Can Plagiarism Hurt So Much?

Plagiarism is the “wrongful appropriation” and “stealing and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work. The idea remains problematic with unclear definitions and unclear rules. The modern concept of plagiarism as immoral and originality as an ideal emerged in Europe only in the 18th century, particularly with the Romantic movement.

Plagiarism is considered academic dishonesty and a breach of journalistic ethics. It is subject to sanctions like expulsion.

Plagiarism is not a crime per se but in academia and industry, it is a serious ethical offense, and cases of plagiarism can constitute copyright infringement.

And all three paragraphs above were hijacked from Wikipedia.

Search the first paragraph on the wonderful tool that is Google and what do you get?  Eight hits. Just eight lowly hits. So who nicked what from whom?

This question comes about from a sudden click in my head from reading a particular reporter’s work.

The reporter in question is a fantastic writer. When they deliver some prose, you pay attention. Well, that is if you’re into the subject matter.

Their work stinks of originality. And that is why, when I went through one of these articles, I raised a brow and started to strip/Google.

It was like dropping a puppy into an active volcano. I didn’t want to do it.

Largely, the hits were from Wikipedia. Could I really bring that to the editor’s attention though? Who’s to say this reporter actually can’t write an informative piece?

The journalist’s style is hard-nosed and slightly flamboyant. Incredibly cynical, they used words like ‘allegedly’ when covering a trial begrudgingly. Their goal is ultimately to keep the reader’s attention as well as to deliver the news, however the opinionated, and frequently harsh, character leads to a very unique style.

There are, according to World Population Clock, 7,226,829,698 — no, 7,226,829,757… Oh, who cares. There’s a shit load of people on the face of the earth — and judging by the births today (currently standing at 167,476) we be breedin’ like bunnies — and while it’s not impossible that this writer entered the Wikipedia entry for her chosen article, it really does seem unlikely.

Is plagiarism actually possible when you’re borrowing from Wikipedia? After all, when Jim Bowen became Pope last year, we all took it as the joke it was intended to be. Isn’t the question more “is copying a Wikipedia entry wise”?

Noted primatologist (an ape-fancier, if you will) Jane Goodall is a primate example (I know, I know!) of someone ultimately brilliant thieving — or ‘borrowing’ — from Wikipedia. She got where she did on her own merit. No formal training, no degree, she charged into Tanzania and studied chimpanzees for a while, made a couple of discoveries, and those discoveries led to a PhD from Cambridge University. Last year, however, things went a little south for her when it was discovered that a book she’d written featured text from various well-known websites. Even her ‘interviews’ were ‘borrowed’.

Whilst looking into one of my favourite ape magnates, I came across this article in Cracked, which pretty much showed this little act as something which ultimately brings the word tea leaf down. My favourite example was that of Vaughn Ward, the little scamp, who had borrowed, not entirely verbatim, a speech from some bloke named Barack Ohara? Obara? Obooma? Oh, that’s right, some president nobody’s heard of! Or, at least, they hadn’t heard of him at the time…

Crack’s comparative transcript, which came courtesy of NewsChannel 7, is below.

Obama: “We stand on the crossroads of history”
Ward: “As we stand on the crossroads of history”
Obama: “We can make the right choices and meet the challenges that face us”
Ward: “I know we can make the right choices and meet the challenges that lay before us”
Obama: “If you feel the same urgency that I do, if you feel the same passion that I do”
Ward: “If you feel the same urgency and the same passion that I do”
Obama: “Then I have no doubt”
Ward: “Then I have no doubt”
Obama: “The people will rise up in November”
Ward: “That our voices will be heard in November”
Obama: “And this country will reclaim its promise”
Ward: “Our country will reclaim its promise”
Obama: “And out of this long political darkness”
Ward: “And out of this darkness”
Obama: “A brighter day will come”
Ward: “A better day is on the horizon”

Cracked’s Robert Evans, who I might add has a fantastically entertaining suit of articles to his name, has even managed to compile a list, entitled ‘5 Great Men Who Built Their Careers on Plagiarism’, that has seriously ruined my day, but a mild perk was provided in the lines ‘This chart comes from the Weekly Standard’s article about Ambrose, written by Fred Barnes. See what we did there Stephen, you dead bastard? We gave the original author credit for something they fucking wrote,’ and ‘Which just goes to show you that, if you work hard in this country and believe in yourself, you’ll die alone and under appreciated.’ And I even forgot my misery when confronted with this:

He’s SO obscure, that Google Image Search doesn’t even have a picture of him. This is a wiener dog.

Thanks, Robert. It’s people like you and your statements like ‘he was also a plagiarizing cockbag’ that make my day a happy one.

