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. icon
    Mike (profile), 29 Jun 2008 @ 10:38pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    And what pray tell is an "artificial limitation"?

    Telling someone they can't make any use of the work of others in crafting their own work.

    Let me guess...that nasty thing known as copyright.

    No. Plagiarism and copyright are entirely separate things.

    As an example, many works are in the public domain and beyond the reach of copyright law. Are you suggesting that plagiarizing such works is perfectly ok?

    Do not put words in my mouth. They don't prove your point, and, in fact, make you look like you can't read.

    As I said, if someone does nothing but plagiarize, they won't get very far. But being able to use another work to do something more with it should be not just allowed, but encouraged.

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