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Plagiarism pandemic: Is copying contagious?

It is shocking, unthinkable, and embarrassing, that a senator of the Republic of the Philippines will deliver a speech, for everyone to hear, with passages copied from a blog that everyone with an internet connection can access.

High-profile copying, however, is no longer an original act.

In an online world overloaded with information, where cutting-and-pasting has become an easy alternative to originality, copying is becoming contagious.

We are now facing a plagiarism pandemic.

The past month alone:

  • New Yorker magazine staff writer Jonah Lehrer was forced to quit for recycling his columns in different publications (in effect plagiarizing himself), and for fabricating quotes for a book he wrote.
  • CNN TV host Fareed Zakaria, a Harvard Ph.D graduate, apologized for copying a paragraph from the New Yorker for a column he wrote for Time magazine. Both CNN and Time have agreed to reinstate him after finding it was an isolated case.
  • In the Philippines, parts of Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto’s emotional speech against the reproductive health bill were found to have been lifted verbatim from a blog. Some speeches by the bill’s proponent, Sen. Pia Cayetano, may have also been lifted from other sources without attribution, according to local reports.

Two years ago, influential Filipino businessman Manny Pangilinan had to apologize after parts of his commencement address for the Ateneo De Manila University sounded familiar: They were assembled from different speeches delivered by author J.K. Rowling, TV host Oprah Winfrey, and US President Barack Obama, among others.

Though it was their speech writers and research assistants who plagiarized those passages, these personalities are not blameless.

Simply put, plagiarism is passing someone else’s as one’s own work.

When public officials and prominent personalities deliver speeches they did not write—even if it is a widely accepted practice, even if it is from speechwriters whom they pay—it is still a case of dishonesty.

They are invited to give speeches so people can listen not to what others have written, but to what they have to say, their own thoughts in their own words—a peek into the mind and heart of a supposedly great person worthy of that invitation.

In the end, it all boils down to respect.

If we want to encourage more creative and original work, we must respect those who produce original knowledge. A simple attribution will suffice. Give credit where credit is due.

It is also about respecting ourselves. Stealing someone else’s work is a form of self-disrespect. Plagiarism means doubting your own ideas, being embarrassed by your own words and refusing to nurture your own creativity.

Or it just means being lazy.

A simple reminder: What you can find using Google, the remaining one billion Google users can find, too.

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  1. You should read Sotto’s chief of staff’s lame excuse, virtually saying that everyone is a plagiarist, and invoking the Bible, even God! So what do we have intellectual property and antipiracy laws for? And how many of Sotto’s sponsored bills have been copied from others?

    • Hi Ma’am Ester! I read the article this morning. I can’t believe he is real! Also, I read that Sen. Sotto said it was “just a blog” not covered by copyright. Unbelievable. It would have been easier, and most appropriate, for them to say sorry. Hayyy….