Sadly, it also led to my uneducated mind discovering that even when Martin Luther King had a dream, that dream was that he’d come up with his famed speech himself. Or maybe he genuinely had a dream, but to implement it accordingly he had to adapt Archibald Carey’s 1952 speech to suit his purposes (comparison below, again courtesy of Cracked):

“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, ‘My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’ And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

Archibald’s Let Freedom Ring:

“We, Negro Americans, sing with all loyal Americans: My country ’tis of thee, Sweet land of liberty, Of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, Land of the Pilgrims’ pride From every mountainside Let freedom ring!
“That’s exactly what we mean–from every mountain side, let freedom ring. Not only from the Green Mountains and White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire; not only from the Catskills of New York; but from the Ozarks in Arkansas, from the Stone Mountain in Georgia, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia–let it ring not only for the minorities of the United States, but for the disinherited of all the earth–may the Republican Party, under God, from every mountainside, LET FREEDOM RING!”

Both men had a vision. So does it really matter? It’s believed to be a rip-off by some people, and similar use of common language at the time by others. The end result was the same for both men, however: not a desire for fame and glory, but unification and equality. So we’ll move right along…

What we can take from his article of five is that, yes, you can get places from ripping off someone else’s dream. It happens every day outside of literature. I can remember one instance when an ‘unpopular’ lass made a statement that everyone raised their eyes over. Within an hour, one of the ‘popular’ girls made the exact same statement, and people were proverbially rolling in the aisles. Your fame and glory is, in essence, a popularity contest. There are some anomalies, such as those who have a genuine, undeniable talent and are also complete arseholes. Not suggesting all talented people are complete arseholes, just the ones who are and made it off their own back.

So, what leads a person to do this?

Ultimately, one could argue, everybody steals sentences or words, with the exception of those who… basically don’t. The biggest scream is that of the people who cry ‘plagiarism!‘ on the grounds of jealousy. I myself have seen books with the same premise as those I’ve previously written, however since mine were ‘test pieces’ and theirs were ‘good’, but I’m aware that there are, in theory, just a few plots. It’s what you do with those plots that leads to plagiarism.

There’s the defeat of the threat, which encompasses your alien invasion pieces, ghost stories, cops and robbers tales and all those things where Harry Potter saved the day.

For something different, we’ll have a tale where somebody with very little is bullied into becoming something better and making a name for themselves. Failing the bullying, they still have nothing but suddenly meet someone who provides them with everything. And you thought Fifty Shades of Grey was original!

Don’t fancy either of those? Well, how about the trials and tribulations of someone who has a bit of a thing for someone else but nothing seems to go their way until their luck changes and they live happily ever after?

We also have Prometheus, where there’s a hunt for something of importance. No, wait, that’s King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail… Or did it have something to do with a Golden Fleece?

There are others involved in this plot fight, but I’ll be honest and say I can’t be bothered with the rest of them. But let’s revisit that first Wikipedia paragraph:

‘Plagiarism is the “wrongful appropriation” and “stealing and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions”‘

Surely this needs to be re-written? As seen with the Martin Luther King versus Archibald Carey comparison, there are similarities, but the words are words that would have been used at the time. The point made is driven by their mutual desires. Certainly, there are similarities, but there would be if King had been inspired by Carey; the respect and appreciation potentially led to reinforcing Carey’s wishes. This, to my mind, is ‘recycling’. Now, ripping off chunks at a time and failing to mention where the information came from, that’s just plain theft.

Now, the articles I faced, it took me a while to finally broach the subject. I should have linked, perhaps. I should have written a line in or something, but I didn’t. Why? Simply because I’m an idiot.

In some of these examples, I perhaps should have conducted a minor re-write. In fact, I’m annoyed that I didn’t. However, the reason I didn’t was because the information being delivered had ultimately been borrowed from a site which had been written by, or borrowed from, someone who was clearly a master in their field. My biggest fear was that a rewrite could have led to an inaccuracy somewhere, and while inaccuracies aren’t unknown in the field of journalism, they’re largely not tolerated unless the article’s in the Daily Mail.

The biggest thing to take away from this, to me, is that plagiarism’s absolutely fine — until you get caught — given as how history’s a touchy subject and literature’s a rip-off in general, but for heaven’s sake, quote the goddamn source!!! But I really like my job and I like that writer so next time I’m faced with something like that from them, I’m going to link because I want them to keep their job. Purely selfish reasons, actually, they need to keep their job because their take on the world makes me smile.

And incidentally, because I know you all want to know, at the time I finished writing this there are 7,226,853,376 people on the planet following 85,603 deaths and 207,389 births.

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