Plagiarism in writing

Do you know what plagiarism is? Have you ever been guilty of it? Did you know you were doing it at the time? Do you know what copyright is?

The rise of writing as a hobby, especially internet blogging, has opened the door to plagiarism on an almost industrial scale.

If you look ‘plagiarize’ up in the dictionary, the definition is “verb: take (the work or idea of someone else) and pass it off as one’s own”*.

* taken from the Oxford Compact English Dictionary.

While the copying of a few sentences of a writer’s work may not be illegal if the author is being quoted (or cited) and is credited as having written the text, the copying generally becomes plagiaristic when someone attempts to pass the material off as their own, or fails to credit the original author.

Do you remember ever sitting in a school exam and trying to see your friend’s answers so you could write them down and get the marks? That’s a form of plagiarism, albeit a minor example: or is it minor? It becomes more complicated when you look at the rise of plagiarism in universities and colleges. The internet gives unfettered access to information that students can use and abuse at will, with lecturers and teachers almost powerless to detect it.

This downside of internet access does, though, have to be balanced with the advantages that access to such huge amounts of information can bring for the learning process. Banning access to the internet may hamper, more than improve, the standard of education in this respect. Nevertheless, plagiarism needs to be addressed and limited wherever possible.

Many websites are now openly offering material that you can buy, pre-written, to pass off as your own for university and college essays and submissions. Despite the fact that legally speaking, you may not be infringing copyright as you will have agreed that you have full rights over publication, this has to be one of the most blatant and insidious forms of plagiarism around today, and one that academic institutions view as an increasingly worrying phenomenon.

So why is plagiarism in general becoming more of a problem? It could be for any number of reasons. Some of the favoured ones are that it’s much easier to electronically copy the text from a document or web page and publish it elsewhere in any number of formats.

The rise of blogging websites, while intended to provide bloggers with a diary-like forum, has created a hunger for good quality written content to attract visitors and, in some cases, generate revenue for their owners.

Many of the younger internet community, who have embraced the blogging culture, will undoubtedly not fully understand the concept of plagiarism and that wholesale copying of texts or articles may be illegal. Education would seem to be the answer, but just knowing that plagiarism is illegal doesn’t seem to be enough to stop people doing it.

Plagiarism will never be stamped out, but a better appreciation of the value of the written word would undoubtedly cause potential plagiarists to think again before ripping off another writer’s hard work.

If you’re looking to research plagiarism in more depth, there is an excellent article entry in the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, that discusses the subject in detail and provides many more links for you to follow.

Most of the advice available on the internet relates to avoiding plagiarism within academia. There is little in the way of practical advice for creative writers.

Many universities and colleges are producing specific guidance for their students to reduce the occurrences of plagiarism and to ensure that students are aware of the consequences of plagiarizing, either knowingly or unknowingly. If you are a student, look for whatever guidance your college or university is offering.

Many webmasters are increasingly using tools to check if their pages have been plagiarized elsewhere. One such site is Copyscape which allows you to enter a page URL and check if it has been plagiarized elsewhere on the internet. If you have written a lot of web content and want to protect your copyright or intellectual property rights, the it’s worth looking at using such tools occasionally.

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