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
    Dave, 27 Jun 2008 @ 12:12pm

    That's idiotic. Direct plagiarism is a disgrace in most cases. The examples you use are completely inaccurate. A politician using the work of a speechwriter is not the same thing. That person is on staff and is writing the work for the politician. Are you saying Leno, Letterman, and Jon Stewart plagiarize from their paid writers every night? Of course not. While we're on the subject, those who steal jokes in the stand-up comedy world from other comics are hated in the business. Absolutely hated. I'm not saying it's a criminal offense if a kid steals a graduation speech, but it's an awful thing when people start plagiarizing, and when others start ignoring it.

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