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PLAGIARISM: Challenging The Concept [To Be Or Not To Be]

Posted on January 22, 2011 in Specials

By Akanksha Mittal:

Being the educated lot that we are, we all know that “Cheating is bad”. We all know it and we all agree with it. Plagiarism, “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work” is without a doubt unacceptable to every morally high person.

According to internet sources, there are various kinds of Plagiarisms, such as — Copy and Paste, Word Switch, Metaphor, Style, Ideas. Giving a brief overview of each, Copy and Paste is the kind of plagiarism that we all have done during those 3 hours when we did not know what to write! Word Switch is basically a more intelligent form of Copy and Paste wherein the order of the words in the passage being plagiarized is changed so as to make it look more authentic. Style Plagiarism is the kind of plagiarism that copies the reasoning style of another author. While Metaphor Plagiarism involves copying the metaphors used by an author to make a point, Ideas plagiarism involves picking another person’s ideas and claiming them to be one’s own.

Now, while the first three genres of Plagiarism are really quite distinguishable as acts of offence, my naïve mind cannot relate to the latter two being forms of Plagiarism. Every author researches on a particular topic before commenting on it. The articles previously written by other writers serve as the database for this research. In such a case, it is only natural that the author would find a particular reasoning style apt and build on it. Similar is the case with ideas. I do not see anything wrong in picking up a certain idea given by another author and working on it, only to make it better! But then, I also do not see anything wrong in mentioning that the germ of the idea was taken from so and so author. It is indeed of importance to give due credit to authors from whose publications reasons and ideas have been taken, in order to avoid any accusations of being a cheater.

However, it is only psychological that two persons come up with the same idea without even being aware of each other’s existence. So, they both build on their ideas and perhaps create the same kind of piece of writing without being aware that one of them will soon be tagged as a “Cheater”. Now, given that we live in an age where information travels faster than light, we can always try and find out if a particular idea has already struck someone else! Does it mean that we now need a new system of Patents for ideas? Well, facts say that the human mind has 1000s (or maybe more) ideas in a day! Does that mean infinitely many patents every hour? To put this in a nutshell, I fail to see how someone can claim ownership over and idea if they themselves did not have the technical know-how to process it! In the end, it is the result that matters! Remember the Law Suit against Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook wherein the Suing party claimed that he stole the idea of a Social Networking website from them?

Now, to establish another school of thought: Consider a scenario wherein one person comes up with the germ of an idea that perhaps needs some more thought. He discusses the idea with a group of intellectuals, only to realize that they have stolen his idea to build something of their own, while he was perfectly capable of doing a better job at it! Such a scenario completely rejects my earlier argument of the end result being what matters. This only points out to the possibility that Plagiarism is a case sensitive issue and setting such narrow parameters about the types of plagiarism will not help solve the problem. It is very difficult to put our finger on the instant when plagiarism actually becomes a problem.

Writers are constantly evolving their style of writing. They do it by reading other people of the same genre. Then, it is only but natural that their readings would affect their style of writing. There might just be more similarities with a specific style of writing in a person’s writing. Do we also categorize that unintentional attempt at improving oneself as plagiarism? To give an example, if a poet tries his hand at a particular style of poetry, does it mean he is plagiarizing that Style?

Perhaps I am overlooking a vital point in the way Plagiarism has been defined. Or, perhaps we need to rethink our classification criteria for the same. Hence, I rest my case!

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