Give Credit Where Credit is Due: Plagiarism Isn’t Even Cool

I was teaching English to high school freshmen and sophomores a few years ago when something threw me by surprise. Students were still trying to plagiarize. I had to sit one student down in particular and write the definition of plagiarism on the back of his paper so that we both knew it had been taught to him.

Later on in that same year, another paper I had asked him to write was completely copied from the Internet. I found half the paper on one website while the vice principal found the rest of it on another. I sat the student down and explained to him why his paper failed.

The next thing I knew, I was in a meeting with his mother, his father and my principal. Luckily, I had that earlier paper with the definition of plagiarism written on the back of it. While I was being questioned about my teaching methods, I simply pulled out the paper and slid it across the desk.

After my five minute explanation of plagiarism and how it is taught in every grade from early grade school through to the college level, I excused myself and my principal was more than happy to let me go. With a smile on his face, he said that he would see me tomorrow and he looked back across the table to see if the mother or the father had any further questions.

Rule number one, always have documentation in place that covers your backside. Rule number two, don’t plagiarize in the first place. Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work and claiming it as your own.

There are times when people can get away with it. For instance, if the work is not copyright protected it can be stolen by anyone who sees it and you can’t do anything about it. That’s why copyright is so important.

Register your work with the Library of Congress and establish a public record of your copyright if you wish to go that far. But, you can simply mail yourself a copy of your own work and never open the envelope. When it arrives in the mail, you know what it is. Keep it sealed, store it in a safe place and you’ve established copyright. That’s really all you need to do.

If the question of copyright ever comes down to your own work, simply take that envelope to court with you and let the judge open it. The date the envelope was sent serves as an earliest date of record. It’s stamped on the envelope when you sent it through the mail. The judge will review the work and hand you a judgment.

That’s when plagiarism gets ugly. There are writers on the internet who are constantly trying to take their ideas from somewhere else rather than just come up with their own. They copy work they think no one will ever find. If publishers aren’t diligent, they can face stiff law suits for publishing work that is not original. That’s why so many of them these days are using such sites as iplagiarismcheck.com or copyscape.com. It’s a good thing such sites are in place. But, I can’t urge you enough that plagiarism should simply not be a practice you would want to try.

A person puts his or her hard work into a writing just to have it stolen by someone else who lacks the skill or the imagination. Think about how terrible that would be if it happened to you. If you invented something and someone else claimed it, now they’re making millions off of your idea. That’s the same thing with books, screenplays, poems, articles, essays and anything else you can imagine writing.

So when you are writing, make sure that you are writing your own original work. If someone said something better than you think you can say it, go ahead and put it in your writing but give them credit for it. Either mention their name and the publication in the paragraph or make a list of cited works on the last page so that people can know where those thoughts came from in the first place. If you don’t know how, there are plenty of resources where you can learn Harvard, MLA (Modern Language Association) or any of the other styles for citing works.

Actually it makes you look much better when you give someone else credit. It makes you look like you are well-read and you know things your readers may not know. It makes you look as if you can read a work of literature and appraise it for its value. You get much further in life being honest, in the long haul.