Is anyone else tired of the media making a mountain out of a molehill? Are these filler pieces just a way to make us focus less on the real issues? It seems that popular media assigns big catchy words so the lynch mobs can repeat them, without even knowing what they mean. This brings me to the million dollar question; is plagiarism even the correct word to use in this situation?
First off, let us define plagiarism. According to Yourdictionary.com:
Plagiarism is the act of copying or stealing someone else’s words or ideas and passing them off as your own work.
- An example of plagiarism is when you copy a paper from the Internet, put your name on it and turn it in as if you wrote it.
- An example of plagiarism is when you buy a term paper or essay written by someone else and attempt to use it as your own.
- An example of plagiarism is paraphrasing materials without correctly attributing the source or research text (1).
According to Plagarize.org all of these acts are considered plagiarism:
- turning in someone else’s work as your own
- copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
- failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
- giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
- changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
- copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on “fair use” rules (2)
Now take a gander at example 2 and bullet point 1. Now think real hard about who a lot of public figures hire when they need a speech. They hire speechwriters and or ghostwriters. One writer named James Humes wrote speeches for “Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush” (3). So is that not the pot calling the kettle black?
In College, I was taught the “cover your butt method” which consisted of putting a footnote or endnote in any paraphrase or summary if you got any inkling of an idea from a source. It seems Princeton University practices that same method. I never liked that method because a paraphrase can change the entire context or authors intentions. So now the author could be cited for something he or she may disagree with entirely.
In all the speeches I have listened to, I have never heard anyone openly give credit when paraphrasing or summarizing. If you think about it, unless we come up with something innovative, aren’t we all in a sense plagiarizing someone? Most conversations say “did you hear this,” or “this study said” etc. Unless you gave the exact author or reference, you could have plagiarized.
There are very few areas that require no citing. According to Purdue.edu these are the exceptions:
- Writing your own lived experiences, your own observations and insights, your own thoughts, and your own conclusions about a subject
- When you are writing up your own results obtained through lab or field experiments
- When you use your own artwork, digital photographs, video, audio, etc.
- When you are using “common knowledge,” things like folklore, common sense observations, myths, urban legends, and historical events (but not historical documents)
When you are using generally-accepted facts, e.g., pollution is bad for the environment, including facts that are accepted within particular discourse communities, e.g., in the field of composition studies, “writing is a process” is a generally-accepted fact (4).
The big question is what defines common knowledge? That seems to be very discretionary. Purdue.edu considers something common knowledge if you “find the same information undocumented in at least five credible sources”, “if you think the information you’re presenting is something your readers will already know” “or something that a person could easily find in general reference sources (4). MIT stance “what may be common knowledge in one culture, nation, academic discipline or peer group may not be common knowledge in another” (8) So the “cover your butt” method is still relevant in academia because few will risk a failing grade arguing the broad term common knowledge. However, in the real world, I rarely see proper citations on blogs, websites and you guessed it speeches.
My opinion is that the keyboard warriors are being too harsh. Surveys from 2006 to 2010 from Donald L. McCabe, a co-founder of the Center for Academic Integrity and a business professor at Rutgers University show that 40 percent of 14,000 undergraduates admitted to copying a few sentences in written assignments and that only 29% consider it serious cheating (5)
While it is legal to plagiarize it is illegal to infringe on a copyright. Courts usually use these points to determine infringement:
(1) The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) The nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
According to Turnitin spokesman Chris Harrick, there was only a 6% match (6). I am no judge but I doubt this case would go to or even be worthy of a trial. Scott Adams creator of Dilbert knows how something in your head turns into a written piece. He states “You could imagine that a first draft would be largely plagiarized, just as placeholders.” This is where you get ideas and inspiration. While you try to do your diligence “the draft becomes “a giant clusterfuck” in which authors and sources are lost beyond retrieval” (7).
So in short, most public figures by definition plagiarize, there is a fine line between plagiarism and common knowledge and copyright rather than plagiarism is what your worry about outside of academics. Most of what we read and watch are just a paraphrased rehash from the few innovators of this world. I admit that I am not the most intelligent person in the word but I learn, read and quote those who are. I guess that would make me smart?
(1) Plagiarism dictionary definition | plagiarism defined Plagiarism dictionary definition | plagiarism defined. (2016).Yourdictionary.com. Retrieved 21 July 2016, from http://www.yourdictionary.com/plagiarism
(2) What is Plagiarism?. (2016). Plagiarism.org – Best Practices for Ensuring Originality in Written Work. Retrieved 21 July 2016, from http://www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/what-is-plagiarism/
(3) Confessions of a White House Ghostwriter: Five Presidents and Other Political Adventures: James C. Humes, Julie Nixon Eisenhower: 9780895264336: Amazon.com: Books. (2016). Amazon.com. Retrieved 21 July 2016, from https://www.amazon.com/Confessions-White-House-Ghostwriter-Presidents/dp/0895264331
(4) Purdue OWL: Avoiding Plagiarism . (2016).Owl.english.purdue.edu. Retrieved 21 July 2016, from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource
(5) As Internet influence has grown, students less aware of plagiarizing. (2016).cleveland.com. Retrieved 21 July 2016, from http://www.cleveland.com/nation/index.ssf/2010/08/as_internet_influence_has_grow.html
(6) Trump Took 6 Percent of Obama’s Speech: Co. . (2016). NBC Bay Area. Retrieved 21 July 2016, from http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/6-percent-michelle-obama-meliana-trumpOakland-Company-Turnitin-plagiarism-387503341.html
(7) Dilbert Guy on Melania Trump ‘Plagiarism’: Accident, Not Genius. (2016). Breitbart. Retrieved 21 July 2016, from http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/07/19/melania-trump-dilbert-scott-adams-plagiarized/
(8) Academic Integrity at MIT. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2016, from https://integrity.mit.edu/handbook/citing-your-sources/what-common-knowledge