Sunday, November 04, 2007

Disclaimer: November 2007

So let's say that you're a plagiarist of sorts.

Pipe down. I didn't say that you actually were a plagiarist. And even if you came here looking to be one, I'm willing to give you the benefit of a doubt at first. So stay a while and listen.

If you were a plagiarist, then that's the first thing you should notice. Plagiarism has a definite stigma attached to it. It's like lying, in the sense that one little lie will cause everybody around you to start taking your words with a grain of salt. But lest you think that you can recover from this one little lie that you tell with words or attributions, I must tell you that plagiarism is a far higher offense than what you might think.

What's plagiarism, really? Plagiarism involves the taking of somebody else's ideas, works or creations and releasing them under your own name for expected compensation. There are quite a few hee-haws about the offense, but I can break down the basics into three parts:

1. You take somebody else's stuff.
This can be for any number of reasons. Sometimes you need to write something for academic purposes. Sometimes you need to submit something to a contest or an event by a specific deadline. Sometimes you just want to put something together for a creative or technical endeavor. Whatever the case, you end up lifting the text or work that you need from an established source, and using that instead of making your own. If you feel guilty enough about it, or if you fear that you'll be found out, then you might alter or adjust the copy a little bit. It'll still come out the same in the end.

2. You release them for yourself.
By this, I mean that you effectively put your name on the acquired work. Big bold letters and small subtle ones are technically the same in this regard -- you're still passing off somebody else's stuff as your own. Pen names and anonymous attributions don't soften the blow any more than cotton balls will stop a silver bullet; you're still putting a name on something that you didn't make by yourself.

Item-sharing falls into this category as well, as do misquotes and out-of-context references. For these, you put another person's work to use in some forum where it was clearly not meant to be placed. Commercially-released items should not necessarily be opened up for public distribution without alignment from their authors; quotations and arguments should not be used or twisted in order to bludgeon others' opinions. You can give your proper acknowledgments here, yes, but you'd still be releasing them for yourself.

3. You get compensated for this.
Most plagiarists don't do it for the money. Some do, yes, but most don't; recognition is a far more common factor. People will "acquire" the research papers of others in order to get good grades or the admiration of scientific panels. Writers will "borrow" narratives from established books in order to produce illusions of skill or consistency. Unscrupulous operators will sneak out copyrights or registered names in order to gain influence within the corresponding circles. Plagiarists do it because they will certainly get something from doing almost nothing at all.

I mentioned earlier that plagiarism is like telling a lie. To put it in a better way, plagiarism is like telling a huge lie -- something that people will believe, based on your life and reputation. But the problem with lies is that they eventually get found out... and when that happens, you end up with a lot of people on your hands who will place absolutely no trust in you for the rest of your life. I mean, if you are so perfectly willing to steal somebody else's work and delude people into thinking that you placed significant effort into your own proceedings... how are they going to believe you afterwards?

I try not to fall into these traps. I learned a long time ago that I am perfectly capable of coming up with my own literary and analytical works (as compared to taking others'), and I've tried to reflect this belief in my blog.

As a result, I have personally written and executed everything on this blog. Sometimes I will post something that was originated by some other person; whenever that happens, I make sure to place proper acknowledgments as needed. I also have a standing rule around here -- if anyone so much as complains about my inclusion of their stuff here, then I take it down and return it to the owner. I try not to quote people out of their original context, and I don't post statements that are meant to mislead the general audience.

If you wish to use anything on this blog for your own purposes, you just have to ask. I am no more than a single comment or e-mail away. I reserve the right to refuse you for any reason, but you'll find -- more often than not -- that I'm the agreeable sort. I usually only ask for a link back to this site, or a fair percentage of profits in the event that you expect financial proceeds to come.

For some legal background on my rights to this work, please see the Creative Commons License at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. We can also have a friendly discussion with my lawyer on these, but I prefer to leave that to the people who actually think that they can steal from me and get away with it. Not that that's happened before, of course. But you never know...

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