A Response to Tim Boucher

Tim Boucher runs a blog entitled Pop Occulture. The blog, which mainly focuses on matters of the occult and supernatural, recently ran a highly critical piece on turnitin.com, the plagiarism detection service many schools use.

While I agree with the main thrust of his piece, that professors and teachers should spend less time on trying to catch plagiarists and more time on creating courses and assignments that are “plagiarism-proof”, he has several finer points in his tirade that I take great exception to.

Worse still, some of these attitudes and misconceptions are prevalent on the Internet at large and are among the reasons why the fight to stop Internet plagiarism is such a difficult one.

First, Mr. Boucher, a former computer instructor, says that plagiarism “…isn’t some kind of high moral crime. It’s simply that the models of knowledge that we use and the values we ascribe to information are changing / have already changed.”

The act of plagiarism is an act of lying. It is saying that you created something when, in fact, it’s someone else’s. Plagiarism is also theft, taking someone else’s work and claiming it to be your own. While the models of knowledge might change, common human decency has not. If stealing and lying are not high moral crimes, then what is?

After that, Mr. Boucher continues by saying “all plagiarism says to me is that kids are learning how to solve problems.”

What problems does plagiarism solve? In an academic environment, it teaches how to avoid the problem of writing a paper or creating a project. However, this avoidance requires the violating of copyright law, which is a criminal act, the lying about the outcome and the robbing honest students of their efforts.

Furthermore, I take strong exception with the notion that the student who plagiarizes “understands something intangible and important about how the world works, and recognizes the relative importance of different facets of life” as Mr. Boucher puts it.

The reason is that I was taught the value of hard work and honesty. So far, that’s paid off well. Students who cheat on their assignments, even if they get away with it, fail to learn the skills they’re supposed to obtain. As he himself admits in the comments, those who can’t cut it in the real world will be fired from their jobs, no matter their grades.

You can’t cheat your way through life and the more you build upon lies and thievery, the more you have to lose when it’s discovered. It makes putting in the effort to do your assignments and do them well a much wise move than cheating on them, especially in the long run.

Finally, on a personal level, I take great exception to the fact that he offers support to those who plagiarize without even paying lip service to the copyright holders they steal from. Like most interested in academic plagiarism, he pays no attention to the rights of the original copyright holders or their feelings about seeing their work passed off as someone else’s.

Be it academic, journalistic, poetic, artistic or musical, we all build our careers based upon ownership of our prior works. Having them stolen, even in an academic setting, diminishes that and hampers both our credibility and our livelihood. The rampant plagiarism on the Web discourages countless individuals from posting their work, be it academic or artistic, and depriving the public of access to it. Apparently, even the new models of knowledge require some level of copyright protection to be completely successful.

So, while I agree that educators need to take a more proactive approach against plagiarism, for everyone’s benefit, I don’t think defending the actions of thieves and liars is the best approach. Yes, the world is changing, but plagiarism is still both wrong and illegal.

Saying anything else is just making excuses.

[tags]Plagiarism, Content Theft, Copyright Infringement, Copyright[/tags]
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