Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Warning About Modern Plagiarism

Yesterday, I noticed in my Goodreads feed that one of my friends had brought to attention that a Goodreads member (and book blogger) had been plagiarizing various other members' reviews. I followed the news throughout the day, reading through the comments and being horrified by how much content one person had stolen for reviews that were supposed to be personal opinions and thoughts!

Then finally, after a fit of morbid curiosity, I thought, "Has this happened to one of my reviews?" At first, I was afraid to look. After all, once you know something, there is no unknowing it. And I knew that, if I found any plagiarized content, I wouldn't just let it slide. I couldn't. Plagiarists and cheaters alike are high on my "despicable" list, so to ignore it would go against my principles.

A half-hour of digging through the member's reviews in question, I found that two of my reviews had had content lifted from them and into this person's reviews. Now, you might say, "Oh, that's not a lot. What's the big deal?" Think of it in regards to time. Those reviews likely took me an hour each to write. (Yes, I'm picky and slow at formulating my thoughts for my reviews.) What did this member have to do? Merely sift through the most popular reviews on Goodreads, pick out a handful of sentences they liked, and then mash their own thoughts around the plagiarized text. That isn't fair to me or anyone whose words were plagiarized.

Plagiarism is serious. Those who scoff and say, "They're just words," obviously have never had their own words, thoughts, ideas, and hard work stolen from them. If it weren't serious, then why would various colleges and universities equate plagiarism as an offense requiring expulsion? Plagiarism is a pandemic in higher learning, but for those who get caught the consequences are often more than just a slap on the hand.

On the internet, however, plagiarism is much trickier and sketchier. There are no "punishments" (unless you're dealing with "professional material," which is a whole different ball game), and even with accounts deleted and blogs shut down you always have to wonder if the plagiarist in question will return under another pseudonym. After all, the thought persists of "once a plagiarist, always a plagiarist."

With the rise of the internet, you need to be vigilant if you write reviews, blog posts, articles, or fiction. Copyright laws will only take you so far and, given how difficult it is to control content online, it really only protects you in word alone for the most part. I advise care especially to aspiring writers and publishing hopefuls who share their work online: once you press that "upload" or "post" button, the internet seizes it. It's not under your control anymore, and any pair of eyes can see it. And, out of all those people in internet land, all it takes is one sneaking thought, "Oh, I like this line/phrase/paragraph. I wonder if I should use it?" before plagiarism happens.

Given how frazzled I am about this (about rampant plagiarism in general, really), sometimes I wonder why I even bother with the internet. But, as a someday (maybe, hopefully, crossing-my-fingers-it-will-happen) author, I can't be afraid of putting my words, opinions, and thoughts out there in the public sphere. It would go against the very nature of what I hope to reach. Necessary (and unnecessary) evils aside, I will put my (written) voice out there...even if people try to steal the words once they're out of my (figurative) mouth.