On Plagiarism: Copy, Paste and Steal (I)

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Piracy and plagiarism in our wired culture.

A few years back I taught a humanities class for a while at a local community college. It was a college prep class for high school students and included broad coverage of all the arts.

As a part of the course work, students were given topic assignments and asked to write short essays of their impressions.

One evening I was grading papers, appalled at the poor writing skills of one essay in particular. The first few paragraphs where very difficult to get through.

Suddenly, the writing got very articulate — almost scholarly. Something was up.

Immediately my suspicions were on full alert. I took a random guess and went to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Sure enough, the student had copied-and-pasted verbatim the remainder of the essay from a Wiki article without changing a single word.

Music

One evening my wife and I where visiting some friends and we got into a discussion about online software, music and movies. This conversation lead to file-sharing services like Pirate Bay and Kazaa where entire movies and television episodes are traded and downloaded like candy at Halloween.

I expressed my dismay, remarking that file-sharing is a euphemism for file-stealing. If everyone used illegal means to get their entertainment, my argument went, how can we expect that medium to sustain itself?

Besides, songs on iTunes or Amazon can be purchased legally for a very reasonable price. Movies and television shows can be watched for free on Hulu.

The discussion became a bit hostile. Music and film producers make millions, the opposing argument went, so what difference does it make if I download a few freebies?

Besides, how will I even get caught if no one is looking?

Software

Excited at a new software purchase of the Adobe Creative Suite, I was discussing the cool new features with some developer colleagues.

“You paid for that?” one exclaimed.

“Well yes, of course I did.” I answered. Since I am a faculty member at a local community college I can get the academic version at half-price. That is a great deal and made me very happy.

“I got mine online for free on Pirate Bay,” was the proud response. Other colleagues gave similar responses, more-or-less chastising me for purchasing the software.

Page 193, “A Devil to Play”

I have known John Ericson since our days together at Eastman back in the 1980’s. When I read his blog post outing multiple examples of plagiarism in a horn-related book, I was upset for him.

The work in question is Jasper Rees’ book A Devil to Play. I have not read it.

Dr. Ericson cites specific examples which appear to be copied from his doctoral dissertation and other plagiarisms. In response to Dr. Ericson’s assertions, Mr. Rees commented:

I made every effort to include every source of information in a bibliography, and I took as much care as I could possibly muster to ensure that no source went uncredited. The fact that I left out your references to Strauss was not in any way intended to ensure that I could lay claim to any of the credit.

Mr. Rees asserts that it was an honest mistake — an oversight. He proclaims a love of the French horn lies at the center of his tome and oddly, adds a poetic metaphor for extra emphasis.

My book is a love letter to the horn, and a homage to all who sail in her, including the scholars who have written about the instrument.

In 2004, Mr. Rees ended a critical review involving the topic of plagiarism with something less poetic and more black-and-white:

How much or how little you believe in her [the author’s] best intentions is a matter of choice, just as it is when the plagiarist pleads innocence.

One supposes too that his own intentions are also a matter of choice. Meanwhile, Mr. Rees will be featured this weekend on Public Radio International’s Studio 360.

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In Part II – conclusions and a 4-week experiment.

University of Horn Matters