Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Plagiarism is Whack, Yo.

We've all been told that plagiarism is wrong.  But what, exactly, constitutes plagiarism. If you match one or two words are you copying someone's work, or do you need to steal entire paragraphs?

Dictionary.com defines it as: 

an act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of 
another author without authorization and the representation of that author's 
work as one's own, as by not crediting the original author

So what does that mean, exactly?  Let's say you're writing a paper for school and there is this hella-awesome quote that you like.  You take it, and you copy and paste it directly into your paper... but you don't ever mention that you didn't write it.  That would be plagiarism.

Now, let's say we take that same quote, you slap some quotes around it and then the author and page number from the book you took it from.  At the end of your paper, you put the book in the bibliography   That's perfectly fine and even encouraged!  You're supporting your paper, but acknowledging that you didn't write the phrase.

Now, what about phrases you've heard everywhere?  Take the Mr. Luther King Jr. "I have a dream" quote.  Since this particular quote is so wide-spread, so readily available, you wouldn't have to quote a specific book.  You would simply have to state something along the lines of As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "I have a dream."  There was no direct book or written source that you took it from, but you're still acknowledging you didn't say/write it.

As long as you don't copy word for word, you're good, right?


Let's say you write a song.  It's big and famous and then, two years later, someone ELSE writes a song incredibly similar to it.  THEY'RE plagiarizing  or as it's more commonly known, committing copyright infringement.

Some good examples of this are I Want a New Drug by Huey Lewis & the News and the Ghostbusters Theme Song.  The movie originally approached HL&TN and, when Huey turned it down, approached someone else, whose song is almost identical to Huey's I Want a New Drug.  The two songs are incredibly close.  Go listen to them.

The tune to Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby also is eerily similar to Queen's Under Pressure.  After initially denying that he had copied "Under Pressure", later Vanilla Ice admitted that he had sampled the song.

Want to get a clearer picture of what plagiarism is?  Wikipedia is always a good place to start, along with plagiarism.org.


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  2. In 8th grade I wrote a book report on The Pearl by Steinbeck (please tell me 8th grade teachers don't still assign book reports). I had described Kino as tall, which is the same word used in the book to describe him. I got an F and had to rewrite the paper because my teacher said I plagiarized. Yet, the teacher had not yet taught us how to cite sources.

    1. That's dumb. Especially because what a generic way to describe someone. I mean, "tall" isn't exactly super specific. If the book had said "He was tall like a redwood tree in its prime" and you wrote that down word for word, THAT would be plagiarism. But to just say tall? Not plagiarism.