Friday, July 17, 2009

Victoria Strauss -- It's Anti-Plagiarism Day

Jane Smith, who operates the very helpful How Publishing Really Works blog, has declared Friday, July 17 Anti-Plagiarism Day, with a post that provides a sampling of notorious plagiarism cases, a roundup of writings on the subject, and some thoughts on plagiarism in general. Check it out--it's fascinating and thought-provoking reading.

I've written about plagiarism a number of times on this blog, mostly from the perspective of reporting on frivolous plagiarism lawsuits and debunking writers' common fear that submitting their work to agents and publishers is just asking for theft (it's not--reputable professionals won't risk their reputation by stealing; disreputable people aren't interested in manuscripts at all, and couldn't do anything with them even if they were dumb enough to try to pilfer them).

But though publishing professionals aren't likely to rip off aspiring writers, aspiring writers aren't always so scrupulous about thieving from their peers, or even from already published books. Even more troubling is the epidemic of plagiarism among college students, who often "borrow" freely from online sources. It's such a problem that many colleges and universities subscribe to anti-plagiarism services. My stepmother, a college professor, experiences it regularly (once, several students in one of her courses plagiarized the same source, reproducing the exact same sentences and paragraphs in their papers). Not only does this anger and discourage her, it eats up her time, for when she suspects plagiarism, she feels obliged to try and track it down.

It's impossible not to be influenced by our environments, by what we see and read. As writers, we are constantly exposed to others' ideas, themes, subjects, and even styles of writing, and all of these things combine in our work with our own original thoughts and expression. But Oscar Wilde's oft-quoted (and often mis-quoted) aphorism--"Good writers borrow, great writers steal"--isn't meant to be taken literally. Plagarism is profoundly dishonest, both ethically and intellectually. Don't do it.

12 comments:

Don said...

When I was teaching I had one student turn in as her "paper" a collection of web pages she had printed out and added her name to the front. She didn't even bother to cut and paste. It was rather depressing.

Jane Smith said...

Victoria, thank you for your support: I've been amazed by the number of people who have joined in with anti-plagiarism day, and the range of posts that everyone has made has provided some very interesting reading. I've linked to just about all of them in my original post, and I think it's going to be my longest-ever post as a result!

Anonymous said...

For many students a collection of web copy-and-pastes each corretly referenced is an original work. Humble students should only use the works of the enlightened.

Mad Scientist Matt said...

Interesting post. The link to the one where the romance novel writer had cut and pasted sections of a modern article on endangered ferrets into a historical novel gave me Atlanta Nights flashbacks. How did she get away with that one, other than it only showing up after page 200 or so?

Dennis Latham said...

Over the years, I've seen entire chapters stolen from other books. An entire chapter from a 70s book "Joe, A Diary Of A Mafia Hit Man" (something like that) turned up in the book about Sammy the Bull a few years back. I kept thinking I had read it before and then I remembered where. So some of Sammy the Bull's story was bull.

I've also seen chapters from Ian Fleming's "The Spy Who Loved Me" turn up in several books with the names changed. It's amazing how much of this goes on.

Phoebe Wray said...

It's maddening to get those plagiarized papers. I warn my students ad nauseum NOT o do it, and they still do. My school has zero tolerance. They flunk the course and repeaters are booted out. We're an arts school. Artists don't steel from other artists.

Abigail said...

There was a girl that I went to school with that plagiarized quite often. She would tell the group she was working with she found a lot of information and just copy and pasted everything as if it were her own. That was last year, during senior year. Because of that, my World History teacher checked everyone's projects to make sure they weren't plagiarizing; however, she caught 9 students in one class and one student in the class I was in.

Jessica Brown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jessica Brown said...

Back before the Internet, while in high school, I spotted a poem submitted to our countywide student arts magazine that seemed eerily familiar to me. As I read it I felt what I would have believed back then to be deja vu.

At the end of the day, I went home and pulled out a huge stack of teen girls' magazines I'd kept over the years, beginning somewhere in middle school, and halfway through the pile I found the exact same poem.

One of my classmates had stolen a poem from a back issue of Sassy magazine.

The poem was yanked from our publication but I never did find out what punitive measures, if any, had been levied against the student. I never did figure out why someone would go to that kind of trouble just to be published in a small time photocopied booklet, either.

Marian said...

Thanks, Victoria, this was an inspiring article. It's inspired me to remember a case of plagiarism that I got involved in some years ago and which I'd forgotten about until now.

I was a member of an online community with a busy discussion board, and a student posted one day to ask for support since she'd been accused of plagiarism. She posted her essay on the board.

Someone Googled it. A word-for-word article, written by someone else, was on the first page of hits.

I still don't know why she asked us for help when she knew that she was in the wrong. Maybe she was in denial about that.

I think I'll blog about this as well.

Don Kimrey said...

A friend just made me aware of your work, and I'm impressed and appreciative. In trying to find an agent or a publisher for a book I've done, I've discovered that process is more difficult than anything I've ever tried to write. You offere some very, very helpful information and advice.

A misinterpreted wave said...

I am still in shock that people steal whole chapters of published novels!!!!!

We had an interesting case here in Australia where someone claimed to be Indigenous, sold heaps of books, did the tours etc, only to be outed as stealing someone else's story. Tut tut.