It’s October 30th! Can you believe the platform challenge is almost done. Then PAD (poem a day) in November will begin. Today’s task is to go off and write, but first I’d like to introduce a first to this blog – a guest blogger. Jeanne Gassman shared a video about plagiarism in poetry I found interesting. I asked her if she would be interested in writing about plagiarism for my blog. She agreed. Thank you, Jeanne, for expounding on this topic. I’ve played with erasure poems. It’s good to know how to properly credit poetic inspiration.
When Veronica asked me to write a guest post about plagiarism, she tapped into a topic that stirs my ire. As a published writer, I’ve been a victim of plagiarism, and it’s both frustrating and agonizing. Your words, your story, your carefully crafted poem, your creation, is stolen and claimed by a stranger (or a very duplicitous friend). Alas, the problem has become rampant with the Internet, as it’s so easy to cut and paste. In fact, many plagiarizers often claim since the work was posted on the Internet, it was available for free.
As an English and Creative Writing instructor at a local community college, I encountered at least one instance of plagiarism every semester. I had students who plagiarized entire papers, never changing a single word from the original document. I had a student who wanted to become an English teacher plagiarize from Wikipedia. I had an honors student plagiarize her project from multiple documents, saying she suffered from carpel tunnel syndrome so she had to cut and paste because she was in too much pain to type! Plagiarism was such a huge problem that I created a lecture and PowerPoint to define plagiarism and outline the consequences. When students were caught (and I always caught them), they seldom expressed remorse.
So, what is plagiarism anyway, and why should we care?
I’ll start by sharing a couple of the examples I gave to my students. These are taken from the article, “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age,” The New York Times, by Trip Gabriel, Aug. 1, 2010 (Note the attribution!):
At Rhode Island College, a freshman copied and pasted from a Web site’s frequently asked questions page about homelessness—and did not think he needed to credit a source in his assignment because the page did not include author information.
And at the University of Maryland, a student reprimanded for copying from Wikipedia in a paper on the Great Depression said he thought its entries—unsigned and collectively written—did not need to be credited since they counted, essentially, as common knowledge.
Simply defined, plagiarism is using the work of another without providing proper attribution. When you use another person’s words, text, or images without acknowledging the source, you are committing plagiarism.
Why should we care about plagiarism? At the very least, plagiarism is unethical; at its worst, it is the theft of intellectual property and a violation of copyright. Egregious acts of plagiarism of popular or famous works have resulted in lawsuits. Plagiarism is also lazy. It is a way of saying you feel your own creative work is less valuable or worthy than someone else’s.
Poets often write poems inspired by the work of another. Is it plagiarism to write a poem using lines or quotes from another work? Again, it is about acknowledging your source. If you write a poem based on another’s person’s work, be sure to acknowledge the original author. This can be done with the title of the poem itself or in a footnote or author’s note. Give credit where credit is due.
What about erasure poetry, poems created by erasing the original text of another document? Your best choice is to show the original document alongside the poem you have created. This also provides a nice showcase for your imagination and creativity, as the reader can see the process of creating the poem. When in doubt, provide attribution.
What should I do if I discover my work has been plagiarized? Contact the publisher and/or editor and let them know the work was stolen. They should provide proper credit or remove the plagiarized piece. If they do nothing, your best recourse is to make the writing world aware of the theft. The writing and publishing community is very small, and reputation means everything.
How can I find out if my work is plagiarized? Google is your friend. Periodically, Google key phrases from your writing, story or poem titles, your name, snippets of text, etc. Talkwalker is another great resource for searching for plagiarized phrases or text. You can create “alerts” to notify you whenever your selected examples appear on the Internet. Unfortunately, it is more difficult to locate plagiarized works in print.
I want to do the right thing, but… Remember, most plagiarizers do so with intent. They are fully aware they are stealing, but if you feel you are crossing into a gray area of use or “borrowing,” err on the ethical side and properly acknowledge your source. As artists and writers, we all have an obligation to practice good literary citizenship.
JEANNE LYET GASSMAN lives in Arizona where the desert landscape inspires much of her fiction. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has received fellowships from Ragdale and the Arizona Commission on the Arts. In addition to writing, Jeanne teaches creative writing workshops in the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area. Her work has appeared in Hippocampus,Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Red Savina Review, The Museum of Americana, Assisi: An Online Journal of Arts & Letters, Switchback, Literary Mama, and Barrelhouse, among many others. Her debut novel, Blood of a Stone, received a 2015 Independent Publisher Book Award in the national category of religious fiction and was a finalist for the 2015 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards. Find Jeanne online at: http://www.jeannelyetgassman.com