Don’t forget why God made your eyes — plagiarize!
Tom Lehrer, “Lobachevsky”
I’m involved in a fair number of plagiarism cases. In non-fiction allegations, I typically represent a student who has omitted quotation marks, possibly because he/she was lifting what appeared to be basic background information. There are very few ways of saying some things with the appropriate degree of precision (especially in legal and scientific writing).
Yes, people are sometimes guilty of failing to cite or mistaking what constitutes background information or mundane fact. None of my cases rose to the level of blatant dishonesty that academic institutions define in their official policy. In one case, the blind-robot software called turnitin flagged mundane information while ignoring the student’s conclusions and recommendations — because these, of course were original.
Plagiarized my novel
Non-fiction cases also include genre books (dieting has generated thousands) with the same information appearing in more than one book. It’s easy to allege plagiarism when N=2, but there is a vast pool of knowledge on, say, weight loss, and there’s often no certainty as to where a particular point came from. Mere similarity does not equal plagiarism.
This same principle applies to fiction cases; my services are sought by people who believe that their work has been plagiarized..
Again, I have to assess the status of various elements. And again, there are background items of setting/locale, landmarks, and more: a book in the “Vatican thriller” genre would include the Pope, St. Peter’s, an underground chamber, and probably also a secret society, arcane codes, dreams and visions, supernatural beings, and much else. The fact that these occur in two novels means nothing, when a third genre novel would contain many or all of the same elements.
The gold standard
“Gold standard” plagiarism is rare: the verbatim copying of original material and passing it off as one’s own. It requires a combination of stupidity, insensitivity, and dishonesty, not to mention willfully ignoring the admonitions of countless teachers, from junior high on: you do not steal another person’s original ideas and pass them off as your own.
The only gold-standard plagiarism I regularly see takes place far from the reach of English teachers. In romance scams, a hugely lucrative business, the scammer, often in Nigeria, lifts the poetic ramblings from sites that carry this stuff. The seductive, obsessive (“I can’t stop thinking about you.”), romantic language enchants the catfish lady, who parts with large amounts of money. This is true plagiarism.
We now have a Presidential candidate, Joe Biden, who promises to make us “more moral.” The last thing we need is moral instruction from a person so insensitive to boundaries (also evident in his indulging his need for titillation with unsolicited back rubs and hair-sniffing) that he appropriated another person’s life for himself. Incredible! Why couldn’t he have taken the idea and told his own life story? How could he not have known that it was wrong? How could he have thought he wouldn’t get caught? Because the other guy was in the UK?
Blatant, verbatim copying reveals a deep character flaw, as serious as Clinton’s predatory sexuality. The following article lays out the particulars and explains why this transgression should not be forgotten.