Saturday, June 28, 2008

TechDirt: plagiarism as re-imagination and collaboration

On the subject of inevitability, TechDirt has a post titled Is It Really So Bad If A Student Plagiarizes A Speech? specifically on the Palo Alto High plagiarism matter, but definitely extend-able. Some text:

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.

Some of the TechDirt material:

It can be especially silly in school, where what some people consider plagiarism is really no different than collaboration.

is closely related to earlier TechDirt material, as, for example, to the spin TechDirt put on the "burning pajamas" plagiarism incidents [wherein hundreds of college applications mentioned "burning a hole in pyjamas at age eight" working with a chemistry set].

However, a more reasonable way of looking at it, is that it's teaching students the value of collaborative work (...) it's not all about just getting off easy by copying content, and more about a more collaborative approach to content.

Same old, same old at TechDirt.

Of the Palo Alto incident, comments from paloaltoonline:

**These two 18 year old college bound students lifted all or a portion of their speeches from the internet. Having attended both speeches and heard both the originals on the internet, I am appalled. They plagiarized word for word. And all they had to do was attribute their words to the original writer. Is that so hard?

**[Compare]The article states :"Most of Abid's speech is original, but he copied a joke that compares the college application process to the experience of wooing a bride". So borrowing a joke and incorporating it into the speech to make it entertaining is not plagiarism.

**[HOWEVER]First of all, this article makes it sound as though these were minor incidents of plagiarism. For those of you that were at the graduation, you may recall that the marriage joke was not "part" of the speech -- it basically WAS the speech. To refresh your memories, here is the link to the Mountain View speech:

Web Link [which is from Mountain View High School and includes "Suck it Yale."]

Fast forward about 2 minutes in and you'll see what I mean.

Second, and perhaps more distrubingly -- I was blown away by the nonchalant attitude towards cheating in general which appeared in these speeches. This is a point not mentioned in the article, but both speeches included jokes about cheating. When Veerappan quipped about copying answers from students I was sort of dumbfounded -- apparently this is the quality of education one can expect from schools which are barred from teaching anything related to personal conduct or ethics. Yet, judging from the posts on the facebook group, many studuents (though certainly a minority) DO think that intellectual dishonesty is a joke.

Perhaps this ought to be taken as a lesson that "life isn't fair" for those who were denied in favor of Abid and Veerappan's cribbing abilities.

**As one of the Paly seniors who graduated and actually listened to both Malini and Mohammed's speeches, I'd like to give my take on the situation. First of all, it was not a "small part" of Mohammed's speech that was plagiarized--the joke took up the majority of his speech. And I'm still dumbfounded as to why he would credit the joke to a "teacher," when he could just as easily have given the proper credit to where it was due. He obviously didn't "mess up" when saying that he heard the joke from a teacher; it's kind of hard to confuse what your teachers say with youtube videos.
As for Malini's speech, I watched the video on youtube and it was literally almost entirely plagiarized. Given that she VOLUNTEERED to give a speech, I don't understand why anyone would volunteer just to submit a speech they didn't actually write.

I do think that this has gotten out of hand. I know both Malini and Mohammed, and I know that people make mistakes. But I AM disappointed that they couldn't come up with their own heartfelt speeches to mark what was an incredibly important time in our lives. And while those of us who are questioning the ethics of Mohammed and Malini may seem as though they are attacking the two of them, I can see where they're coming from. To plagiarize a speech at graduation, when there is NO INCENTIVE to do so (you don't HAVE to give a speech), obviously would lead to questions about their school performances, when there is much more incentive to cheat. Yes, a lot of people cheat at Paly. But that does not make it okay for Malini and Mohammed, even though they were unlucky enough to get caught.

**Suppose we passed off a Shakespearean play as an original work by a Paly student?

**[sarcastic] All "creative" work is derivative, mere rehashing of the same old themes. Since so many people do it, especially those who are affluent and educated, it must be okay. And if members of the audience enjoy the results, then don't bother pointing out the ethical issues unless you too want to be slammed as a whistleblower.

**Also, what does it say when you can't write your own speech?

**No, it really wasn't okay and, sorry, I don't have a problem with names being used here. If those kids were bright enough to get the honor of speaking, they're bright enough to understand plagiarism.

On some other college plagiarism (collaboration?) incidents:

plagiarism at UC/Davis

At the University of Minnesota:

"Nevertheless, my students hear me say that passing off someone else's writing as their own is an academic felony."

Note that the University of Louisville is confused over the interrelation of plagiarism and copyright (intellectual property):

The concept of intellectual property (the ownership of ideas) underlies all definitions and policies about plagiarism; it is the foundation for the logic behind documentation styles and citation practices. Because academics, such as university instructors, are in the business of creating new knowledge for their field, they are especially concerned with giving and receiving credit for ideas.

IPBiz notes that one can plagiarize "public domain" material (e.g., passing off Shakespeare's words as your own). One can infringe a copyright without plagiarizing.


Post a Comment

<< Home