5 excuses for committing plagiarism

N.B. – This was published in The Lobbyist (April 19) where I write a column (Subtext).

Don’t worry. This is not about an award-winning writer whose admission of plagiarism proved to be trivial and misplaced, at least based on his column article last April 18 (Monday). I decided against identifying him and citing the title of his article lest I contribute to misinformation.

I write this mainly to clarify many of the points he raised with regard to plagiarism. There are many excuses, after all, for committing it. Allow me to enumerate five of them:

  1. It was an honest mistake!
    Plagiarism could be done consciously or unconsciously. Failure of a writer to cite his or her sources of information due to negligence does not mean that he or she did not commit plagiarism. Even the simple oversight of not putting quotation marks could give readers the impression that the words used are the author’s instead of the source he or she should be citing from.
  2. I just copied from something I had written in the past!
    Believe it or not, there is such a thing as autoplagiarism which refers to copying one’s own work. An example of this is repackaging a previously published article to make it appear that it’s a new one. Even if a person ends up copying “only” his or her own work, media audiences are still deceived. In addition, he or she commits a disservice to media audiences as a result of failure to shape public opinion due to lack of new information.
  3. I was allowed by a fellow author to copy from his or her work even without attribution!
    Consent does not mean absence of plagiarism, at least in my opinion. According to The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language (Encyclopedic Edition, 1990), to plagiarize means “to use and pass off (someone else’s ideas, inventions, writings etc.) as one’s own.” (p. 767) The Cambridge Dictionary Online defines the word plagiarize as “to use another person’s idea or a part of their work and pretend that it is your own.” What do these definitions show? Aside from deception, an indicator of plagiarism is pretension which is something that can happen even if there is permission from a fellow author to do away with any attribution in citing his or her work. (Of course, I seriously doubt if an author would agree to such an arrangement!)
  4. The work I copied from is very old and the author has been dead for a long time!
    Just because something is old does not mean that it can be freely copied from without attribution. Of course, contemporary authors could be tempted to pass off as theirs certain works that may be unheard of and which people may have already forgotten. This does not, however, deny the fact that the elements of deception and pretension are present.
  5. Giving attribution only ruins the flow of my narrative!
    Substance cannot be sacrificed for form, and vice versa. Journalistic, academic, literary and other forms of writing have various devices to ensure that sources are given proper attribution. It pains me that there are some writers who end up plagiarizing as a result of unwillingness to cite sources. They operate on a false assumption that doing so would ruin the “natural flow” of their narrative. In the final analysis, they are more preoccupied with form and they forget or ignore the bigger significance of providing substance in their works.

As one may notice, it is necessary that those concerned with their craft have a firm understanding of the concept of plagiarism. In the wake of new media where the temptation and expediency to plagiarize are very much apparent, the basic challenge for writers is how to avoid plagiarism and not make excuses once they’re exposed.

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