Our Copy-Paste Culture and why plagiarism isn't such a problem anymore…

Anna Leach Anna Leach, Top Stories, Trending 8 Comments

967remixthumb.jpgA lot of students these days don’t know what plagiarism is, and when they do, they don’t think it’s a problem according to the New York Times. The article posted today blames free-for-all internet culture where no information belongs to anybody for the increase in the numbers of students committing plagiarism.

But you know what, maybe it’s time to redefine the rules. Maybe the kids have got something right here and maybe plagiarism isn’t such a big deal anymore..

Perhaps it’s not a case of stealing, it’s a case of sharing and remixing. Content these days is often collaborative and often better for it.

DJs do it with music, Youtube does it with video, Tumblr blogs do it with pictures, and dare I say it, blogs do it with written content.

Failing to attribute is wrong… especially when it’s so easy to add links to sources on webcontent but we’ve probably got to accept that content actually gains from reiteration and reposting – snowball-like it accrues views and meaning and variations. Like the idea of LOLcats say. If everyone had stopped at the first lolcat, then there would be only one lolcat in the world, clearly a tragedy. Again with music – remixes often add to the spread and reach of the original song.

967copy and paste.jpg

As a species, humans have always copied each other… and online technology lets us copy other people like never before. Five hundred years ago, copying someone else relied on having a really good memory, and having access to someone worth copying.

Now all you need is the internet and a right-click button. It’s not that we’ve just started doing it, it’s just that it’s easier.

A definition of plagiarism comes from Wikipedia:

Plagiarism, as defined in the 1995 Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary, is the “use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”

You know what I don’t think people do pass off stuff on the internet as fully their original work. It’s more like – here’s my witty take on this picture or here’s my remix of the dramatic hamster video. Is it so wrong to re-use, re-mix, re-write or repost? I don’t think it is. It’s not fully the orginal creator’s anymore, but it’s not fully yours either – it’s a kind of collaboration.

In answering essay questions with other people’s words, students are just using the maximum resources they can to produce the best answer they can – one better than if they had done it completely themselves. Maybe the academic world should catch up with this one… Obviously it’s an issue for academics who need to grade students as individuals rather than, but perhaps they should just be looking at how seamless and well mixed the essays are…?

This quote gets over-used but *apparently* Picasso said it:

“Good artists copy, great artists steal”

Okay I also don’t know how original content creators profit from their own original works in this brave new world of collaboration. I guess by continuing to produce bloody great stuff that everyone else flocks to, And by using other people’s work to improve their own in return.

As my mum always used to say to me when I got annoyed by people copying my work at school: “imitation is a form of praise”. Thanks mum.

[response to original article in New York Times] – see I’m attributing correctly aren’t I?

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By Anna Leach | August 2nd, 2010





  • Yammie

    It’s also how plagiarism is defined. Straight up copy/paste of someone’s work with no editing it is a problem. (We assume) the author took the time to form their own thoughts and ideas to come up with a workable paragraph that explains what they are talking about. When someone one c/p’s it without change, they are not exercising their mind in communication.

    However, there are only oh so many way you can say something and still have the same meaning. Yes, I did just end up re-arranging their sentence and adding a few words, but that shouldn’t be plagiarism when I’m trying to state a fact or idea that is common thought for something in that area.

    This even gets more tricky with facts. Facts (in the US) are not copyright-able, and websites that look for plagiarism often catch this and claim it as such, despite it not being so. It is a fact that is restated exactly as is in any thing that covers the topic, so why wouldn’t the student be able to use the exact same sentence if it says exactly what they need to say?

  • http://www.MDWhistleblower.blogspot.com Michael Kirsch, M.D.

    I would like to use the cut-paste graphic on a blog post I am writing on medical plagiarism. I am happy to credit your site. Are you okay with this? I’ll look for your comment. Thanks

  • Anna

    @yammie – yes I agree with you, there are only so many ideas and facts. the expression is the key bit
    @micheal – ha yes that’s fine.

  • http://www.MDWhistleblower.blogspot.com Michael Kirsch, M.D.

    Thanks! It would be ironic for me to steal your image on a piece on plagiarism!

  • punchyaface

    thank you for consenting to let me copy and paste your work into my blog I have copied it wholesale and wont let you know where. BTW my blog gets me 20,000 views and not one of your ideas was my idea till i read your page but now that i totally agree with u I
    1) take it you are implying consent to use your work, and 2) as they are now my ideas too i will have some difficulty separating where your ideas started and mine ended so I will add a better conclusion but essentially thanks for doing all the hard work
    bye

  • punchyaface

    thank you for consenting to let me copy and paste your work into my blog I have copied it wholesale and wont let you know where. BTW my blog gets me 20,000 views and not one of your ideas was my idea till i read your page but now that i totally agree with u I
    1) take it you are implying consent to use your work, and 2) as they are now my ideas too i will have some difficulty separating where your ideas started and mine ended so I will add a better conclusion but essentially thanks for doing all the hard work
    bye

  • punchyaface

    thank you for consenting to let me copy and paste your work into my blog I have copied it wholesale and wont let you know where. BTW my blog gets me 20,000 views and not one of your ideas was my idea till i read your page but now that i totally agree with u I
    1) take it you are implying consent to use your work, and 2) as they are now my ideas too i will have some difficulty separating where your ideas started and mine ended so I will add a better conclusion but essentially thanks for doing all the hard work
    bye

  • http://www.shinyshiny.tv/2010/08/our_copy-paste_culture_and_why_have_to.html babygal

    who published this artical?