What about rampant plagiarism?

Easterine Kire

I don’t think it’s hysterical to call it rampant plagiarism because that is exactly what is happening now. A published Naga scholar had an unnerving experience recently. His book is a sought-after book on the literature of the Northeast. Another scholar brought to his attention the fact that the doctoral work of a scholar who had worked in the same discipline as him, was a word for word copy of his work without giving any acknowledgement to him. Since his scholarly work is a published book with a registered publisher, it would not have been difficult at all to cite him as the source for the academic references. But nothing of the sort was done. The fact that he was notin any manner acknowledged by the student shows it is a clear case of plagiarism. 

Plagiarism is happening on many scales. Stealing creative ideas that began with other people and using them to make commercial gains is unethical and plainillegal. Plagiarism is not flattery; it is a crime. The number of friends complaining of their posts on social media being lifted and reused without any permission taken from them, has grown. In these cases, no acknowledgement of their authorship is given, quite naturally. 

How serious is plagiarism? In our circles, we don’t pursue the legal implications, and simply simmer when our work is plagiarized. But to quote from P.org, ‘If you are caught plagiarizing, you can be punished by your school, fired from your job, or even have your career ruined.’ 

This is a true story: A teacher was collecting assignments from her students on the last day of the semester. One student was always chronically late in handing in his work. On the final day, he outdid himself by handing in a xeroxed copy of his best friend’s assignment with his name written at the top of the paper. The teacher took it as an opportunity to educate him on the whole philosophy of plagiarism. 

Plagiarism can become a legal issue when it is proved to be copyright infringement: ‘Copyright is a set of exclusive rights granted to the creator of an original work. Plagiarism, often times, violates those rights both by copying the work without permission and distributing it’(P.org).

Failing to cite a work and pretending it is the original work of the scholar is the highest form of plagiarism. Some extreme cases of legally dealing with plagiarism can be seen in the case of a former Vice Chancellor of Delhi university who was imprisoned on account of the charge that he had stolen a colleague’s research. In like cases of some research scholars who were caught stealing the work of other scholars and passing it off as their own, the scholars have had to return their funds, while avoiding going to prison.  In the US, these scholars can also be banned from receiving further grants for a certain period. 

Plagiarism happens just as easily in fictional writing. By changing names of characters, a writer was discovered lifting off sentences from other books and passing them off as their own. In the case of Kaavya Vishwanathan, who had inserted lines from

Meghan McCafferty’s book into her young adults novel, the advance she had been paid on her book had to be returned to the publisher. Vishwanathan was not, however, required to serve a jail term. 

Plagiarism does not stop at the academic frontiers alone. There is a tendency amongst certain groups to steal creative ideas from other people, mostly business and entrepreneurship ideas. Can we apply laws on plagiarism to these incidences? Can creative ideas be patented so that their theft can result in serious consequences and deter future thefts? Indeed, they can.

Plagiarism should worry us. I have experienced a well-known writer asking for my notes only to find out he had used all my notes (that I had made to be used in a future book) in a chapter in his own book. It is an unsettling experience to see the words you have written leaping out of the pages of another person’s book, and the world will never know. One can get rather emotional about it, and one should. If we have rather fierce punishments for plagiarists, the crime may come to a stop as they hopefully find out that the crime is not worth the prison food.