"Free as in speech"
We often hear that quote as the mantra of the GNU and the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source movement. There are a number of tenants to their philosophy, but that's not what this article is about.
The other half of the quote refers to "Free as in beer." Since this was founded by some college students, beer is the appropriate analogy, but it means that "free" is used as is the freedom movement, not the lack of a monetary cost definition.
When you usually look at these two quotes in the computer world, the implication is that while you may pay some cost for software, monetary cost that is, you should have additional "freedoms" to freely modify, change, alter, whatever the underlying source code to suit your purposes. In other words, you have certain freedoms that you can take with the software.
This is a point of contention between those who believe in Open Source, like the Linux advocates, and the Closed Source people, like Microsoft and many other companies. I do not want to get into that argument because I see both sides and there easy way to end this debate.
Unfortunately, this article looks at these quotes in reverse, and more importantly, the implications of how these quotes apply to content.
Revisting the Past
Awhile ago we had an incident of plagiarism at SQLServerCentral.com. If you are interested, you can read my apology on the matter as well as learn a bit more about what happened. We had a second problem later that involved articles we'd had on the site for years. And the second person was the author of a book!!!
We've tried to be more careful since then, but if you search around and try to find out if an article involves plagiarism, it is hard to search around the net and find matches. Code samples are easier to track down at times, but I have yet to find an easy way to check. And if the material is from a book, it's extremely hard to track down. So one of the things I've implemented is to send a list of questions to potential authors, one of which is reproduced below:
Is this your original work and unpublished elsewhere?
Apparently that wasn't clear enough because I've had two reports of plagiarism in the past few weeks. One did not appear to be plagiarism to me. The person had reused some code, but it seemed to have been modified and "based" on published code, so I left it up.
The second one had code that was taken from a book. The code was exact and I contacted the author, who had answered "yes" to the above question. The author replied that it was their work from memory, but they had read the book and inadvertently used the same code. I'm not sure how that happens, but I modified my question to that below:
Is this your original work and unpublished elsewhere? By this we mean that you have not copied code, images, or text from a book or web posting by someone else.
Free As In Beer
The articles you read on this site, or many other sites, are usually free. Free as in beer, meaning there is no cost for you to read them. No monetary cost as least; I'll agree the advertisements are a kind of cost, but it is not money out of your pocket.
But unlike Open Source code that you may have paid for, the content is not "free as in speech." You cannot reuse the code, the content, or even rename from variables and reuse this as you wish. Most writers and authors, myself included, probably do not mind if you take our code or samples or ideas and reuse them in your job, at your company, or in some private, personal use.
But YOU CANNOT REPUBLISH THEM
That means don't cut and paste some code or paragraphs into your Word document and send it to SQL Server magazine. Or any other site, whether they pay you or not. You do not have the freedom, as in speech, to use these words. And that applies to books as well, even if you have paid for them, as in beer, you cannot reuse those words.
If you want to reuse code, you should credit the source. That means the original author from whom you borrowed it. If any of the SQL Servers from JD Edwards are still alive at Oracle, there will be the Shrink the Transaction Log stored procedure on them, commented by me with credit to Andrew Zanevsky, from whom I originally got the procedure.
The same thing applies to prose written into an article or book. You can quote or use a sentence or even a paragraph and build on it's ideas, but you must credit the source and you must add something to the borrowed work, or be commenting on it.
I am all for people taking my work, and the work of others, and building on it, adding to it, explaining it a different way, etc. But not for them taking it word for word and publishing it as their own work. We all write by leaning on other works, but most authors develop their own "voice" and explain things in their own way.
I'll give you an example. Moving the system databases is a KB article and well explained. However I wrote my own article on the same subject (Actually 3 articles) because I though I could add something to the original Microsoft text. Whether I did a good job or not is another topic, but I wrote my own article without copying others' words.
I have heard some explanations like "...I found that examples quoted in my article and the examples in the book are the same. This was not did intentionally, as the article was written only from my memories..." or "xxx [author] explained it so well, I just used [their] words...". Neither of these is acceptable in my mind. You wrote something yourself, originally, or you did not.
And if you did not, then do not take credit for it or republish it. It's not ethical, not moral, and not acceptable.