An old quote from Wilson Mizner seems to be gaining some steam on the internet recently:
“Copy from one, it’s plagiarism; copy from two, it’s research.”
In the past day or two this quote has been tweeted and making the rounds on social networks – most likely because it is witty.
This quote, however, underlies a deeper problem with the public consensus on what plagiarism is and what is really acceptable.
To even consider the notion that copying from a single individual should be deemed plagiarism but copying from multiple individuals is not, is a very dangerous idea.
Let’s take a step back and analyze why this notion might even exist. One reason may be that in most public cases of plagiarism the disputes are often between two specific individuals or entities. It is certainly newsworthy when a famous author steals from a rival author, or a newspaper writer rips off a publication’s main competitor.
The truth is, much of the plagiarism that actually occurs is not so cut and dry; it is ‘in between the lines,’ however, just as dangerous.
Whether someone takes from one author or many, the ill effects of plagiarism remain the same. The end result of plagiarism is people are not getting credit for their intellectual property and in many cases, their livelihood.
An individual who plagiarizes multiple sources within one document may in fact be an even a bigger culprit, as they are literally stealing from multiple people.
Mizner’s quote could pretty much be saying:
“If you rob one home, its theft; if you rob two, you’re no longer breaking the law.”
Sounds kind of crazy.
Attribution and citing sources are the real difference makers here. Whether someone is using materials from one or multiple sources, proper attribution (letting people know where the content originates from) is all that matters.
The Mizner quote needs to be redrafted to something like:
“Copy from one, it’s plagiarism; copy from two, it’s plagiarism; provide proper attribution of sources, it’s research.”