Let’s Talk Semantics 6: When is it Plagiarism?

March 9, 2011 § 21 Comments

If you are one of those people who notices eensy-weensy details like the particulars on someone’s blog, you may have noticed that yesterday I decided to append a copyright license to my blog. You see, I’ve started to become nervous. It finally dawned on me the other day that I am posting portions of creative thought that will appear in one form or another in my dissertation. It would break my heart (not to mention really really piss me off) if someone stole my creative intellectual property before I even had a chance to explore it. Although I trust my general readers not to steal my thoughts, the same can’t be said for the general Googler who might happen upon my blog when they type in specific keywords.

Note: I realize that I’m giving myself a great deal of credit, thinking my blog would show up in a Google search, but for the sake of the point, please just play along.

In addition to being pissed off by plagiarists who might want to steal my stuff, I am disgusted by people who plagiarize at all. For instance, as some of you Gmail users may be aware, Gmail sometimes takes it upon itself to “read” your e-mail and provide advertisements that correlate to the subject matter. More often than not, I am appalled to find an ad for a paid dissertation-writing service (like those paid essay-writing services!!) splashed across my Gmail inbox…just because I used the word “dissertation” in a message to a friend.

How utterly disgusting and disgraceful, to steal a dissertation! To pay someone else to write it for you so that you can slap your name on it and claim authorship! To that I say: if you don’t have the facilities to compose a dissertation all on your own, then leave your program ABD. Let it go. Don’t get the degree. Leave the degree for the students who can and will do their own work. So disgusting.

And then…things like this happen:

1. German ‘plagiarism’ minister Guttenberg drops doctorate

2. Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg: Baron without a title

3. LSE investigates Gaddafi’s son plagiarism claims

4. Plagiarism: The Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V boom

Look, folks, let’s just be perfectly clear here.

Writing is hard work. If you want your work to be taken seriously, you will often need to incorporate some amount of research (even if it’s light). Even in works of fiction, authors will write an acknowledgement or thanks message where they give credit to the people who assisted them in their research.

Research is hard work. In order to conduct research properly, you have to think of all the questions before your readers have the chance to ask them. Cover all your bases. Know what your sources know. As you conduct your research, you have got to keep track of the sources: their titles, authors, page numbers for direct quotes and paraphrases.

If it isn’t appropriate for your work to contain a bibliography, then write a note of thanks and acknowledgement so that those who assisted you are given credit.

I guess at the end of the day, the plagiarism rule is this:

When in doubt, always give credit where credit is due.

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§ 21 Responses to Let’s Talk Semantics 6: When is it Plagiarism?

  • textisle says:

    So weird, I was just thinking about this today! Synchronicity rules, because a family friend who’s in high school distance ed has been accused and trying to deal with it.

    • Mrs. H. says:

      That’s terrible, Text/Isle. I hope your family friend is innocent and that this is resolved as painlessly as possible. Welcome to my blog, and thanks for commenting!

  • So much is out there now, available to everyone. While I totally agree about citing sources, and I know how labor-intensive writing is, I also believe fewer people adhere to a strict code of ethics nowadays. It’s terrible. On another note, I hear so many stories now about university students handing in papers written word-for-word from an online source. Do you see that?

    • Mrs. H. says:

      You know, I haven’t had any plagiarized essays (at least I haven’t caught any…and I always look). I try to write extremely specific assignments that pertain to our class discussions to diminish the ability to steal from online sources. I did once have a student who copied and pasted a definition from Wikipedia into a paper. When I presented the student with the printed (and highlighted) webpage with the paper, the student was utterly stunned and said, “I didn’t know that definitions had to be cited!” This was in Composition II, so the student was a second-semester freshman. I want to blame high school teachers, but I know that’s not fair either. This was just a student who made an assumption and ended up being wrong. I did take points off to send a message to this student, but I did not fail the paper.

      I have had colleagues, though, who have found essays that either their students purchased online from an essay site or that they copied and pasted into their own document themselves. Increasingly, our department has been using TurnItIn.com so that teachers don’t have to waste time throwing sentences into search engines. (Although, I’ll tell you–it doesn’t take too long to figure out that a student has plagiarized.)

      It’s so disgusting and wasteful–it wastes the teacher’s time as well as the student’s. Not to mention the disciplinary action that the teacher can choose to pursue. It’s all so…blech. Hate it. I always tell my students that if they are scared they might plagiarize, then they should check with me first. Because I will catch them. And I will take them to the disciplinary committee. And they will be punished. And it’s not fun for anyone.

