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
    Joseph Wills, 27 Jun 2008 @ 2:44pm

    Re: my 2 cents

    In today's copyright-infatuated world, every bit of writing that is recorded in any medium automatically receives copyright protection, even if the writer doesn't ask for it. That goes for letters, emails, blogs, comments on blogs, etc. Therefore, you violated the copyright of those who came before you, by quoting them without citing them or paying a royalty (to their possibly unborn grandchildren). You are both a plagiarist and a copyright infringer.

    Eventually, you won't be able to write even a single sentence without violating someone's copyright, because every conceivable phrase and sentence will have been written, and thus be under copyright to someone. By then, simply starting a speech with "My fellow students" or a letter with "Dear Sir" will put you in hot water, as either a plagiarist or a copyright infringer, or both.

    But, rather than condemning you for seeing some pertinent quotes and incorporating them into your posts, I've started to recognize that maybe, just maybe, "plagiarism" isn't really as bad as some make it out to be.

    And once every phrase and sentence is under copyright protection, copyright will become valueless, because every human will be forced, by necessity, to violate copyright, just to conduct their daily lives. Maybe, just maybe, at that point, our elected "leaders" will finally see that copyrighting everything automatically, and extending copyright to the ludicrous duration it currently receives, wasn't such a good idea after all (if you sing "Happy Birthday" in public, maybe even in the privacy of your own home, you are supposed to pay a performance royalty -- 114 years after the song was written). More likely, hell will freeze over first.

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