Because plagiarism is more than just plagiarism

With all this talk about plagiarism, I think it’s important to go over the broader picture. In other words, we need to ask the question: Why should we not plagiarize? More specifically, what would be the consequences if plagiarism were acceptable and went unchecked?

For some, that seems like a silly question—They understand that plagiarism is inherently wrong. But what would happen in a world if “the act of taking ideas, thoughts or words from another and passing them off as one’s own,” as defined by the Ledger Stylebook, was not stigmatized. I think it can be explained by the idea of meritocracy. Quite simply, if people were not credited for their work, there would not be an incentive to do good work. People would not feel urged to percolate new innovative ideas; instead, the writers’ world would become a mash of recycled, stagnant and non-progressive concepts. The quality of writing would drastically decrease as well as the truthfulness of writing. The fact that we recognize that there even is such a thing as plagiarism proves that an order exists to ensure that members of society produce superior and honest writing.

Now that we have established why plagiarism is not good for society, we can readily understand what is and what is not plagiarism so that it can be avoided as much as possible. I don’t think any of us are experts when it comes to this. In fact, while reading the Lakeland plagiarism report, I was quite surprised to find that unintentional plagiarizing is very rare. I’ve always thought that it may seem as if someone is plagiarizing, when in fact it was merely a coincidence that two people had the same ideas. Isn’t it bound to happen with a world population of 7 billion? And with the onset of the Internet, we are constantly exchanging ideas and absorbing information that it’s difficult to distinguish if your thoughts are your own or someone else’s.

The article “Plagiarism or coincidence? Writer, Wall Street Journal square off” plays upon this predicament. According to this article, a man name Daniel Flynn submitted an article to Wall Street’s Weekend review making a case on why youth football should not be banned. His article was rejected, but another article was published by Wall Street Journal a couple weeks later by another man, Max Boot, who took the same standpoint with very similar language and data. Flynn argues that Boot and the Journal are subject to plagiarism, while Boot claims that he had no knowledge of Flynn’s previous article.

But according to the Lakeland report, most cases of plagiarism are intentional. Plagiarists know what they are doing, but think they can get away with it. The report proposes a simple test to whether or not you are about to plagiarize: “Will the reader think this is my work? If the answer is yes, and the work belongs to someone else, dispel the deception. Attribute.” If you are using someone elses words, give credit. If you are using someone else’s ideas, give credit. And if you can’t think for yourself or generate your own ideas, well then you just might have a problem…or you’re just going to have to do a lot of attributing.


2 thoughts on “Because plagiarism is more than just plagiarism

  1. Hi Jill — Wow, that story you linked is fascinating. Somehow, I had missed it, and the behind-the-scenes of how the second story came about — and why it was so similar to the first — are thought-provoking. What’s our opinion? Who was right? Or is it not as simple is one person right, the other person wrong?

    Throwing this out to the rest of the class, as well. Lots of issues to kick around.


  2. Lori, it certainly is a very complicated situation, and I don’t think it’s as simple as one person is right and one person is wrong. Perhaps the issue of banning youth football has been a recent topic, which is why the two articles are very similar. I also right it hard to believe that the second author would deliberately plagarize, given that he is an established editor. You never know though!

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