On Plagiarism’s Badness

ahfend1I once had a brief stint as a grader for an Ag Business professor. He handed me a meaty stack of papers, typed by 120 fresh students, to peruse and grade within a day. The assignment: mission statements. Students were to create their own business mission statement, whether fictitious or their own private pipe dream didn’t matter. They even had the option to read the mission statement of an existing business, and to provide a summary of it in their own words. Some students chose the latter option, most of those who did were plagiarizing word-for-word the company’s mission right off their website.

I might not have been suspicious of these kids plagiarizing had the first one on the stack not been so blatantly obvious. They copied and pasted it. With hyperlinks. The font changed; the color changed. Did they seriously think I wouldn’t catch that? I caught over 20 cheaters that day; I undercharged for the added time I took to rat out those kids. I never wanted to do that job again. I was shocked that so many college students were phoning in their homework; as a student, I’d rather do the work on my own than produce a lie.


Recently, I’ve taken a renewed interest in my long-neglected twitter account. Yesterday, I noticed a mutual follower, Tim, a father of 4 and proprietor of The Laptop Shop in Winter Haven, FL, tweet about a plagiarist police account harassing him with a “remove that one tweet, that’s someone else’s tweet first, don’t do that!” kinda tweet, and I decided to chime in on the discussion. The word-theft-police account moderator was both rude and humorless; I razzed ’em but thrice and I got twitter blocked. They had no idea that I agreed with their stance on plagiarism, overall, and that I just wanted to get their goat first, as well as begin a juicy debate. Do millennials dislike conversations rife with juiciness? (I can’t help but think this is a millennial thing with this account holder, for them to be unable to sustain a debate for longer than 5 minutes before thwarting me out of their self-important universe, but I could be wrong.)

Later in the day, just before sitting down to a scrumptious meal with my husband, I checked my twitter account. Why did I do that just before dinner? I thought maybe there would be something positive–a new like, a new follower, a retweet. But no. Apparently my razzing the plagiarism police led a total stranger to tweet a cryptic monosyllable my way: “thief”.

Maybe they trolled my account and read the part of the discussion that carried on after Tim and I got blocked from communication with the plagiarism popo. I tweeted to him: “Tweak it 20%, it’s yours. Maybe that’s how to circumvent the naysayers? Treat it as mad libs if inspired by another’s tweet.”

I imagine this rando tweeter (a self-described “dude playing a dude disguised as another dude”) took the fallacious leap of assumption with me. If I tweeted that, I must be doing that, right? I was under the impression that a 20% shift in art (no matter the medium) makes it new and original, and legal. That doesn’t mean I make a point of grabbing other people’s art and making it my own. Perhaps he confused a moment’s comment (in a longer conversation he wasn’t even a part of) with my artistic mission statement.

I replied to dude: “To what do you refer?” But after an hour or so with no reply , I deleted that and replaced it with a more apropos one word ad homimem to keep the one he flung my way company: “accuser”.

I’ve yet to hear back from my accuser. Maybe he thinks allusion is plagiarism too? I dunno. But if he does, he must dislike nearly all literature for its occasional nods to Shakespeare, Sappho and any others who stoke our muse fires.



2 comments on “On Plagiarism’s Badness

  1. Frank Whitehouse says:

    In your words “I just wanted to get their goat first, as well as begin a juicy debate”

    One way of paraphrasing that is: “I decided to troll them, and then expected them to take the time to engage me in a substantive debate”

    I don’t think you should be unsurprised that someone wouldn’t want to play along. If you lead by provoking someone there’s a good chance that will be an end to the conversation. People will make snap judgments on the Internet. And if you start off by trying to aggravate someone it’s arguable the mature thing for them to do is to just block

    • I agree, Frank, not everyone is in the mood to be razzed even a bit for the time they take give credit where credit is due. I imagine it’s a thankless position overall, with a lot of troll-y responses.

      Bear in mind not all ‘net trolls are entirely trollish. Some truly want to say “what’s up with this and that” and have a genuine dialog. I erred, in my opinion, by viscerally mimicking the tone I read in some of the anti-plagiarism account moderator’s tweets. Had I approached s/he as a more thoughtful conversationalist, I’d likely have gotten an equally thoughtful reception. Instead, the conversation must’ve continued sans my voice, leading one dude to fart out a monosyllabic troll tweet my way. Then another puzzling one from you, Frank. I truly appreciate that you took the time to engage me thoroughly, not cryptically.

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