Friday, July 23, 2010

You Copycat!!!

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. – Albert Einstein

I know, I know.   I haven’t posted in a while and when I finally do I’m writing about a serious topic.  Well, it’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.  Of this, I’m sure.

They say, imitation is the highest form of flattery.  Sure.  To a point.  So… plagiarism seems to be around me a lot lately.  I don’t quite get it (not the plagiarism, but why it’s so prevalent in my little circle lately).    Well let’s face it, it’s not plagiarism until you get caught, right?  Well, everyone’s getting caught.  Perhaps it’s people being more diligent in their reading, or people are reading more and can spot similarities quicker.  Or, people just care more.

In the past, teachers tried to nip plagiarism in the bud early on.  After all, copying, cheating, etc. does start in schools.  It’s where we first learn about it.  I think now, though, with the advent of the interwebs (I must remember to thank our dear president bush – note the sarcasm – for that word) it has become that much easier to catch the culprits.  All that is needed is a few lines of the “original” work typed into Google and…voila!  You will know if the work you are looking at was copied or not.  It’s actually pretty neat.

Why am I writing about this?  I have not been plagiarized yet…well…at least not that I know about anyway, but friends have been both the plagiarizer and the plagiarized.    

I mentioned before, I think, that I write fan fiction – it’s my not-so-secret hobby.  Most of the works in the fan fiction world are derivatives of the original book/story/videogame.  You will find similarities, but it’s common knowledge, the authors know about it and there is nothing to be gained except some writing practice.  At least, that’s how I see it.  Yet, even in that world, people find it necessary to copy whole stories/ideas from each other.  In all honesty, if you cannot come up with an original idea to put these characters in, perhaps you shouldn’t be writing.  I am close with some authors who have had to pull their writings and completely stopped writing because they were being copied.  It’s not a pleasant feeling.

Then, of course, you have the case where a friendship was jeopardized.  For the sake of privacy, I will call them Tom and Jerry (credit to Hanna-Barbera).

Tom and Jerry were friends, had been for a while.  They had classes together, studied together, were even lab partners.  Things were going great in their lab class.  They were both on their way to getting an A (or close to it).  Tom, being the older of the two, definitely needed the A in the class; Jerry was younger and had time to pull up his GPA if for whatever reason he didn’t get the A he was looking for in lab.    Lab reports were due every three to four days and we’re not talking about one or two pages here.  These reports were 10-20 pages depending on the lab.  It was a lot of work and there were plenty of sleepless nights to get these reports done.

Something went wrong though on the second to last lab.  Tom finished his report and, being a good lab partner, sent it to Jerry so Jerry could use it as reference.  Jerry on the other hand decided that it was too late and he needed to sleep.  He took Tom’s report and copied a good portion of it, in some instances, not even bothering to change the wording around.  Unfortunately for both of them, the lab instructor noticed.  It turned ugly fast.  What should have been a celebration for finish the lab course, turned into a broken friendship and almost expulsion. 

Ironically, I had just lectured the two of them on taking the easy way out.  It never pays, it’s risky and you only end up working harder.  Jerry took the high road and ‘fessed up.  The instructor was lenient and didn’t take any disciplinary actions against him.  I think the guilt eating him up inside was enough punishment for him.  Tom was found innocent of any wrongdoing.  It worked out, sort of, in the end.  They don’t speak to each other anymore.

About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgement.  - Josh Billings

Lesson learned?  I hope so.  

1 comment: