Friday, January 11, 2008

Plagiarism is serious busines...--Pepper

I'm really happy that Cassie Edwards Plagiarism Story is getting play outside of the Blogosphere. I'm happy it's been picked up by the AP and spread over several newspapers and websites. And no, it's not glee. I'm not gleeful at the thought of an old lady getting humiliated or embarrassed over this. But I'm happy because she, and her publishers, are being held accountable by the public.

I've been working in education, one way or the other, for the past seven years. I've seen students plagiarize other sources in their essays. Sometimes it's genuinely out of ignorance--they really don't know why it's a problem, or the simple steps they could take to avoid plagiarism altogether. Sometimes it's out of pure laziness. They're overwhelmed. They don't want to write a paper. It's the end of the semester and finals week. Sometimes really good students just seem to snap and then you'll find them taking short-cuts--really stupid, lazy short-cuts.

I'm a softy. I hate smacking them down. Especially when I know a student is an otherwise good kid. But I'll do it every. single. time. And not just for their sake. I have to be vigilant as a teacher, and my colleagues have to be vigilant, and the students have to keep an eye on each other (in workshops and peer reviews). Their education depends on their honesty, in many ways, and I have to do my best to be careful about that fact.

I think it's the same principle in publishing. Signet took the "she did nothing wrong" stance. Who knows why? Maybe because they honestly don't know the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. Maybe they honestly think it's more important to stand behind their author right now. Maybe they just don't see it as a big deal because it's not "academia." But it is a big deal. Because they're setting a scary precedent. In taking this stance of support for their author, they could be screwing over other authors. In terms of sales (if people boycott over this) and in other, more insidious ways. If everybody takes a lax view on plagiarism, then it'll be much easier for unscrupulous people to justify stealing from other authors, in big and little ways. People need to know that thieves will be caught--and punished--one way or the other.

But really, what it comes down to is quite simple. People don't like to be lied to. They especially don't like to be patronized.

ETA: And now I see Signet has changed its mind.

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