Friday, July 17, 2009

Anti- Plagiarism Day

Today has been declared Anti-Plagiarism Day by Jane Smith at her blog How Publishing Really Works. She has asked writers to discuss plagiarism and its effects in their blogs, on Facebook, and other networking sites to get the conversation going about a growing problem.

I have had a few run-ins with plagiarism. The first happened a few years ago when I was still owning our local newspaper. I wrote an article about the renovations done at a local car dealership in our village. A few weeks passed and I opened one of our national newspapers and there was my article, word for word, with another person's name on it. I was furious. I contacted the editor who told me the person was a freelancer and he would follow-up. The freelancer sent me an email apologising saying that the car dealership gave him the article and he thought it was theirs to give. He begged me to forgive him as he was a foreigner and didn't want to get in problems in Botswana. I asked him why he put his name on it when he knew he didn't write it? Did he get paid for submitting that article? He never emailed me again. Even as I write this, and that was more than seven years ago, this freelancer's articles can be seen in that very same national paper. I would have thought something like that would have been enough to blacklist him, but apparently not in Botswana.

Some year's later, when I just started out as a writer, I was asked to write a book for junior secondary children on Uganda. It was a work for hire with a very rigid framework of what should be covered since it was part of a series. I began doing research and wrote ample notes primarily from the internet since most books I found here were very out of date. I used my notes to write the book, not the sources, and I noted all sources for the publisher. It was the first time I was asked to do such a big writing job and it was for an international publisher, so I wanted to do a good job. I finished the book before schedule and sent it off.

To my shock the publisher contacted me saying that the section on history was very similar to something he found on the internet and he suspected I had plagiarised. I was devastated. I hadn't even gone to the website he mentioned. I explained that perhaps my lack of experience some how caused the problem, but I assured him that since I'd been a victim of plagiarism I would never intentionally set out to commit such an act. I re-wrote the offending chapter. In retrospect, I'm not sure what happened. Perhaps I had written notes that were not in my own words, though I thought that was not the case at the time. Even now, so many years later I feel sick when I think about the incident.

The internet has made it so simple to cut and paste someone else's words. It happens everyday. As writers we need to be vigilant; we must guard our writing against thieves, but we must also be very careful how we ourselves write, be certain that we are not inadvertently stealing someone else's work. Writers need to address this problem head on and with honesty.

7 comments:

SueG said...

It is an important and interesting point that it is possible to "copy" someone else's work without realizing. It is such a sticky wicket, as they say....

Elizabeth Bradley said...

It's a toughy. I like SueG's words, sticky wicket.

Lauri Kubuitsile said...

Jane's call for posts on plagiarism has brought up many important issues. Folks please go and check them out. many are linked on her blog.

groovyoldlady said...

My favorite plagarism incident was when a certain young man turned in a wonderfully thorough and well-written history report to his teacher.

Instructor: Wow Groovyson, this is an AMAZING report! It's nothing like you've ever turned in before. It is thorough. It makes an excellent use of vocabulary. (Dyslexic, paper resistant teen with poor typing skills sits up taller, soaking in the praise) You usually write such short papers, but this one is longer than I required. (Teen smiles, eyes sparkling) You must have spent alot of time on research to include such detail. (Teen is positively BEAMING now) What website did you lift it from? (CRUSHHHHHHH. Teen is completely deflated and gets a ZERO.)

I love that, even though he was my ONLY student at the time, he didn't think I'd notice...

bonitadelrey said...

Googling your own name can uncover outrageous acts of plagiarism. I've found a book I wrote years ago for sale in another country. It has the same title and cover art, but my name and the original publisher's name have been photoshopped off the cover. Gasp!

Selma said...

I think plagiarism is particularly prevalent on the web. A few bloggers I know are going through the stress of having their work copied at the moment. It's very hard to police it.

A friend of mine who is a graphic artist has even had some of her images lifted from her own website and then has seen them for sale on someone else's site where it is claimed they are that person's work. Some people have no ethics whatsoever. Ratbags!

Helen Ginger said...

Sometimes it seems almost impossible. You have to do the research, but you'll find that the same thing is being said, but with slight differences. And you know you have to put this "thing" in your own work, but even changing it up doesn't change it all that much.

Helen
Straight From Hel