Plagiarism

No this is not a sensationalist piece meant to garner ratings, but an honest article for any who may have questions or isn’t sure what plagiarism is. Let’s face it, all writers have a silent code amongst ourselves in this and other writer’s communities, groups, clubs, and organizations, etc., and that is this: Don’t plagiarize my work.

Most of us don’t feel the need to verbalize it since as I said there is a silent agreement, but there are those who feel the need to post warnings on their work, blogs or websites warning would-be word thieves what will happen to them and their various body parts if it is discovered that their work has been stolen. The reason is simple; there is a very real fear of being plagiarized.

So the question arises; what exactly is plagiarism? Many have opinions about what it means, and I could easily give you a list of some of those, but for the sake of not trying to confuse anyone or take up too much of your time with this article, here is what plagiarism actually is:

“Plagiarism is the practice of claiming or implying original authorship of (or incorporating material from) someone else’s written or creative work, in whole or in part, into one’s own without adequate acknowledgement. Unlike cases of forgery, in which the authenticityof the writing, document, or some other kind of object itself is in question, plagiarism is concerned with the issue of false attribution.”

Notice I used quotation marks? That’s because that statement is not mine, but quoted from another source; that source to be exact –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism

Here’s is some more from that same webpage: (mentioning that this is from another source and then giving that source’s information is called a “citation”)

“Within academia, plagiarism by students, professors, or researchers is considered academic dishonesty or academic fraud and offenders are subject to academic censure. In journalism, plagiarism is considered a breach of journalistic ethics, and reporters caught plagiarizing typically face disciplinary measures ranging from suspension to termination. Some individuals caught plagiarizing in academic or journalistic contexts claim that they plagiarized unintentionally, by failing to include quotations or give the appropriate citation. While plagiarism in scholarship and journalism has a centuries-old history, the development of the Internet, where articles appear as electronic text, has made the physical act of copying the work of others much easier, simply by copying and pasting text from one web page to another.”

*The italics in the above paragraph were added by me for emphasis.

I would also like to add that you risk being forever blacklisted, which means that you will not be able to publish your work. How is that possible you ask? Because publishers and editors share information like this amongst themselves. So if one of them catches you giving yourself credit for something that someone else has written, they are going to make it their business to tell others about it.

Why you may ask? Because plagiarism is considered to be the lowest thing one writer can do to another. But more importantly for the publication, they risk being sued by the original author if they publish plagiarized material and worse than that, they risk being blacklisted themselves. And in a business where reputation is everything, that is everything. Besides being extremely unprofessional on the part of the writer, it breeds an atmosphere of distrust since when it is discovered no one is going to feel able to trust that you won’t do it again.

Some may argue that there are no original ideas anymore and my opinion of such an argument is that whoever thinks that is probably someone I should watch out for, because there are original ideas and ways of taking something such as a love story and putting your own particular stamp on it.

Examples:

  1. Anne Rice took the age old story of the vampire and made it uniquely her own. How age old is it? Well according to the information found here: http://www.chebucto.ns.ca/~vampire/vhist.html , vampire myths go back thousands of years. So even Bram Stoker, the author of “Dracula,” which was published in 1897 was borrowing the idea for his book from a legend. Did he plagiarize it? No, and neither did Anne Rice.
  2. “Star Wars,” and “Lord of the Rings,” along with quite a few other books borrow from the some of the oldest themes in writing; the hero on a quest, the romantic couple, the wizard, the dark lord, etc. But each of those stories takes those familiar themes and then does something completely different with them. If you want to read more about this other archetypes in literature, and also some basic literary elements, there’s more information about them here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archetype#Archetypes_in_literature and here: http://www.orangeusd.k12.ca.us/yorba/literary_elements.htm

I’m sure that after reading these lists you might be able to think of other examples in literature and movies that also fit those ideas. I’m pretty sure each one of us could come up with something uniquely our own using this page as a guide and create something that could only come from our imaginations and abilities.

But the bottom line is still this:

There is no reason why you or anyone else who claims to be a writer can’t do the same thing. Which of course is what any writer who has the capacity and the imagination to write should be able to do. If you still want to argue that there are no original ideas and use that as an excuse to steal work and ideas that aren’t your own, then perhaps writing isn’t the field for you. Seriously. Try something else.

So the next time you want to quote a song or words from a movie or borrow anything from another writer’s work give the original author, composer, movie or whatever it is, their due. Use quotation marks, mention the author’s name, use citations but for god’s sake don’t pretend that it’s your own original work. For those of us who are poets and fiction writers, that goes the same for you too. We aren’t immune from being blacklisted and publically heralded as thieves.

Hopefully now its clear what plagarism is, so for those who aren’t sure you have an explanation and to those who you are doing it, you have a warning. You will be found out, because sooner or later these kinds of things are always found out. You will ruin your reputation and any hopes of having a writing career of any kind. So you may want to ask yourself a couple of questions:

  1. Is the momentary attention that I’m receiving really worth losing my reputation as not only a writer, but also a honest human being really worth it?
  2. Do I really want a writing career, which means not only that I’m a serious writer, but also that I’m willing to live up to standards of journalistic professionalism?
  3. Why am I doing this in the first place? If I’m a creative person then surely I must be able to come up with ideas of my own which come from me, my experiences, my abilities and my craft.

In the end its up to each one of us to decide what we want to do. Ignorance isn’t an excuse, there is no excuse for plagiarizing someone else’s work.

Plagiarism was originally published in first issue of Cold Coffee Magazine.

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One Response to Plagiarism

  1. Paul says:

    Ask before reproducing and acknowledge your sources. Those are the two main rules of thumb I use. Your article is much more precise and well-informed. A great reference work, thanks.

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