Plagiarism…Play or Pay?

Plagiarism…the theft of someone else’s creative work.

Sure…everyone knows they will get a big fat F if their high school  teacher finds out that their term paper turns out to be the work of William Shakespeare…or Danielle Steel …or Dr. Seuss.   No student writer in his or her  right mind is going to steal much from Stephen King…and what ninth grade General Science student is going to try to pass off as his own work passages from Charles Darwin.

At the University level trying to pass off some obscure paper written by Steven Hawking  as one’s own work can result in academic probation…or even expulsion from the institution.    Even worse, professional plagiarists in any field– or area of academe–may find disgrace and loss of reputation if they purloin another writer’s work.

Worst case scenarios aside, and beyond the scope of this brief post, are such issues as legal complications and…just plain embarrassment, and shame, that comes with having friends and colleagues know that one is a thief.

Yes– words such as “thief” and “steal” are pretty strong.  Most “plagiarists” actually don’t intend to do anything illegal, or even morally wrong.  Borrowing a comment, a passage, a page…even an entire essay, or encyclopedia article–a practice so wide-spread and commonplace that most (many at least) mean no harm, or give it a thought other than a twinge of conscience and a silent prayer that their “loan” will remain unnoticed by their teachers.

Same rationale for the use of a photo online.   Who is going to notice a generic picture of a Boxer dog.   If you see one Boxer you’ve seen them all…right?   No, wrong.  In this scenario that rationale can lead to a lot of grief–when the photographer who shot the photo of her dog, “Bimbo the Boxer,” discovers that her prize-winning unique photo has been borrowed and appears elsewhere on the internet passed off as a similar dog of the same breed…there is likely grounds for a lawsuit because the photo of Bimbo was used in someone else’s blog.

This can be plagiarism unless the owner of the photo has granted specific permission to the blogger to use the photo, and has been given proper attribution and identification.  Just a note: “photo courtesy of boxermomphotography” or something to that effect.  or a © copyright notice.

The point is that unless a passage from a book, letter, post, newspaper article, photograph or original image like a drawing or painting… is determined to be in the Public Domain–which means any copyright on the item has expired, or was not copyrighted in the first place–it may not be used except by obtaining specific permission to use the material.

Photos, art, images…there are thousands of examples on the internet of pictures of sunsets, kittens, landscapes, sports……movie stars, flowers…  and best of all–countless choices exist for free access, because these are on the public domain. That means these countless items of art and literature can legally, and in good conscience, be used by anyone at any time, for virtually any purpose.

Want a picture of a Boxer dog?   A search of the internet will reveal numerous examples of photos that are in the Public Domain, and can be used–technically without permission or even attribution, although common courtesy dictates that a brief notation indicating the origin of the item, and a statement to the effect that it is in the Public Domain.

Following is a link which addresses the question “what is plagiarism?”

A simple search of the word plagiarism provides many links, including wikipedia entries.  A thorough discussion of this important topic is beyond the scope of this post.  Specific rules and regulations regarding Copyright, Fair Use, and the differences among various nations  are extensive and detailed…and too broad to be addressed here.