Thursday, February 7, 2008

On Plagiarism

So, I've been meaning to put up a post about this topic, and finally, finally, I'm getting around to it. The world can rest easy now.

Plagiarism. That's at topic on everybody's mind these days. Or maybe not. But it comes up a lot in academia, especially when it comes to students. I have a certain aptitude for spotting it in student papers, not that I'm perfect--I suspect I occasionally may let one get by me--but I'm pretty good. Just recently, I had a graduate paper that included an entire Wikipedia entry, incorporated into the paper seemingly seamlessly. Now that's depressing, but I've also seen those Amazon customer reviews of books incorporated into papers, and that's just awful.

But probably the worst instance was a few years ago, an undergraduate paper taken completely off of the internet. Now, that's not what stands out, it was the students response when I told him he was getting an F in the class for plagiarizing the term paper. He said to me that he hadn't committed the plagiarism, it was the guy he hired to write the paper for him!!!

Of course, plagiarism comes up with professors, scholars, intellectuals, and professional writers as well, sometimes due to intentional copying, sometimes accidentally (or so they claim). It seems that word processing facilitates accidental plagiarism, as files can be shifted and reformatted, and the citation gets lost, and the writer forgets that someone else wrote those words (I find that hard to accept, but then again, other people's memories may work differently than mine). I've seen this come up occasionally with people I know.

It also comes up through the media, with journalists for example, occasionally turning out to have copied a report or feature from somewhere else. And in politics, Joe Biden was knocked out of the Democratic primaries in 1988 by because of his plagiarism. That was a little strange, because plagiarism is not so much of an issue in public speaking, with its strong roots in oral tradition, than in publishing, but it turned out that he also plagiarized while a law student. Too bad, because Biden was and is otherwise an outstanding candidate.

Electronic text, and the internet in particular, have made plagiarism extraordinarily easy, because all it requites is a copy and paste, plus substituting your own name for the author. I have a book chapter coming out this year (hopefully) where I argue that cut, copy, and paste are the three most basic tools defining the digital age.

On MySpace, I've seen plagiarism come up a number of times among the little community of poets that I've joined. What follows are expressions of outrage, and a kind of circling of the wagons, as many different writers point their finger at the culprit. A public shaming is the main punishment. Sometimes the reaction seems a little extreme to me, as there really is not very much at stake, certainly no money, no fame, but it is true that this sort of writing comes from the very core, so its theft might seem all the more hurtful, and insulting, for that reason. Writing in general seems to retain a link to our sense of self. I've noticed that students get more upset about bad grades on their papers than on exams, regardless of how much either counts towards the final grade.

There are some people who don't care about being plagiarized, but I've also seen some people, whose writing I can't imagine anyone wanting to steal. getting all bent out of shape over the possibility of someone plagiarizing their work, whether they should copyright it somehow before posting and all. My understanding is that what we put out there is a gift, as my colleague in London, Richard Barbrook has argued, and we are paid back by the status that gift grants us. It's a lot like tribal culture all over again, aka secondary orality and the global village.

In the end, there's not much anyone can do to stop plagiarism from happening (although there are remedies once it's happened). There's been quite a bit written about copyright law in recent years, but all the agonizing simply underscores the fact that the very notion of copyright has been undermined by the electronic media, not just computers and the internet, but radio, TV, and audio recordings. This is just one of the ways in which the electronic media are reversing the biases of print culture.

Media ecologists have long pointed to the fact that copyright laws were introduced as a reaction to printing technology, a way to protect printers and publishers as an industry. Along with copyright, the concept of originality is a product of print culture. Before print, the ideal of writing something completely novel just did not exist. There was no anxiety of influence, and no guilt about copying someone else's words, just as my students feel no guilt, not do I feel any anger, when they copy my words into their notebooks during class.

So, anyway, I kind of tried to tie all of these related threads together in a poem I wrote and posted on my MySpace poetry blog, and I thought I'd bring that up in this blog, since the topic is relevant. So, I'm going to paste the poem in below for quick and easy reference. In fact, I'm going to copy the html code for the entire blog entry and paste it in here, good old copy and paste:

A Page

From the

Fordham University

Student Handbook:

and now this:

Our Plague Days

A plague! A plague!
Of plagiarism!
A pox upon our house!
A noxious pox of chicken scratch!
A literary apocalypse!
Fifth horseman riding roughshod over fourth estate!
Trespassers on intellectual property!
Transgressors eschewing all decency!
With your insincerest form of flattery!
And your crimes of dispassion!
Dispatched with dishonesty!
Prosper not, base cheats and ne'er-do-wells!
Stealing sentences!
Robbing phrases!
Purloining expression!
With such contemptuous disease!
Thieves in the digital night!
With your evil tools of cut and paste!
Word-burglars with your copywrongs!
Absconding scoundrels!
You are our affliction!
Outcast dispel this foul air of derivation!
This contagion that eschews all quotation!
Vile pestilence that you are!
I wish you Damnation!

But hold!
These lines came to me in a fever!
But now a chill attacks my spine!
Are these words that I have penned truly mine?
Or did I stumble 'pon them in some grave tome?
Digging about late one night in times long passed away?
Now half-remembered, now half-dismembered?
Be it ale or ailment, might I be under the influence?
O, the anxiety! Sweet muse, grant me certainty!

