Ashton Kutcher - you know the fellow. He's famous, isn't he? Famous for some quite poor movies; famous for marrying Demi Moore; famous for that Hollywood hidden camera thing - Punk'd; and famous for launching websites. Hang on - famous for launching websites? You may be well versed in his digital entrepreneurship, but I certainly didn't have a clue.
Well, it's true. Not only has Ashton poured a large stack of dollars into various internet projects, including Skype, but he has his own site. aplus.com it's called, and it bills itself as the fastest growing site on the internet, claiming 30 million unique visitors in 100 days. Which, to be honest, isn't too difficult when you have a few million Twitter followers and Facebook friends to whom you can pump the link. Anyway, aplus.com's marketing blurb describes the site as a 'platform that will leverage viral social storytelling to create positive change in the world'. Nice, although at the time of writing the homepage is carrying a story about a swimming pool that lets you breathe underwater and a thing about an Australian breakdancer. It's hard to see how that's creating positive change on my laptop, let alone the world.
"Some of the content had been copied and pasted directly from Buzzfeed."
All this would be fine - just so much celebrity huffery and puffery and another site with daft photos and tall tales, only there's a bit of a storm brewing. Over at The Daily Dot, a reporter called Rob Price dug deep into Kutcher's site and is saying some of its content has been copied and pasted directly from BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post and Cracked. Talking to The Guardian, Price states a piece called “This Girl Was Sent Home in Tears Because Her Dress Was Too Short So Her Mom Did The Most Awesome Thing Ever”, is identical to a post by Ryan Broderick from Buzzfeed. If he's right, that's plagiarism.
We could have seen this coming. There was a time when lifting chunks of someone else's work was a long and hazardous business. If you indulged in the practice, to pad out a book you were writing, there was a good chance your editor or publisher would pick up on it and would shut you down. On a newspaper, a keen sub-editor would rumble your thievery and you'd be out of a job, your reputation ruined. That's all changed. For a start, a star columnist on The Independent, Johann Hari, plagiarised the work of others for years before he was tumbled. Which says a lot about the parlous state of sub-editing, as much as anything else. Then there's the mighty internet. A sweep of a cursor and whole banks of text are yours for the keeping. The temptation to pass them off as your own seems to be irresistible to some.
Meanwhile, aplus.com has removed all its archived content from before July 2014, which includes the offending articles, and has launched an 'investigation' (sometimes a euphemism for hiding and hoping it all goes away). We'll see what transpires, but ultimately everything has changed and nothing has changed. The work of a writer, photographer designer or any other creative person, is their work. Unless they give their specific permission for it to be reproduced, then it's theft to do otherwise - no matter how easy technology makes it, or how famous you happen to be.
Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant.