When plagiarism comes to mind I just picture a teacher gasping at the sight of a “plagiarized” paper. Plagiarism is looked at as a crime and is extremely frowned upon in the writing process however, plagiarism is not always a whole paper copied and pasted, or paragraphs taken from a well known author on a published website; sometimes students use writings that are found online in order to give themselves ideas in their own writings. When the thought of plagiarizing pops into most people minds, they often think of getting in trouble for using somebody else’s words rather than benefiting in their own writing from using other’s writing to spark ideas in their own paper. What’s the crime in being inspired?
In the seventh grade, there once was a writing contest that involved my entire school district. The writing assignment was about “The Magna Carta”, some historical event in which I had never heard of, so Google became my best friend and assisted me in writing my essay. When I googled this topic, I had found a paper written previously about the topic and used that as my inspiration to write my paper. In this event, I ended up getting honorable mention throughout the whole seventh grade school district because of the essay I found that assisted in providing me with knowledge about the topic. If the judges would have scanned this essay for plagiarism, I am sure that most of it would have come up as plagiarized because I took ideas from that essay in order to create my own. Plagiarism is not always something that is used for laziness but rather typically used for assisting students in writing their papers as an inspiration.
Starting an essay is the hardest part. As a student, we are given prompts that are sometimes bland and boring and all that can be thought is “Where do I even start?” and the first instinct for some is to look up similar essays in order to get an idea of what we are writing or where we actually should start. Taking a peek at other people’s work sometimes gives us the idea of what we are supposed to write or how we should go about writing a topic. Plagiarism brings knowledge to the unsure and sparks ideas in knowledgable minds.
When reading the work of others, inspiration might be sparked in the mind of the reader, so how come we are not allowed to use it? In the book Free Culture by Stafford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig, he makes a very strong argument as to why it is okay to get inspiration from others’ writings. Lessig states, “I understand what I am taking when I take the picnic table you put in your backyard. I am taking a thing, the picnic table, and after I take it, you don’t have it. But what am I taking when I take the good idea you had to put a picnic table in the backyard— by, for example, going to Sears, buying a table, and putting it in my backyard? What is the thing that I am taking then?” It just makes total sense, when going to a friend’s house and seeing their newest toy and suddenly realizing, “I want that toy but in red!”. The toy is not being stolen from the friend but rather a new one being bought in a different color. Just like the picnic table; just because a similar table was bought, does not mean the table was stolen. Both people have the ability to inspire each other.
Millions and trillions of people have existed before us and writing has also existed for millions of years. With this in mind, are our ideas even original? Hundreds of people have written many papers in high school about the Civil War and each of those papers more than likely have very similar phrases, sentences, and ideas about the Civil War because all of these papers are about the same subject. In fact, Sally from California might get her paper about the Civil War published or may even upload her paper on some sort of platform and then when Maddie from Florida writes her paper about the same topic, she might have shared the same idea in her paper but when her teacher runs it through easybib, Sally’s essay comes up even though Maddie did not take them directly from Sally’s paper. Most thoughts are unoriginal because there have been so many people before us who have thought the same thing or even written the same.
The teacher written book, Bad Ideas About Writing, produces many ideas that seem to be backwards in society. In the chapter, “Plagiarism Deserves to be Punished” by Jenifer A. Mott-Smith, discusses how plagiarism is not as bad as teachers and universities make it seem. Mott-Smith states, “Reposting content on their Facebook pages and sharing links with their friends, they may avoid citing because they are making an allusion; readers who recognize the source share the in-joke. In school, millennials may not cite because they are not used to doing so, or they believe that it’s better not to cite some things because using too many citations detracts from their authority”. When using social media, almost everyone plagiarizes by taking somebody else’s post and not giving them credit and this may have had an effect on writing skills by forgetting to cite the source. Some people believe that adding the source, takes away from the entire point of the post. When posting a meme, most do not think to tag the original page they found it on because they fear that it may take away from their joke. Just like in writing, people may fear that when citing a source, they might not sound as smart and not seem like they know what they are talking about.
When an essay is given with the prompt, “describe in detail the reason plastic water bottles should not be sold in stores no longer”, it is easy to come up with one or two ideas about why plastic bottles should not be sold but not many students are going to know this off the top of their heads, they need assistance of articles and research from others to actually find convincing reasons in their writing.
In fact, aren’t the rules of plagiarism copied and pasted? In almost all of the course syllabi that have been received so far, it has had just about the same plagiarism policy listed. So, Professors love to run our papers through plagiarism scanners but what about if we ran theirs? How much of their assignments would come up as plagiarized?