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
    Jason, 27 Jun 2008 @ 2:31pm

    Depends

    Jokes - that part is just ridiculous. Including a citation for a joke ruins the joke. Maybe 1/10 people in the world are really honestly funny. Assume it's stolen, and if you have a problem with it, then it's your obligation not to laugh.

    But as for general content and examples - it's just a shame not to cite them properly. Reason being, the story behind the example adds meaningful context and reinforces the facts/examples/anecdotes. Even if you're giving an impromptu speech and you don't remember - it's called, "Someone once said," or "I've heard..."

    Want to be extra sneaky about it and semi-cite? Form it as a question. "Did you hear...?"

    To me, it comes short of the question of legality. Doing it right just makes your speech better.

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