Have you ever felt like you are fighting a losing battle? It seems to me that many educators feel that way when it comes to student plagiarism. There are so many resources for students to find online and, with a few keystrokes and click of the mouse, they can copy something from a web page and claim it as their own. Teachers feel powerless to determine original authorship.
But what technology giveth, it can taketh away. And so it is that teachers can use any one of a number of web sites and services that can hold a student’s paper up to the light of billions of comparative Internet searches, looking for plagiarized passages. Like a forensic police officer on CSI, they can turn up the bits of evidence that can prove your guilt.
But going to such ends seem to me to be inconsistent with the values we claim to be trying to instill in children. Values such as honesty and trust. It sticks in my craw the same way as the attitude of ”guilty until proven innocent” does.
The Internet has changed many thing but no so much our attitudes about plagiarism. I don’t know if this is right or wrong, but at the very least, I believe we should examine our attitudes about copying in the light of contemporary scholarship and creative activity, with a dash of historical context.
- In the area of fine arts the idea of copying the masters was encouraged, and indeed some of them (such as Van Gogh) unabashedly based their paintings and drawings on the work of others, while contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol found inspiration and lucre in copying Campbell’s Tomato Soup can.
- In literature, notables such as T.S. Elliott, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and H.G. Wells plagiarized. More recently, plagiarism scandals erupted over some of the work of Jayson Blair (NY Times) and Fareed Zakaria (CNN).
- Within music, modern technology has enabled a whole means of creative expression that uses “sampling,” the copying of portions of someone else’s recording to re-use it in your own work. This use is seen as entirely legitimate.
- The idea of plagiarism is, in some respects, a product of the Western mind. Collectivist societies are more likely to identify thoughts and ideas as belonging to a group rather than to an individual.1
- It could be argued that in some areas of inquiry, such as history, it is practically impossible to not plagiarize. In an online essay entitled “Plagiarism, Technology, and our Changing World,” Evea Dayan recounts the story of historian Stephen B. Oates who was accused of plagiarizing portions of his Lincoln biography, With Malice Towards None. The accusation of a noted historian and the brouhaha within the academic community surrounding it led to a great deal of soul-searching, including the conclusion that “Many [historians]… while objecting to Oates use of verbatim copying-took the opportunity this event provided to point out that much of history is appropriation.”
It’s clear that long-cherished notions of creativity are under attack, eroded by file-sharing, media culture, widespread sampling, and digital replication. How does writing respond to this new environment? This workshop will rise to that challenge by employing strategies of appropriation, replication, plagiarism, piracy, sampling, plundering, as compositional methods. Along the way, we’ll trace the rich history of forgery, frauds, hoaxes, avatars, and impersonations spanning the arts, with a particular emphasis on how they employ language. We’ll see how the modernist notions of chance, procedure, repetition, and the aesthetics of boredom dovetail with popular culture to usurp conventional notions of time, place, and identity, all as expressed linguistically.
Here’s the Did You Footnote? podcast.
- See this study of Indonesian students How different are we? understanding and managing plagiarism between east and west and this an A Different Perspective on Plagiarism, both of which delve into the differences between Eastern and Western thinking about plagiarism ↩