Plagiarize: take and use (the thoughts, writings, inventions, etc. of another person) as one’s own.
-Oxford Canadian Dictionary
I don’t get it. I really don’t. It seems silly that I even have to mention something so evidently wrong and offensively lazy. Even before writing became a serious part of my life, I’d never considered plagiarizing someone else’s work as my own—and it’s not like I’m even a person of unwavering, virtuous ethics. Maybe it was the teachers I had growing up or the role models I followed who taught me that copying someone else’s work was wrong. I’d like to think it was just me using my own brain though; after all, who in their right mind would take credit for someone else’s work?
The reality is a lot of people. It may seem overdramatic to say that plagiarism is rampant in this technological Renaissance, but it truly is. We have copious amounts of information available to us at astonishing conveniences and it was inevitable that some people would use this resource to take advantage of others. But just like eating Taco Bell for every meal of every day, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Your own personal ethics on plagiarism aside, the whole thing is also pretty illegal. As in against the law. When you take someone else’s words and claim them as your own, without giving them the proper credit, people get angry. Just ask Elizabeth Meriwether, “creator” of the show New Girl, who’s currently lawsuit-deep with a pair of screenwriters who claim she plagiarized the show’s concept from their pilot Square One. As if the similarities between the two shows weren’t damning enough, Fox reportedly offered the writers a $10,000 settlement as soon as the lawsuit was filed. Because that’s what innocent people do: they offer thousands of dollars to make something go away. I won’t even get into the PR shitstorm that is Shia LaBeouf’s recent plagiarism antics, but you have to give him points for originality (the whole skywriting part, I mean).
Let’s bring the plagiarism war back to our own home turf, though. Anyone who’s taken a first-year course (which I would assume is most of you) has undoubtedly been subjected to the concept of academic dishonesty. It’s not like people are somehow oblivious to what plagiarism is. I remember there being days where I would have back-to-back introductory classes and there would be the same section on the syllabus about what academic dishonesty is, why it’s bad, and what the consequences are. I remember thinking how distant the environment of cheating seemed to me. If I would never do anything like that, why would someone else?
Even the Other Press has seen its share of people trying to plagiarize. Someone was fired right around the time I started because they’d been taking articles from online and purposing them as their own. It seems odd to have one of the main roles of Assistant Editor be to check for plagiarism but it’s impossibly important. During my own time as Assistant Editor last year, I can recall at least three writers who attempted plagiarism and every time it was the same claim of ignorance that gave them a free pass. You ever need a dose of awkward in your day? Try sitting down a fellow writer and asking them to stop taking credit for someone else’s work.
An unfortunate fact of life is that for every profession, there are people in that field who are willing to steal other people’s work. What motivated me to write about the topic this week was an email I received from the Canadian University Press (CUP) about someone plagiarizing from an online CUP article. The writer took sections from the online version and incorporated them into a new piece. Were the sections substantive? Not really, and that’s not the point. The writer (someone with many articles to their name) knowingly took the words of someone else and didn’t give them credit for it. As much as you want to believe some people are truly unaware of what plagiarism is, they know what they’re doing when they hit copy and then follow up with a paste. I have zero sympathies for anyone who plagiarizes and I have even fewer sympathies for those who get caught.
Let me boil this whole topic down into one digestible message: don’t fucking plagiarize. It’s wrong; it’s illegal; and you’re taking credit for something another person actually worked for. If the thought of originality is something you grapple with, then maybe you’re in the wrong field.