When worked in publishing, I encountered plagiarism often. Being a writer who is friends with a number of other writers and authors we sadly find too many opportunities to commiserate about it. Plagiarism is a problem, a sweeping-all-over-the-internet-this-is-what-happens-when-everyone-thinks-they-should-be-a-prolific-writer problem. It costs writers, readers, and plagiarists more than anyone realizes. It cheapens and dilutes creativity and wisdom. It reduces appreciation for the work of good writers and reduces their satisfaction in doing good work. What follows are some observations I’ve been thinking about regarding plagiarism and plagiarists.
Plagiarism is really easy. You just take someone else’s work and take their name off it. It is even easier to avoid; you just don’t take someone else’s work at all.
Plagiarism is stealing, no more and no less. If you take someone else’s idea or content and claim it’s yours that is no different than taking their car or their blender or their business card and claiming it’s yours.
The motivation for plagiarism is pride, gross arrogance. The only reason to do it is a short-sighted effort to make yourself look smarter, more creative, more prolific, or more clever than you think you are. Here’s the funny thing: you might actually be smart, clever, or creative enough to say something helpful and original without stealing. And if you put your mind to it you can probably do it regularly too. Try it.
Creating something is harder than plagiarism by a factor of about infinity, but if you try it you will have a great sense of real satisfaction and won’t be accused of being a cheat. And you just might put out some excellent work too.
Instead of stealing someone else’s work, share it. You lose nothing, nothing at all, and both your ideas and the other writer’s gain credibility and appreciation from the sharing. If two people think a thought and express it in unique ways that thought becomes more accessible and helpful to readers.
Sharing someone else’s work and showing how it’s influenced you is humble and gracious. People like humble and gracious, and people are more inclined to read the work of those they like.
If you plagiarize your sins will find you out. You’ll either be busted for it or you’ll be a bad writer in the end.