The Defense of Plagiarism

Posted by Janett Perry on Nov 16, 2010 1:44:00 PM

A recent article from the blog Lifehacker.com comes out partially in defense of plagiarism, saying that the current rules and standards for plagiarism are too stringent.  

From Lifehacker.com: 

“We can’t really own words, no matter how they’re strung together and used. Language exists because we’ve designed it together…Why should this be any different for full sentences, or even a string of dialogue?”

The author quotes famous social science writer Malcolm Gladwell to illustrate the point that plagiarism is simply copying other people’s words – and no one should own words.  In Gladwell’s case he had his work plagiarized, but he considered the act to be somewhat of a compliment because the culprit didn’t attempt to rework the content at all.

Although Gladwell wasn’t particularly offended by the plagiarism, that was his choice to make.  In many other cases, a plagiarized author doesn’t have the option to ‘let someone off the hook.’   

Plagiarism can affect different people in different ways. 

In some cases, an author like Gladwell may be confident or well-off enough to not care about one specific instance of duplicate content. 

However, another author may have their career on the line to publish unique content; in this case maintaining the integrity of their intellectual property is huge.  If proper attribution isn’t provided, an author could be getting their work ripped off or profited on and never even be aware of it.

Take the field of scientific research. 

Research groups, academic departments and scientific companies all are built on the premise of publishing papers that come from long periods of experimentation and research.  The data and conclusions that are incorporated into these papers are more than simply words – they are the form of intellectual property that support the entire research eco-system. 

If we decided to make the rules more ‘laid back’ and let individuals give and take as they wanted from research papers, that eco-system could potentially collapse.

Plagiarism runs along a thin line of what is right and wrong, so why even risk the chance of it? 

This doesn’t mean we can’t use other people’s ideas or words, it simply means we need to be able to attribute them to their original creators. If we follow the logic that everyone needs to properly cite authors, it allows the authors to be in control of their content by getting due credit where it is deserved.

There may be a difference between copying an article word-for-word and taking a few sentences here and there, however, both are cases of plagiarism if attribution is not provided.

It should be up to the author to determine whether a specific case of plagiarism is bad or not, not a random person who decides to copy their work.

Citations

Dachis, Adam. “What is Plagiarism, and is it Always Bad?”. 10 November 2010.  http://lifehacker.com/5686165/what-is-plagiarism-and-is-it-always-bad

Topics: Best Practices




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