Today, CNN reported an AP story about allegations of plagiarism made on the Web site www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com against author Cassie Edwards. The article gives a side-by-side comparison of a passage from one of Edwards’ novels and then a reference work, and the implications are fairly damning.
Having never read anything by Edwards*, I’m not so much concerned about the players in this drama. Rather, it’s the possibility that plagiarism is excusable if using the grade-school, feigned-ignorance defense of “But I didn’t know it was wrong” that gets my dander up.
For the love of original thought, I cannot understand how an adult, let alone a person who has built their career on words, can have the gall to whip out the “I didn’t know.”
Since the first time our eyes strayed to the paper of the kid next to us in elementary school and the teacher barked out the reproach, we’ve known that copying other people’s work and passing it off as your own is wrong. (Although now I’m wondering what the teacher would have done if I’d used quotations and cited my sources: According to Billy sitting beside me, “The capital of Virginia is Richmond.” Hmm.)
And I would love to go off an a “kids these days” rant since the 2006 Josephson Institute Report Card on Ethics of American Youth indicates that, in a 12-month period, 33 percent of students copied work from the Internet and 60 percent cheated during a test in school. But 1) those numbers are down from the 2004 report listing 35 and 62 percent respectively (though 2004 had an additional statistic that 83 percent 0f students copied homework, which speaks more to my plagiarism argument), and; 2) educated, logical adults in professional careers do it all the time.
Apparently if you no longer qualify for a youthful indiscretion, you can phone it in as a senior moment.
Pin it with whatever delicate euphemism you like: the blunt “taken,” the impish “borrowed,” or the typographical “lifted.” It’s all window dressing for “stolen.”
Sigh…clearly, my goat has been got.
* Edited to correct an error I made that was kindly pointed out by a reader. And dude! I have a reader!!