Do you know Reverend Archibald Carey? Chances are you have never heard of him and in truth most people haven’t. His words however will remain within the scope of human memory for a very long time.
“We, Negro Americans,
sing with all loyal Americans:
My Country ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty…
That’s exactly what we mean –
From every mountainside,
Let freedom ring!
Not only from the Green Mountains and
White Mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire;
Not only from the Catskills of New York;
But from the Ozarks of Arkansas,
From the Stone Mountain in Georgia,
From the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
Let freedom ring!
Not only for the minorities of the United States,
but for the disinherited of all the Earth
May the Republican Party, under God,
from every mountainside,
Let freedom ring!”
Sound familiar? Reverend Carey has the great honor and distinction of being plagiarized by Dr. Martin Luther King in his “I Have a Dream” speech (Fulwood III, 2003). Just the thought seems to taint the memory of such a great man. This feeling is so overwhelming that many have rallied to the defense of Dr. King including Reverend Carey himself. The question is should they defend him?
It is true, plagiarism is a very ugly thing; unfortunately it is also a very common thing. Dr. King’s speech is just a sampling of how far plagiarism has gone and how willing we are to ignore it. The time has come to stop making excuses and to take action. We need to educate ourselves on plagiarism, what it is, how to avoid it, who’s committing it, why it should not be tolerated, and what measures are being taken to prevent it.
So what is plagiarism? Many people think they already know, but it is not as clear cut as many would like to believe. Plagiarism is not just the theft of words. It is also the theft of ideas and opinions. It is stealing the creative thoughts and work of another. These words and ideas are the soul property of the original creator just the same as if they had built a piece of furniture (King, 1995). These creations should have the same protection as other personal belongings and works of art.
To know what plagiarism is includes understanding how it is committed. The internet and computers have made plagiarism very easy. Cut and Paste is the perhaps the simplest and easiest form of plagiarism used today. This is when a computer is used to copy word for word a piece of writing and that writing is then pasted into the document and claimed by the thief as his or her own. It becomes plagiarism because no quotations marks are used and no citations are given. Mosaic is a form of cutting and pasting in which the thief is using the works of more then one person (Price, 2005).
Paraphrasing is writing what we have read in our own words. It is also used and encouraged by teachers all over the world. The unfortunate part is that most teachers do not explain paraphrasing fully or how to avoid plagiarism while using it. Paraphrasing only becomes plagiarism when no citations are given and it is referred to as half-credit when only partial citations are given. Paraphrasing itself is not plagiarism and is a wonderful writing tool that should not be avoided but instead used properly (Price, 2005).
Unconscious plagiarism is perhaps the trickiest and most common of all forms. That is when a writer plagiarizes without realizing it. Sounds impossible but this can easily happen when they have a large amount of data and poor note taking skills. As a result they can mistake a phrase or idea as their own when in fact they were influenced or simply “unknowingly” plagiarizing another author (Price, 2005). With all the various forms of plagiarism we can see how easy it is to steal another’s thoughts and ideas either knowingly or by accident.
Avoiding plagiarism is a very simple matter. The first thing that should be done is to keep accurate and detailed notes. This is the number one mistake made by researchers and students alike. The more detailed the notes the more likely the author is to remember their sources when it comes to citation, effectively preventing unconscious plagiarism. It is also important to remember that every single piece of information that was influenced or borrowed must be cited. This includes ideas, opinions, theories, facts, statistics, graphs, drawings, quotations, paraphrasing and “any pieces of information that are not common knowledge” (Price, 2005). It’s also a good rule of thumb to make your in-text citations as you write to prevent forgetting them entirely. This all might seem very simple and there is a good explanation for that; it is. Following this simple advice can help prevent plagiarism in the future.
Plagiarism is committed by everyone; students, professionals, academics and even the common man. Every time an email forward of a poem or cute story is copied and passed on without giving credit it is considered plagiarism. No one ever questions where those beautiful, funny and sentimental pieces came from let alone ask who they belong to (Mackenzie, 2002). When it comes to plagiarism none of us are untouched. It is a shared crime whether we have committed it or stood silently by watching it.
It is very easy, perhaps too easy, to think of plagiarism as a victimless crime, but society as a whole is affected. In 2001 Rutgers University surveyed 4,500 high school students only to find that over 50% of them said they had plagiarized their written assignments (Eye on Cheaters, 2004). A study entitled “Student Cheating in American High Schools” states that out of the 52% that admitted stealing for the internet 15% of those obtained an entire paper from the web (Policing, 2004). The Who’s Who Among American High School Students surveyed 700,000 “top performers” to discover that 80% had cheated during their academic careers (Clayton, 1999). John Barrie, founder of Turnitin says that a third of the papers submitted to his site are plagiarized and almost 75% of those are stolen directly from the internet (Policing, 2004). Perhaps the most frightening of all is a study by McCabe where 50% of the participants felt that there was nothing wrong with copying answers from a test (Eye on Cheaters, 2004).
