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Using Humor to Counter Plagiarism

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Aug 27, 2013 5:02:00 AM

cracked is a well-known humor website that specializes in amusing lists, satirical guides and videos lampooning pop culture.

On August 10, Cracked author XJ Selman published a post entitled “5 Tourists Who Managed to Be the Worst People in the World”, a list of individuals who, in their travels, accidentally or intentionally destroyed priceless landmarks or objects.

The article was a perfect fit for Cracked and seemed to be just another post on the site. However, in the United Kingdom, The Daily Mail clearly felt the topic would also be a good fit for them as well as because on August 11th, the newspaper published a post entitled “World’s Worst Tourists Revealed”, a strikingly similar post that, though rewritten, not only contained the same theme, but also the same list of tourists and used many of the same photos.

Selman posted about the matter on Twitter and the dispute went viral after it was posted on Reddit. Though The Daily Mail did eventually add credit to Cracked in the story, the damage, it seemed, was done and many were wondering what action Cracked would take.

Their answer came three days later, on August 14. However, it wasn’t in the form of a lawsuit or a public statement, but instead, in the form of a post entitled “A Sincere Apology From Cracked to the Daily Mail”.

The article was a scathing, but humorous, lampooning of The Daily Mail masquerading as an apology letter. In the apology, Cracked author Cyriaque Lamar claims that the authors who write for Cracked, have bestowed upon them “fabulous space-time powers” that enables them to see articles from the future and plagiarize them.

But even before then the jokes were already flowing. Andrew Beaujon at Poynter wrote a list noting that The Daily Mail had previously covered four of the five stories themselves and commenters on Reddit, Twitter and elsewhere were also having a good laugh at the idea of the world’s largest newspaper site lifting content from a humor site.

Though the humor didn’t push The Daily Mail to offer an apology, restitution or anything other than a few attribution lines in the story, it did bring a great deal of attention to the plagiarism and other misdeeds The Daily Mail is alleged to have committed. A story that might have completely slipped under the radar, became a viral sensation through the use of humor.

The truth is, a hard and serious approach probably wouldn’t have yielded much success. Geography, size and even copyright law were working against Cracked. Furthermore, it would have been against the image of Cracked as a publication and might have even harmed their reputation.

As serious of an issue as plagiarism is, it’s sometimes best dealt with humor rather than more traditional responses. While it can be useful to retract papers, file copyright lawsuits, etc., sometimes those options are just not aren’t the best solution and more creative approaches get better results.

In that regard, plagiarism is like every other serious subject, sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.



Plagiarism and Comedy