EVERYTHING BUT: A coveting life


If you steal from one author it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many it’s research. – Wilson Mizner, American playwright and raconteur.
Plagiarism, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary indicates, is the passing off of someone else’s work or idea as one’s own.
Plagiarism is simply taking other people’s things, using them, pretending they belong to you, and crediting yourself publicly on the back of it. Of course, not really smart – being the plagiarist and all – like most thieves, you are caught.
It is one thing to lift pictures off the Internet, or google them as you please for use on your own website or some small private brochure, which is in itself questionable, it is a whole shameful and despicable deed when pictures and accompanying googled text are posted on your blog, with you as originator or creator. Some bloggers themselves have become victims of those who would covet their neighbour’s ox and his ass and all that is his.
The offered consolation from those less hard-hearted is that they credit their victims for the information copied and used. Being a copycat is one thing – people like keeping up with the Joneses; being a thief is another. It is worse yet when you will benefit directly or indirectly by the copying.
Welcome to the human race! I am often told when I reel at such conduct and the excuse of an explanation proffered.
I am often told, too, that everybody lies and steals, and that I should get with the programme. The less flattering wonder who I think I am: the angel Gabriel?
Since the Internet and the introduction of websites, stealing has become an acceptable pastime, with those with no respect for intellectual property rights, or an understanding of them, plunging into the abyss of plagiarism and copyright infringement – the former an infelicity at best, the other, a crime.
I steer my journalism students away from such precipices, far more easily than I am able the older, hard-back practitioners in the field – bad habits die hard.
I tell my young charges never hand in to me an article they did not write; don’t give me any sterile copied essay from the Internet; don’t get anyone else to write your assignments for you.
This is, I insist, is plagiarism because the words and ideas in those articles won’t belong to you.
My students are quite smart and discerning. What if the unethical person is really your tutor or boss? What if, for your tutor or boss, it is all right to steal other people’s work for the expediency it provides?
In the case of the tutor, you may almost certainly do your work with honesty and integrity and be none the worse for it. Dealing with an unethical boss can be much more challenging – and dangerous. He might yet prove – ostensibly, at least – that honesty is not the best policy.
It is a perilous circumstance with which to deal because the balance of power is tipped in the boss’ favour. After all, the boss controls your fate and will be controlled by performance appraisals and work assignments, which in turn influence your promotion opportunities.
Which only goes to show that the negative perspective of anyone in position of influence may undermine all the genuineness and integrity expected of a group, or frustrate a group’s reasonable expectations.
Welcome to the human race indeed! This transgression of taking and using what is not ours – for gain – is but symptomatic of the more profound evils of selfishness and greed that pervade the world today; and more so of the reluctance to be excellent on our own steam. The larceny of other people’s ideas, works and intellectual property is a manifestation and self-confession of possessing average and mediocre ability, outside of scruples – with little hope of furtherance or betterment.
The tragedy is we influence our seed in this negative outlook and conduct; and then we wonder why the yute so.
All of our children regrettably will not be future Sister Theresas or future Nelson Mandelas; no true paragons of virtue, incorruptibility. Some will never step beyond the paling with which we have encircled them.
That’s life, I am being forced to believe.  
• Ridley Greene is a Caribbean multi-award-winning journalist.


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