Plagiarism is defined
the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.“there were accusations of plagiarism”
synonyms: copying, infringement of copyright, piracy, theft, stealing, poaching, appropriation;informalcribbing“there were accusations of plagiarism”
In the worlds of education, academia and publishing, plagiarism is tantamount to theft. But why is there such an outcry about plagiarism in the media this week? Well, in case you were entirely indisposed yesterday, the issue was brought to our notice by sections of Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican Rally in Cleveland, Ohio, where Donald Trump is presenting himself as the Republican candidate for the US presidency. A twitter user, Jarrett Hill, spotted sections of her speech that sounded a lot like Michelle Obama’s in 2008 and began tweeting his observations.
There have been a few highly-publicised cases of plagiarism reaching the courts in the last few years. Recently there was the case against Ed Sheerin where the plaintiffs, a songwriting team who composed the song ‘Amazing’ for X-Factor winner Matt Cardle in 2011 accused Ed of stealing the chorus section. Sheerin lost and the team were awarded close to 20 million in pounds in damages.
Also in 2011 was the case against JK Rowling which was thrown out due to the plaintiff being unable or unwilling to secure upfront costs. Why they were asked to provide these is beyond my current scope. This case was brought against the writer in an allegation she had stolen the plot for one of her Harry Potter series from a lesser-known writer’s work.
What’s so terrible about plagiarism, you might be asking. Why do people make such a stink about it? Surely in our ever more digitized world, with all that information out there on the internet, there’s going to be a bit of unintended plagiarism? Well, yes there will be but within a reasonable margin. Plagiarism as defined above involves lifting sizeable chunks of another individual’s words or ideas, be they written or spoken or otherwise, without crediting them as the source – and ultimately, of passing these off as one’s own. It’s dishonesty at the least.
Perhaps people dislike this type of dishonesty so intensely because we live in a world of such bland, corporate, sameness and manufactured dross, it becomes harder each day to believe in the people round about us and see them as unique individuals. Yet the fact that we are all unique still exists and still shapes our ideas to a large degree even in this age of mass data gathering and data sharing, mass media, mass surveillance and the extensive depersonalization that accompanies being part of any ‘mass’. Personal thoughts and ideas, if we have them, provide a way to reach out to others and allow them connect with us honestly. People tend to feel drawn to, and happier around people we consider as authentic just as people who consider themselves authentic are happier all round. If we are given reason at some point to believe that a person we have hitherto regarded as unique and authentic is, in fact, inauthentic and dishonest, we tend to lose trust and withdraw our connection.
Perhaps it is, as one commenter observes, a speech ‘full of cliches and well-worn bromides was really similar to another speech that was full of cliches and well-worn bromides’. Nevertheless, the irony of Melania Trump stating that ‘Your word is your bond’ – when those words she utters turn out not to be hers – is staggering. What effect it will have on the Trump campaign and its supporters is another question entirely.
In the next post we’ll look at avoiding plagiarism in your own work.