Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Pressure to Plagiarize, Part Two

Plagiarism is a problem. When you consider that committing intentional plagiarism could actually violate up to six of the seven things the Lord hates listed in Proverbs 6:16-19 it has serious implications. But is all plagiarism the same? Does the context make a difference in how it is treated?

As hard as it is for more "black and white" Christians to hear, there are certain environments where it is a worse sin than in others. The context and the reasons for the plagiarism do make a difference.

Plagiarism is a cardinal sin in the academic world where people trade in the commerce of original ideas and words. One's reputation, identity, life's work, position and salary are all on the line in this environment and as such the whole system is designed to police this activity. This is one reason why plagiarism is treated so harshly in universities and grad schools.

The same is true in literature, though it is more forgiven there as a whole, especially in the context of popular literary works. As self publishing emerges I suspect that plagiarism will also increase and that policing it will become harder, but in the literary world in general there are safe guards and boundaries in place and plagiarism is still taken seriously. As a published author I know that things can squeak by even after rounds of editing and proof reading, but there are still consequences and the public polices it more than in some other realms of communication. 

In the music industry we all remember the whole Milli Vanilli fiasco. While it is less plagiarism, it is still fraudulent to have actors lip sync some one's voice and pretend to be the true author and singer of the song. The public reaction to this "crime" was unforgiving and is still a punch line: She Milli Vanilli'ed it." Were those guys "ghost singing" rather than "ghost writing"? Is it really that different? Hmmm. In the music world, it is common to hear exact riffs from one song in another these days. Sometimes there are law suits for this and other times there is not. The music industry is extremely volatile right now as technology advances faster than the laws can. This is also happening now in the literary world, though the entertainment world is ahead of the literary one.

In the blogosphere we are writing words so we do have a higher level of responsibility, but we are also without the same levels of editing and proofreading that publishing a book would receive. So in this environment it is more likely that we will simply make mistakes, but unfortunately those mistakes remain floating in a very public cyber world for a long time, so we have to learn to be more forgiving and at the same time more responsible. Having open comments on a blog can allow for more accountability. 

In the world of public discourse, plagiarism is less volatile and less policed. It can have equally as serious implications in this context and stealing oral messages for personal gain is still not acceptable, but it does tend to be forgiven much easier and is caught less frequently. 

Mass media is a world of instantly published thoughts by anybody and everybody. Tweets and retweets are propagated several generations without any checking of sources. It is harder to cite sources when you are limited to 140 characters and sending it out while doing two or three other things (hopefully not driving!); so mistaken plagiarism has become a very common thing and should not be taken as seriously. We should strive always to be honest and give honor to whom it is due, but I wouldn’t stone anyone because they misrepresented someone’s words in 140 letters sans punctuation. I have been given credit for things I shouldn't and ripped off of credit on other things in the world of social media. We just need to read things with eyes that are less offended and more discerning.

The bottom line is that we will all be held accountable for our words, written or spoken. The tongue can set a large firestorm with words said casually and without thought. In fact, if we could just master our own tongue we would be close to perfection. Intentional deception and theft of others ideas for personal gain is far more serious than leaving out the phrase, "Someone once said..." before you say something. Nevertheless, we should still always strive to master our tongues and tapping fingers because there are some things that our Lord hates worse than others.

There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.

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