some news for you, it’s not.

    I hope this clears things up.

    Sincerely,

    Jason Lee Miller, A Thief If You Say So

  17. By Jason Lee Miller posted on September 12, 2005 at 3:27 pm
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    My comment didn’t take the first time. If there is a word limit preventing it from appearing here, my response is also posted at ProBlogger.

    http://www.problogger.net/archives/2005/09/12/blog-heralds-webpronews-expose/

  18. By Duncan posted on September 12, 2005 at 9:34 pm
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    Couple of points:
    You’ve not dealt with the use of AOL Journal Blog because you know you stole the idea. How does this work, if you cant defend it, don’t mention it?
    Secondly the 100blogs idea was, most likely stolen, and I joked about it on a number of other blogs as well in their comments, but the difference is in this case is the girl was not doing it for profit and she was doing it to promote blogs, and the sin was, at most, minor. You, Mr Miller are paid to write professionally and when you take from others you do so strictly to improve profits.

    In terms of WebProNews not being a blog….no, your right, a blog would be far more professional. You site CNet, good example, because they are just as bad as you, read Jason Calacanis blog on this one. CNN and MSNBC? professional, first hand news?

    at the end of the day if you want to pitch your content to bloggers play by the rules.

  19. By James Quintana Pearce posted on September 12, 2005 at 10:40 pm
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    Hmm…I was about to disagree with you, but…
    Mainstream news sites do not reference each other. They just don’t do it. If the Sydney Morning Herald breaks a big story then the Australian will chase it, but they’ll never write that it was written first by the SMH (unless that becomes a story, such as the Watergate scandal and where it was published).

    When I was working at ZDNet Australia Whirlpool (a broadband users site, whirlpool.net.au) asked if we could refer to them as a “broadband news site” rather than a “broadband community site” because a Telstra PR person had been disparaging the site to journos as not being a news site. I explained to him that the reason we didn’t describe it as a news site is so we could link to it.

    The idea that a story or story angle is somehow “owned” by the first person to come up with it is new, and directly related to the rise of blogging by people who have never had anyone read there writing before and are now drunk with the sensation.

    Mike has blogged about this at TechDirt (http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20050601/1225222_F.shtml)

    That being said, the source of quotes needs to be attributed. If you quote someone you have to say where the quote comes from: was it said directly to you, was it at a conference, did you read it in a press release or something the person wrote? Whatever it is you have to write it. If you get the quote from another news source you have two choices: First, don’t use the quote. Second, use the quote and cite the source…eg: “Well, I think our president is an idiot and I think that he’s a puppet,” said Edsel Dope according to Blabbermouth.net. This is because the reader has to be able to decide whether to trust Blabbermouth.net to accurately report the words of Edsel Dope. And this has to be done for every person quoted.

  20. By Duncan posted on September 12, 2005 at 11:07 pm
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    I suppose the difference here James is that although the SMH might break the story, the OZ will send a reporter to the scene and get their own take, so although the story isn’t original, the account itself is. Thats a whole lot more different to bloggers sitting at a computer writing about something on another site because the take in this case isn’t original, and in Millers case the entire interpretation was taken, including the particular phrase. I’d note that if the SMH ran a wire story from AP, AP would be credited, sure, not linked, but credited none the less. They are also paying AP to use the story. For my way of thinking if I’m running a story that I’ve pick up somewhere else or quoting other sites I’m not only going to credit it, I’m going to link to it as well, I suppose its may way of paying for the story.

  21. By satisfice666 posted on September 14, 2005 at 2:10 am
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    I’m tempted to enquire if the photographer or owner of the bailey image on this article is fully attributed or if it is a public domain image. Is it enough to simply call it the old bailey?

    Or are images exempt?

    It seems like the BlogHerald is a sinner in its own right.

  22. By Duncan posted on September 14, 2005 at 2:55 am
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    satisfice666
    the image was for file use, and no, although I didn’t take the shot, I actually own a fair wad of Rumpole videos so I’ll take a shot of my TV next. Seriously, get a life. Theres a bloody great big world of difference from using an extract or similar to taking an entire idea without giving credit. What Miller does is make a living off the efforts of others. He takes entire wads of quotes and presents them as his own. Bloody great world of difference.

    Thread Shut. I’m sick and tired of dealing with twits.