“Viral politics” staffer Benny Johnson last week was dismissed from BuzzFeed for grabbing material from a bunch of sites, with Wikipedia serving as a frequent target.

The New York Times today published an embarrassing editor’s note acknowledging that an item by arts reporter Carol Vogel had “improperly used specific language and details from a Wikipedia article without attribution.

How does Wikipedia feel about all of this? Katherine Maher, chief communications officer for the Wikimedia Foundation, declined to discuss any specific cases but did let loose on the lifters:

Wikipedia’s mission is to empower people to create knowledge, and to freely share it with everyone. To support this mission, the content on Wikipedia is licensed so that people are free to share and remix it, as long as they attribute the people who created it. When authors plagiarise from Wikipedia, they’re not only violating the terms of the license—they’re also flouting the values of cooperation, empowerment, and transparency that underpin the Wikipedia community and movement.

Stuff on Wikipedia, Maher explains, is “freely licensed,” meaning that you can use it to “publish books, sell DVD versions of the encyclopedia, create plays, et cetera.” That said, be careful about crediting. Maher:

There’s a saying in the open source software community that ‘many eyes make all bugs shallow.’ Because so many people use Wikipedia on a daily basis, it means that [it is] relatively easy to spot instances when Wikipedia content is plagarised, whether in a school essay or a politician’s speech. Its then usually a matter of time before those instances become known to the public. Over the years, we’ve found this usually works as an effective deterrent to widespread plagiarism.

So when you cut and paste phrasing from Wikipedia, please know: Everyone is watching you.

 

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.