So what? Who cares, right? “Well, consider the prospect of going to a doctor who cheated during medical school” (Loertscher, 2006). When a student cheats they are not learning. In fact many of them can not even explain the work they have copied when questioned about it (Thompson, 2005). In cheating students are not only robbing themselves of an education but the rest of the world of competent and able professionals.
The silent victims are many times those men and women whose work was stolen. Even if they gain a monetary reward they gain no recognition. Harold Courlander is known for his novel The African. What is mostly forgotten is his plagiarized work which can be found in Alex Haley’s “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” (Fulwood III, 2003). Courlander received a monetary reward but Mr. Haley received full credit for work that did not belong to him. “Plagiarism is closer to pride, a sin of the spirit, than to the criminal activities of the burglar” (King, 1995). Perhaps King is right in this statement, but Courlander and others like him have the right to be proud in their work and to have others know it is indeed their work.
With plagiarism being such a large and common offense one might question what really can be done to stop it. Part of the answer is to understand why plagiarism is committed in the first place. What is the rational used to excuse the acts of plagiarism.
“Cheating IS an answer,” Says Mr. Smolik a student at the University of Texas. “It might not be a good answer, but none the less it is an answer (Clayton, 1999). College life is difficult to say the least. Time, workload and parents are the main causes of plagiarism in college students today (Clayton, 1999). “It’s definitely what you get assigned and how long you have to do it – that right there determines whether you’re going to cheat,” says Smolik (Clayton, 1999). A lot is expected and demanded so when faced with a boring and long paper with other assignments waiting some students will opt for the easy way out. “Plagiarism is wrong, but there are situations in which it is understandable” (Johnson, 2004).
Students are not the only ones to have found reasons to validate their plagiarism. At the University of Newcastle, Australia we find that plagiarism was not only tolerated by administrators and professors but it was in fact encouraged. The University must make up approximately 60% of its education costs because though education is free for Australian citizens the government refuses to pay in full. This leaves the University in a precarious position. In order to correct its financial problems Newcastle has spread out into foreign countries. Students attending these schools do so expecting to receive a higher grade. When they don’t they leave taking their funding with them. Newcastle’s plagiarism problem came into light when a visiting lecturer, Ian Firns, flunked 15 students that had plagiarized their assignments for his class. The college turned the student’s papers into a different lecturer who then gave them passing grades. Mr. Firn’s was later verbally attacked and fired. Money was the soul reason that plagiarism was tolerated and why it was encouraged (Cohen, 2005).
Plagiarism has been ignored and hidden for many reasons throughout history. Now is the time to end the practice. A portion of the blame for plagiarism must fall at the feet of educators. A teacher must think of their students, the work assigned, and the time allotted to complete it. Everyone is agreed that plagiarism within our school systems has become a problem. Educators must therefore take steps to prevent cheating. “The clever teacher, designs assignments and projects for which cheating or plagiarism is not an issue and really cannot be done” (Loertscher, 2006). Careful planning on the part of educators can help reduce the plague that is plagiarism.
Society as a whole must start to change their views on the topic. Individuals do influence the thoughts of those around them. It has reached a point in our country where we not only tolerate plagiarism but we embrace it throwing away the rights of intellectual property (King, 1995). As long as plagiarism is viewed as ok and is tolerated by society it will remain an issue.
Colleges and universities must install and enforce penalties for plagiarism as well as develop programs to help educate students and alter their current mind set. It is during our years of education that our ideas about plagiarism are formed. Therefore it becomes extremely important for educators to take proper steps in exposing the plagiarism problem. The University of Texas, for instance, is trying to “raise the profile of integrity issues” by distributing handouts and by publishing a newsletter entitled “Integrity Herald” (Clayton, 1999). Granted this is a small step but it is a step in the right direction. Many schools are installing honor codes and have found them to be quite effective. The University of Virginia has a student run honor code with only one sanction; expulsion (Clayton, 1999). These programs will help students and others to see that plagiarism has consequences and that it is not acceptable.
When it comes to plagiarism the punishment hardly ever fits the crime and is affected greatly by social standing, money and popularity. All acts of plagiarism must be viewed as the same act irregardless of who is committing it or why. To put an end to plagiarism we must put aside our emotions and treat each case the same. Giving passes or being easy on some plagiarist while bashing others will not solve the problem.
A teacher’s job is to educate. When plagiarism is discovered in the classroom that teacher should be able to count on the backing of other teachers, administrators and parents. As things stand now a teacher puts their very job and sometimes reputation on the line when addressing charges of plagiarism. Such as in the case of biology teacher Christine Pelton who quit her job instead of giving in to pressure from parents and school administrators to overlook plagiarism in her classroom (McCollum, 2002). This is just one case of public pressure affecting plagiarism. It does give an excellent example of how many feel towards plagiarism and how we have failed to keep to our own standards and laws.