  • Lisa says:

    Okay, so now that you have me thoroughly freaked out I’m going to “copy” you and add a copyright page to my work. That’s not plagiarism, is it?

    Have you tried googling yourself? I am always amazed at what stuff shows up of mine.

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Haha, no, that’s not plagiarism! It’s protection! 🙂

      I have not tried Googling myself since getting married…with my maiden name, though, I Googled myself a couple of times and saw that apparently I had a secret double life as a famous Australian opera singer. Or something like that. It was pretty funny.

      • Lisa says:

        I do it once in a while, just to make sure nothing crazy is coming up attached to my name. I can’t just use my name though, I always need other words as well, because supposedly I am a famous economist in Canada, a life coach, a sociolagist who specializes in studying prostitution (who graduated with her doctorate from the same University as I did, at the same ceremony) and a character in a movie. Sheesh!

      • Mrs. H. says:

        Oh, that’s a good idea, especially for professionalism! Maybe I’ll keep that in mind….

  • AMo says:

    Right on.

  • Tim says:

    I once saw one of those essay-writing services pop up in Gmail. I emailed them and strung them along like I was looking for a paper and then sent them a nasty email raking them over the coals for what they do.

  • jack says:

    Sometimes the Google ads are hilarious that they suggest through gmail 🙂

    Something else to consider in regards to copyright is posting photos online. I now embed and slather some of my photos with watermarks and change little details on them as I had been contacted twice by people in regards to “Grimm.” Twice someone has stolen photos of Grimm and listed him as the sire of a litter of puppies or the dam (he’s a male, by the way.) They had stolen photos from a public message forum.

  • Tori Nelson says:

    I added a copyright to my blog after I found a couple posts put on another person’s blog without any mention that I kind of (totally) wrote them. It was a surreal experience that left me a little flattered and then a LOT peeved. All you have as a writer is your ideas and your choice of words to express those ideas, so any person assuming that idea/word choice as his/her own feels like a pretty significant assault. You are right. Always, always give credit where it is due!

    • Mrs. H. says:

      That’s horrible, Tori! Did you contact the writer to let them know that what they were doing was wrong? I’m glad you’ve got a copyright on your blog, too–you are so stinking funny and creative…and I’m confident that you’re going to be published one day. Definitely don’t want someone else claiming that you stole THEIR work! (Insane! Nobody writes like you do!)

      And you’re right–all a writer has is his/her own creativity, ideas, and word choice. All we have is our voice. And if someone steals that from us…so not cool. I’m actually not sure that it’s possible to over-cite someone. Maybe it would annoy readers to see citations after every sentence, but at least there’s no room for plagiarism!

  • Robert says:

    A friend of mine sent me this link to an article in The Chronicle a while back that seems to fit this conversation quite nicely:


    Having known a number of undergraduate English majors who would, when times are tight, write papers for other students (I know, it’s wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong and I admonished these people for their actions…but when you’re out of work, out of money, and need some cash for groceries…), I think it’s getting harder and harder for us, on the teaching side of the desk, to keep track of all of this. I mean, take the guy in the article; this isn’t simple copy and paste plagiarism. Instead, this is a guy who is writing TONS of stuff and not taking credit for his work.

    I find this to be scarier than anything else higher education is facing. As a teacher, even if I have suspicion that the student may not have been the one to write an essay/thesis/dissertation/creative work there is NO WAY I can gather enough evidence to accuse the student of academic dishonesty.

    As far as putting a copyright on your blog, I think it’s a great idea. I hate myself every time I log into gmail or google something because I am very aware that I have entered into a transaction with a company that plans to profit off of my personal information. That’s why I left the facebook. I think it’s a pretty dangerous road to go down when personal information is used as a commodity against those that provided such information. Personally, I peg the facebook to be the corporation that turns into Cyberdyne Systems…

    • Mrs. H. says:

      I hate that article, honey. But thanks for sharing it with the readers–it’s entirely germane to the conversation…even though it makes me want to track this asshole down and smack him across the face. Boo to enablers to plagiarism!!

  • You are so right! And I’ve been thinking I need to attach a copyright statement. Where did you get yours and may I borrow it? Are copyright statements copyrighted or are they out there on the web for the taking?

    Hugs from Haiti,

    • Mrs. H. says:

      Hahaha, of course you can take mine! I just essentially reworded it because it can be a little confusing to understand if you’re not familiar with copyright law. I used the website Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/), and then to decide which license was for me, I filled out the form here: http://creativecommons.org/choose.

      Go for it! Like a lot of our little network of bloggers are doing, you’re putting your own creative work out there and it should be protected! 🙂

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