On plagiarism (link bundle) #wymhm

Professors used to deal with plagiarism by admonishing students to give credit to others and to follow the style guide for citations, and pretty much left it at that.

But these cases — typical ones, according to writing tutors and officials responsible for discipline at the three schools who described the plagiarism — suggest that many students simply do not grasp that using words they did not write is a serious misdeed.

It is a disconnect that is growing in the Internet age as concepts of intellectual property, copyright and originality are under assault in the unbridled exchange of online information, say educators who study plagiarism.

In the broader intellectual sphere, incidents of plagiarism skyrocketed in universities in the late 1990s, and some people reached for scapegoats like the Evil Internet. But others began to rethink plagiarism, not only what it was but what it meant that administrators and instructors reacted as they did. Rebecca Moore Howard, a professor at Syracuse University, sensed that her students were lifting sentences from published sources not because they were bad people or didn’t know how to cite things, but because they didn’t understand the texts they were reading well enough to synthesize them. Howard realized that what was monolithically labeled “plagiarism” by institutions was actually a bunch of activities. Some you could legitimately condemn. Some you could teach through. Others were culturally acceptable practices, even time-honored and literary ones. The students had simply done them awkwardly or badly. Howard advocated that policies on student authorship abandon the monolith and try to find students where they were, morally and cognitively.

if you’re a student, plagiarism will seem to be an annoying guild imposition without a persuasive rationale  (who cares?); for students, learning the rules of plagiarism is worse than learning the irregular conjugations of a foreign language. It takes years, and while a knowledge of irregular verbs might conceivably come in handy if you travel, knowledge of what is and is not plagiarism in this or that professional practice is not something that will be of very much use to you unless  you end up becoming a member of the profession yourself.  It follows that students who never quite get the concept right are by and large not committing a crime; they are just failing to become acclimated to the conventions of the little insular world they have, often through no choice of their own, wandered into.

People have been going to libraries and using books and then not citing them forever. I don't think there's anyone who hasn't plagiarized. When I was in elementary school, for instance, we'd go to the library with index cards and open up the encyclopedia and write down exactly what it said. The difference is that now we can type the things we think are plagiarized into Google and see what comes up. But in a sense more students getting caught is a positive thing, because it creates a real teachable moment for us, when we can explain very thoroughly why it's not OK to write like that.

"It doesn’t stop them if you say, ‘This is plagiarism. I won’t accept it.’" #wymhm

The Pritchard axiom — that repetitive cheating undermines learning — has ominous implications for a world in which even junior high school students cut and paste from the Internet instead of producing their own writing.

If we look closely at plagiarism as practiced by youngsters, we can see that they have a different relationship to the printed word than did the generations before them. When many young people think of writing, they don’t think of fashioning original sentences into a sustained thought. They think of making something like a collage of found passages and ideas from the Internet.

They become like rap musicians who construct what they describe as new works by “sampling” (which is to say, cutting and pasting) beats and refrains from the works of others.

This comparison to rap musicians doesn't read right to me. The demands of sampling require a certain knowledge and awareness. To extend the idea that students aren't learning when they cheat to how many successful rap artists make a living reveals a lack of understanding. Such a view is overly simplistic and the definition of "learning" might be too narrow.

In my first-year and advanced composition courses, I have an assignment, "Mashup Scholarship," that asks students to put together a minimum of five sources using none of their own words. They have to use the transitions provided in the sources they've chosen. They read Lethem's "The ecstasy of influence" and watch Youtube videos for modeling purposes. They come up with alternative citation methods, from color-coding to ISBN to something else that only makes sense to them. In reflective writing about this assignment, students often name "Mashup Scholarship" among the hardest composing they've completed.

"Some plagiarism is so blatant that you wonder if the songwriters ever thought they could get away with it." #wymhm

In 1969, John Lennon inserted a phrase from Chuck Berry in "Come Together", almost certainly as a tribute, but Berry's publisher was a Rottweiler and demanded recompense. If Lennon had used "Here Come Old Flattop" as his title, he might have been safe. For settlement, Lennon agreed to record some Chuck Berry songs on his album Rock'n'Roll, so it was no great hardship.

George Harrison had a worldwide hit with "My Sweet Lord" in 1971. It is odd that its producer, Phil Spector, never pointed out the similarity with "He's So Fine" by the New York girl group The Chiffons. After Allen Klein fell out with The Beatles, he bought the publishing rights to "He's So Fine" and sued Harrison in revenge. He won and over £1m changed hands. After the case, the judge remarked, "I actually like both songs", to which Harrison replied, "What do you mean 'both'? You've just ruled they're one and the same."