Jane, over at that terribly addictive blog "How Publishing Really Works" wants to declare Friday "Anti-Plagiarism Day". There should be an "International Anti-Plagiarism Day".
I have this nasty habit of writing in "letters to the editor" of more than one newspaper. It is not exactly a hobby but I do it often enough that people sometimes ask "are you the one who writes to the papers?" Well, yes. I will sometimes (often) write something controversial to try and stir people up and make them think. "Do you really believe that?" people will ask of what I write. "No, I am trying to make people think."
So, what has this got to do with plagiarism you ask? Well, sometimes the letters do not get published but the ideas do get an airing in an editorial or the work of one of the columnists. I will be reading something and a sentence will pop out at me. It looks familiar. It is familiar. I wrote it. It is never acknowledged. It just appears. There might even be an entire paragraph. It has been re-written but each sentence follows one I have written.
Now, either we think remarkably alike (rather unlikely), or there is only one way of putting an argument (even less likely), or in the rush of a newspaper office people read something and then forget they have read it and pass it off as their own idea (possible), or the juniors who read the e-mail letters to the editor pass it on and a lazy individual decides that a little rearrangement of the words will allow them to have a longer lunch break (very likely?).
And this is where plagiarism can start. It is not only theft, it is laziness. I tried telling a journalist this. "But you should see it as a compliment!" was his outraged response. Compliment? Why should it be a compliment if I am not being acknowledged? He is the one getting the acknowledgment. Come to that, he is getting paid.
"And it is only an idea," he added. Only an idea? Are ideas worth nothing? It means he would not get paid. He tells me that is different. That it is his job. It is not my job. I should not expect to get paid or acknowledged if it is not my job. I disagree.
When I wrote my doctorate a major problem arose. I was using, with written permission, the work of another person in a unique application. He was enthusiastic at the beginning. I was careful to work closely with him and maintain the integrity of his work. There were others using his work. They did not always request permission. Some of them abused it and claimed much of his work as their own. He withdrew permission from everyone. It looked as if my doctoral thesis would end up on the scrap heap. Eventually we came to a compromise. I would not publish my thesis. My work was not wasted because it was applied in other settings but it was less valuable than it might have been. Those who had endeavoured to claim for themselves what was rightly his did lasting harm.
There are places where the lines are fuzzy. I can see that. There will be places where there is none of my cat hair. If I use the idea I have to seek permission. I have to acknowledge it. There will be places where there is a little of my cat hair but I might still need to seek permission and acknowledge the cat hair of another. There will be places where my cat hair outweighs all other cat hair combined. Those places are mine. There will also be a place where there will be me, an entire cat. Cats are territorial. It is best to remember that and acknowledge it.