Monday, August 21, 2006

My Last Word on Plagiarism (for this month)

Some of the commenters on my Glass Houses thread apparently do not understand plagiarism and how plagiarism differs from copyright infringement.

Generally, copyright infringement means using another person’s words without his/her permission (there are exceptions for fair use, of course). If the copyright holder gives a blogger permission to use the words, then the blogger can do so without infringing on the original author’s copyright.

Plagiarism means using another person’s words and passing them off as one’s own. Or we could use the definition found in “A Pocket Style Manual”, 4h ed., 2004 Bedford/St. Martin's, pp 228-30 – "Three acts are plagiarism: (1) failing to cite quotations and borrowed ideas, (2) failing to enclose borrowed language in quotation marks and (3) failing to put summaries and paraphrases in your own words." (Rose is guilty of all three of these, in my opinion.)

So if the blogger from the second paragraph takes those words (for which she has permission) and tries to pass them off as her own by not citing them properly, then the blogger has plagiarized. Note that the blogger can have permission from the copyright holder and still be guilty of plagiarism.

Let’s look at an example to understand:

Lily is an aspiring, but rather crappy, poet. She loves the work of Anne Sexton. So she visits Madame Zora who contacts Ms. Sexton and asks for permission to use the first three lines of “With Mercy for the Greedy” in a poem. Ms. Sexton, not quite herself after being yanked back from the afterlife, says, “Sure, honey, go ahead.”

Lily then writes the following poem and vanity-publishes it as part of a collection:

To Ralph

I luv you so much.
I luv you so much it hurts.
But you sumtimes write to me and
Concerning your letter in which you ask
Me to call a priest and in which you ask
Me to wear The Cross that you enclose;
I think your stoopid to say such a thing
To me. Because you know I’m Knot relijus,
so their.

Let’s see…Lily has permission to use the lines, so there is no copyright infringement. But Lily has failed to put the lines she used in quotes and has failed to say anywhere that Ms. Sexton wrote them. That’s plagiarism. Ms. Sexton saying, “It’s OK to use my words” is not the same as “it’s OK to use my words and to pretend like they are your own.”

And even if Ms. Sexton, tired of Madame Zora’s fake Romanian accent and cheap perfume and wanting to get back to the Elysian Fields where she has been unusually happy, had said “what the heck, it’s also OK to pretend they are your own” – does that really make it OK for Lily to deceive the reader? Does that make it NOT plagiarism?

No. It’s still misrepresenting the words of others’ as her own work. It’s still plagiarism.

In Rose Desrochers’ case, she may think she has permission from ECT to deceive her readers. But ECT can’t give her that. No one can.

The following lines -- “Concerning your letter in which you ask / Me to call a priest and in which you ask / Me to wear The Cross that you enclose;” -- are from the poem “With Mercy for the Greedy,” by Anne Sexton, from the book “All My Pretty Ones,” Houghton Mifflin, 1962.

I should also add that the copyright holder for Ms. Sexton's work is most likely her estate or heirs, so in reality, Lily would have needed a less mystical method of obtaining permission to use Ms. Sexton's words. But that wouldn't have been as much fun in the example...


yngathrrt said...

Julie, excellent and very informative on plagiarism. People need to read this to understand. (Sadly though, some will read it and never understand.)

Was not surprised that you did not get comments from Rose and her followers, as this time they cannot argue at all.

Take care Julie.


Julie Doe said...

Hi Katie,

Glad to see you back on the 'Net! I've noticed that Rose and her followers seem to avoid arguing on anyone else's blog -- probably because they cannot control the responses to their posts. I think they feel more comfortable on their own blogs and web sites, where they can simply delete anything they don't like.

I have to say, though, that the extended exhange I had with Bob (I think that's the right name) on the "Glass Houses" thread stayed pretty civil. I have to give him credit for that. I know that Rose, Shawn, Mugs, et al. tend to have potty mouths (I love using that term *grin*).