Another interesting case demonstrating the imbalance of crime and punishment involving plagiarism is the case of a young man named Lloyd Lewis. In 1936 the 17 year old Lloyd won a $5,000 college scholarship for his essay answering the question “How Can America Stay Out of War?” Unfortunately for Lloyd he was not properly educated on plagiarism and large parts of his essay were stolen from other authors. His punishment was to gain the title Lloyd “Loser” Lewis and to have his picture placed on the front page along with a nasty article. It’s interesting to note that his article was surrounded by other articles covering the war in Europe and poverty in China (Time, 2004).
Was his crime really as awful as it was made out to be? Did he deserve the treatment he received? Of course not, but this is another example of the imbalances faced with plagiarism. If our Mr. Lewis had been famous or politically connected he probably would never have had to face such an embarrassment (Klein, 2005). To end plagiarism we have erase such events. Everyone must receive the same punishment for the same crime with no special treatment for anyone.
Finally, to end plagiarism the plagiarist must first be caught. In the hectic and busy lives of teacher’s catching a student cheating can be almost impossible. Thankfully the same internet that has made the lives of cheaters so easy has also increased the chance of catching them. By using sites such as Turnitin, iThenticate, EVE2 and other watchdog sites teachers can search large databases in a short time enabling them to catch cheaters more effectively (Silvester, 2004). Another overlooked tool within the teacher’s arsenal is education. In this area the internet can also lend a helping hand with sites such as the University of Washington’s Citation Game, Education World’s teaching assistant site and various citation creation tools (Mitchoff, 2005).
There are no legitimate excuses for plagiarism, but there is understanding. It touches all of us on a daily basis and we are all plagiarist in our own right. The question we need to ask ourselves is do we want to remain that way. Plagiarism is a crime, it has victims and it has very serious results. It is however a crime that is easy to stop. It only takes the desire to make an effort. Plagiarism should never be tolerated if for no other reason then the respect and talent of the original authors who have decided to share their gifts with us.
Clayton, M. (1999). A whole lot of cheatin’ going on. Christian Science Monitor, 91(36), 17. Retrieved March 04, 2006, from Academic Search Elite database.
Cohen, D. (2005). A tarnished reputation. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(8), A39-A40. Retrieved Feb 13, 2006, from Academic Search Elite database.
Eye on cheaters. (2004). Current Events, 103(15), 1-3. Retrieved Feb 13, 2006, from Middle Search Plus database.
Fulwood, III, S. (2003). Plagiarism: playing by the rules. Black Issues Book Review, 5(5), 24-25. Retrieved Feb 13, 2006, from Academic Search Elite database.
Mitchoff, K. (2005). Web sites: citations and citation makers. Teacher Librarian, 33(1), 7-7. Retrieved Feb 13, 2006, from Academic Search Elite database.
Johnson, D. (2004). The other side of plagiarism. Head for the Edge, 23(1), 98. Retrieved Feb 24, 2006 from Academic Search Elite database.
King, F. (1995). The misanthrope’s corner. National Review, 47(16), 56-56. Retrieved Feb 13, 2006, from Academic Search Elite database.
Klein, J. M. (2005). Plagiarism and other unoriginal sins. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(12), 12. Retrieved Feb 13, 2006 from Academic Search Elite database
Loertscher, D. (2006). Guiding students from cheating and plagiarism to honesty and integrity: strategies for change. Teacher Librarian, 33(3), 40. Retrieved March 04, 2006, from Academic Search Elite database.
Mackenzie, M. (2002). Whose work are you stealing?. Retrieved Feb. 13, 2006, from Writing.com Web site: /http://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/507260#sw.
McCollum, S. (2002). Copycats beware!. Junior Scholastic, 104(15), 6. Retrieved Feb 13, 2006, from Primary Search database.
Policing plagiarism. (2002). Scholastic Choices, 17(6), 4. Retrieved Feb 13, 2006, from Primary Search database.
Price, S. (2005). The plagiarism problem. Scholastic Scope, 54(2), 16-18. Retrieved Feb 13, 2006, from Primary Search database.
Silvester, N. (2004). Before you turn it in. Writing, 27(3), 22-23. Retrieved Feb 13, 2005, from Middle Search Plus database.
Time. (2004). Time trip. Current Events, 103(15), 2. Retrieved March 10, 2006 from Primary Search database.
Thompson, M. (2005). Hidden in plain sight. Chronicle of Higher Education, 52(15), B5-B5. Retrieved Feb 13, 2005, from MasterFILE Premier database.