Friday, July 24, 2009
July 17 was Anti-Plagiarism Day.
I’m a week late and a dollar short, and the blog post to which I’ve linked, from Jane Smith’s “How Publishing Really Works”, sums up so many notorious cases of plagiarism in this industry that there’s not much I can add. But it did make me remember a case of plagiarism that I once encountered, years ago.
This was back when I used to post on the Internet Infidels Discussion Board under the handle “Queen of Swords”. A relatively new poster started a thread saying that one of her professors had asked to meet with her to discuss an essay she had handed in, and she was worried that she would be accused of plagiarism. She was adamant that she hadn’t done it, and put the text of her essay up on the discussion board for us to read.
Someone Googled a sentence or three from it. An article (written by someone else) showed up on the first page of hits, and matched the rest of the essay perfectly too.
The backlash against the poster was pretty severe, especially since many of us had originally reacted with sympathy. Someone even emailed the dean of her college with a link to the discussion. I’m still not sure why the student asked us for support when she knew she was in the wrong – perhaps she was in denial – but she had an explanation for why her essay was identical to the article. She’d copied the article off the web to use in research, and then she had mistaken it for the rough draft of her own essay and handed it in by mistake.
Plagiarism these days is all the more difficult to get away with. But also easier. On the one hand, it’s incredibly easy to enter text into a search engine and see what comes up. On the other hand, outside of an academic setting, plagiarism is more difficult to detect and identify. Plagiarists could, for instance, copy from out-of-print novels or (relatively) obscure articles, such as the one on black-footed ferrets which was plagiarized for a bodice-ripper.
It’s not as kinky as it sounds, honest.
Back when I had no money to buy a plane ticket to get out of the Middle East, I wrote some college application essays for a young man with more cash than spelling. I’m not proud of it, but I didn’t feel there was any other choice under those circumstances. Ripping off someone else’s writing wouldn’t be something I could do even then, though. Who would ever trust that anything I produced after that was my own work?
Plagiarism is just a bad thing all around.