Sarah Grace Goolden
Plagiarism is a form of stealing. However, it sometimes is not as simple as other types of robbery. For example, during a home invasion, it is very clear what has been stolen since there is proof that person purchased the item. There are receipts that can guarantee the buyer ownership. In the case of ideas, the concept of intellectual property is a little murkier. How can we decide what is and is not ownable?
According to a survey by the Josephson Institute for Youths Ethics in 2017, one out of three students have used the internet to plagiarize an assignment. Some schools will go as far as suspending or expelling students who are caught stealing someone else’s work.
If the stakes are so high, why are kids risking it? There are lots of reason why. Students could have procrastinated, and need a five-page essay by tomorrow morning or they just might not understand the material. If they’re not good at writing, they might think plagiarizing is better than failing. But the bottom line is, it is not.
Besides the fact that plagiarism is a legitimate crime, it is also just unethical. Someone’s thoughts are their own; they have a right to them. If I spent the time thinking about and writing an essay, what gives you the right to take my hard work and benefit from it?
There is a reason why we copyright ideas. It gives us our favorite TV shows and movies and books and songs. DC Comics owns Batman. J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. own Harry Potter. Taylor Swift owns all of her songs and also all the words in those songs, I guess.
Somebody came up with those ideas; it took time and energy and creativity. It isn’t fair to steal someone’s work just because it is not a tangible thing. Copyright laws protects artists and authors and all creative people. This a great thing. However, is it really possible to “own” something? If that was the case, wouldn’t everything be owned by now?
Not everything can be copyrighted. The Civil War ended in 1865. That is a fact and therefore cannot be plagiarized. A soldier’s personal account of the Civil War from his journal can be plagiarized. If I was writing a book and one of my characters said “I want candy” because they were hungry, that’s fine. But if they claimed to have written, “I want Candy” by the Strangeloves, that is not fine.
Plagiarism can be tricky. There are caveats and exceptions but the bottom line is, if someone put effort into creating something, you do not have the right to take it and stick it in an essay for class- unless you make sure it is clear that is is not your idea. Quote away! Paraphrase all day! As long as you include the author’s name after it and in your cited work, it is okay to mention someone else’s thought. The problem begins when people knowingly take other’s thoughts as their own.