The Plague of Plagiarism

Plagiarism? No big deal these days. A New York Times story I overlooked last week reported on students’ increasingly lax attitude toward plagiarism in the digital age.

At DePaul University, the tip-off to one student’s copying was the purple shade of several paragraphs he had lifted from the Web; when confronted by a writing tutor his professor had sent him to, he was not defensive — he just wanted to know how to change purple text to black.

And at the University of Maryland, a student reprimanded for copying from Wikipedia in a paper on the Great Depression said he thought its entries — unsigned and collectively written — did not need to be credited since they counted, essentially, as common knowledge.

Seems when Obama casually lifted lines from Deval Patrick without attribution, and when Biden (much more egregiously) pilfered the rhetoric of British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock back in the ‘88 campaign, they were proving themselves to be natural leaders of the Internet age!

Leaving all partisan snark aside for a moment, this is a serious problem that bodes ill for our future. Respect for intellectual property is fading, and, along with it, the reverence for originality and drive for individual achievement that has animated American life and fueled American innovation for two and a half centuries.

Technology is driving this change. We are living in the era of copy-and-paste scholarship. Ten years ago, kids started stealing music off the Internet. Now they are stealing term papers. How are they going to compete in the future, when, one day, they become America’s business leaders? They have not yet learned to think for themselves.

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