Aha! I have it! To insure that nothing unoriginal issues forth from my mouth or hand, I shall henceforth communicate in a language entirely of my own devising, known only to me!

Z okzftd! Z okzftd!
Ne okzfhzqhrl!
Z onw tonm ntq gntrd!
Z mnwhntr onw ne bghbjdm rbqzsbg!
Z khsdqzqx zonbzkxord!
Ehesg gnqrdlzm qhchmf qntfgrgnc nudq entqsg drszsd!
Sqdrozrrdqr nm hmsdkkdbstzk oqnodqsx!
Sqzmrfqdrrnqr drbgdvhmf zkk cdbdmbx!
Vhsg xntq hmrhmbdqdrs enql ne ekzssdqx!
Zmc xntq bqhldr ne chrozrrhnm!
Chrozsbgdc vhsg chrgnmdrsx!
Oqnrodq mns, azrd bgdzsr zmc md'dq-cn-vdkkr!
Rsdzkhmf rdmsdmbdr!
Qnaahmf ogqzrdr!
Otqknhmhmf dwoqdrrhnm!
Vhsg rtbg bnmsdlostntr chrdzrd!
Sghdudr hm sgd chfhszk mhfgs!
Vhsg xntq duhk snnkr ne bts zmc ozrsd!
Vnqc-atqfkzqr vhsg xntq bnoxvqnmfr!
Zarbnmchmf rbntmcqdkr!
Xnt zqd ntq zeekhbshnm!
Ntsbzrs chrodk sghr entk zhq ne cdqhuzshnm!
Sghr bnmszfhnm sgzs drbgdvr zkk ptnszshnm!
Uhkd odrshkdmbd sgzs xnt zqd!
H vhrg xnt Czlmzshnm!

Ats gnkc!
Tgdrd khmdr bzld sn ld hm z edudq!
Ats mnv z bghkk zsszbjr lx rohmd!
Zqd sgdrd vnqcr sgzs h gzud odmmdc sqtkx lhmd?
Nq chc H rstlakd 'onm sgdl hm rnld fqzud snld?
Chffhmf zants kzsd nmd mhfgs hm shldr knmf ozrrdc zvzx?
Mnv gzke-qdldladqdc, mnv gzke-chrldladqdc?
Ad hs zkd nq zhkldms, lhfgs H ad tmcdq sgd hmektdmbd?
N, sgd zmwhdsx! Rvdds ltrd, fqzms ld bdqszhmsx!

Zgz! H gzud hs! Sn hmrtqd sgzs mnsghmf tmnqhfhmzk hrrtdr enqsg eqnl lx lntsg nq gzmc, H rgzkk gdmbdenqsg bnlltmhbzsd hm z kzmftzfd dmshqdkx ne lx nvm cduhrhmf, jmnvm nmkx sn ld!

Poetry Blog Rankings

That last banner is for real. If you want to do me a solid, you can click there, register (name and password), and vote for me by giving me the maximum number of stars, natch.

Anyway, you can also see that same poem in its original setting (and colors) by clicking on the link I am providing here: Our Plague Days. Why should you bother, you may ask, and well you should, when I already gave you the poem right here? Well, because if you go to the other site, you can read all of the comments people left, and my own replies. Some are funny, some get into the media ecological notions I brought up earlier. The comments also provide some indication of how different people read things differently. I think they're really interesting, but that's just me.

But there's more that I want to relate. One of my MySpace friends, who also has a poetry blog, published a poem that he dedicated to me, after reading Our Plague Days. The poet's name is Moses Roth, he's from Israel, and he goes by the handle of "Moses the One and Only (aka Moses the Holy Dude)" on MySpace. Over in Israel, I assume he is known as Moshe. Here's his picture:

So, since this was a poem he wrote for me, and as I've stated in the past, this blog is an exercise in narcissism, I am going to provide you with the link so you can go take a look at what he wrote (for me) and posted. Oh, and to avoid confusion, he refers to me as Lazerleh, because my Jewish name is Lazar (these are names that are used for religious ritual purposes, if you don't have a biblical name like Benjamin or Sarah), and the ending is a diminutive. In turn, I refer to him as Moshe, Mosheleh, Moisheleh, Moisheh, or Moi. Anyway, here's the link to his poem: Spa(w)n.

Pretty cool, huh? I thought so. Thank you again, Moishie!

So, his post links back to mine, and in turn, to show my appreciation, I added another post which linked back to his: Spa(w)n by Moses the One and Only (aka Moses the Holy Dude.

Being the astute reader that you are, I don't have to tell you that this post now adds another link to the chain. Isn't the web wonderful, and blogging just grand? I guess that instead of saying that it's not copying if you use quotation marks, we now say that it's not copying if we provide hot links. That's progress for you!

1 comment:

Rasmenia said...

Excellent topic.

I haven't had to deal with plagiarism much (thankfully). I've only experienced a couple of small instances where I discovered my work on someone else's blog & found it satisfying enough to leave a snarky comment that amused me, but also made it clear that I was the author.

I suppose that while all of this information at out fingertips makes it easier to copy & past another's work, the plus side is that it's also easier to catch.

Loved the poem, too, by the way - you've got me grinning over here. :)