Copy, paste, steal? Is plagiarism theft or simply laziness? Either way, more people appear comfortable with lifting passages from others' work.

Author:Mathews, Wilma
Position:Finding your way
 
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Before the advent of the Internet and, with it, the universal sharing of words and ideas, a charge of rampant plagiarism would have been unthinkable. But today, plagiarism is universal, generally accepted as OK, and practiced in unexpected ways and areas.

The word plagiarism comes from the Latin for "to kidnap"--an apt description, considering that it involves kidnapping another person's thoughts and written work and claiming those thoughts and work as your own. A serious offense, plagiarism also is seen as theft, a fraudulent act. Merriam-Webster defines plagiarize as "to steal and pass oft- (the ideas or words of another) as one's own: use (another's production) without crediting the source" and "to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source."

For communicators, whose jobs are mostly tied to the art and science of persuasion, the ability to judiciously and legally use other people's words and thoughts is essential in creating credibility for a concept or action. Lifting and citing a quote from a CEO's speech printed in "Vital Speeches of the Day" is not uncommon.

What is uncommon is finding entire paragraphs lifted from someone else's speech and used in a presentation to employees or in a magazine article--without attributing it to the source, or "borrowing" from other speakers' materials for your own speech.

Manuel V. Pangilinan, a prominent businessman in the Philippines, had to fess up to "borrowing" material from other speeches for his own commencement address to graduates of the Ateneo de Manila University in April 2010. A local television news program found material in Pangilinan's presentation that had been "borrowed" from speeches given by U.S. President Barack Obama, television host Oprah Winfrey, Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling and comedian Conan O'Brien. Pangilinan was, at the time, the chairman of the Ateneo board of trustees.

Perhaps most troubling is the growing acceptance of plagiarism--in high school and college papers, in scientific and professional journals, in novels and movie scripts, even in basic homework assignments.

A 1 August 2010 New York Times article focused on why plagiarism is so rampant among students, noting that the ease of capturing and pasting someone else's work is high on the list of reasons.

Teresa Fishman, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson University, says in the Times piece: "Now we have a whole generation of...

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