The Trouble With Plagiarism

In the modern age, where articles, blog posts, and essays on any subject are only a click away, people are increasingly struggling with the problem of plagiarism. Word processors have made plagiarism as simple as a “CTRL-C” command followed by a few quick edits, but at the same time search engines and specialized software have both made plagiarism incredibly easy to detect. As a result, not only are more people plagiarizing material than ever before, but more people are getting caught plagiarizing as well. And the consequences for getting caught are fairly severe, in recent times people have lost jobs, been expelled from school, and even been stripped of important credentials because they were caught committing plagiarism. It’s very serious business and every writer should take it upon themselves to understand what plagiarism is and how they can avoid it.

What Is Plagiarism?

The first step is to clearly define what plagiarism is and why it is wrong. The common idea is a type of intellectual fraud where you steal someone else’s ideas and present them as their own. This is an idea about plagiarism centered in modern arguments about intellectual property and the discourse surrounding it reflects that. People often talk about plagiarism as “theft” or “stealing” and claim that it is wrong because “you didn’t create that”.

Unfortunately, this is a skewed version of plagiarism that leads to other forms of plagiarism being displaced. What happens if someone writes a paper that is nothing but quotes and ideas taking from other sources, but the ideas are all properly cited? Or if someone uses their own old work, pretending that it is new work? These would both be considered forms of plagiarism in most circles, but because they are not “stolen” many inexperienced writers make the mistake of thinking that these practices are morally justified.

Why is Plagiarism Bad?

The problem is that plagiarism should not be considered an act of “stealing someone else’s ideas”. Instead, plagiarism should be considered an act of fraud where non-original work is presented as being original. The ethical problem with plagiarism is not in the “stealing” of intellectual property, an idea that only makes sense in an age where intellectual property rights are being violently defended by corporate interests, but in the lie that what you have created is original. Most assignments, both in business and academia, ask for original work. If you present them with work that was created previously, even if you are the creator, you are not fulfilling that request.

Of course, this means that it is extremely important to understand how to cite and source material, but we’ll cover that next time. Until then, stay safe and keep writing!

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