Is It Really So Bad If A Student Plagiarizes A Speech?

from the get-over-it dept

We've discussed how silly the concept of "plagiarism" is in many contexts once you look at the details. It's a concept that needs to be rethought -- as it often really represents someone reimagining a work in a different, and potentially valuable context. In fact, we've seen a few plagiarized defenses of plagiarism that are pieces of art by themselves.

It can be especially silly in school, where what some people consider plagiarism is really no different than collaboration. And, in fact, what people complain is "plagiarism" in schools is the sort of thing that can often be considered perfectly reasonable as an adult. When a newscaster reads someone else's script, is that plagiarism? What about when a politician reads a speech by a speechwriter? In both cases they're "passing off" someone else's work as their own. And, of course, in the stand-up comedy world, "joke stealing" is considered a part of the business (the same is true in casual joke telling) -- and that's fine. Because the words themselves aren't always what's important. It's the delivery. Or the message. Or the actions to back up the words.

That's why it seems rather overblown to read about a local controversy in Palo Alto, California, as some graduation speeches apparently borrowed heavily from others. In the details provided, it sounds like the "plagiarism" mostly consisted of jokes. Again, repeating and sharing jokes is a crucial part of culture. Pretending that only one person can ever say a joke seems ridiculous -- especially on something where the delivery and presentation are so important. So, rather than condemning these kids for seeing some funny stories and incorporating them into their talks, can we start recognizing that maybe, just maybe, "plagiarism" isn't really as bad as some make it out to be.

Filed Under: plagiarism, students


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  1. identicon
    Josh, 27 Jun 2008 @ 1:49pm

    Maybe different

    You mention an interesting point, how in school plagarism is frowned upon, but in the "real world", it's not as serious. I think there's an important distinction to be made here. In an educational setting (eg passing a course in college), your work goes towards earning something, like a credit or degree. If you plagarise, you are using someone else's work to your own credit, and that's dishonest. If you put your work into your own words, or just cited the person you worked with, no problem, but if you just copy, that's not acceptible, and you should be punsihed.

    However, if you're a newscaster using someone else's script, or giving a speech based heavily on someone else's work, there no "award" for you to have at the end. There's only your reputation, And so, plagarism isn't so bad, since you are not "gaining" something unfairly. In fact, you might even innovate on the work, and come up with some slightly (but distinctively) different. I guess my main point is that plagarism in academic settings IS bad, and should be punished, even if plagarism in a broader sense needs to be reconsidered.

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