Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sous les pavés, le plagiat

British universities are riddled with plagiarism and cheating, it seems, although the poor, anonymous grunts using iPods as crib sheets could argue that they’re only taking tips from German aristocrats and the spawn of Arab tyrants.

At least in academia there are clear rules as to what constitutes plagiarism – the only problem is catching the buggers doing it. In what purports to be the real world, definitions are rather more blurred. Michel Houellebecq admitted to lifting big chunks of his most recent novel from Wikipedia, but invoked Perec and Borges as precedents, so that’s OK; the young German author Helene Hegemann said that her book Axolotl Roadkill did contain substantial elements from another text, but in any case, “there’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” It wasn’t plagiarism, it was mixing, it was sampling; rather than calling on Borges, she was just taking tips from Berlin DJ culture. And everyone decided to let her off as well, because they wanted to be down wiv ver kids, like.

Journalism is stuck somewhere in the middle. Hacks aren’t expected to annotate every reference – indeed, they’re specifically permitted to remain tight-lipped about the identity of their sources – but at the same time they’re not really supposed to lift whole paragraphs from elsewhere and pass the action off as some sort of postmodern affectation. What is depressing is that it’s often done so badly, so artlessly, with no attempt to disguise the crime. Plagiarising journalists are often bad writers, so the stuff they’ve nicked is usually better written than their own work; and because they can’t write, they’re completely unaware of how easy it is to spot the lurch between styles.

But the real forehead/keyboard interface happens when they scoop something up from an online source – few are quite dumb enough to choose Wikipedia, but it does happen – and can’t be bothered to change the formatting, or remove the hyperlinks. I think we’ve reached a point where we can’t expect writers to have written the stuff they pass off as their work; but is it too much to ask that they might have read it?

PS: The title is a crap pun that’s been done several times before, but it’s in French, so that’s OK.


E. Studnicka said...

I wrote this a while ago but I think it is along the lines of what you are saying here.

Spinsterella said...

A former colleague of mine was notorious for filing entire C&P press releases - contact details on the bottom and all. Once a sub asked him a question about a story. "I don't know, I haven't read it," was his reply.

Another girl at the same paper lost a very cushty freelance gig when it turned out that someone she had supposedly just interviewed had been dead for several years. She'd C&P the whole thing from an ancient website.

Tim F said...

Possibly, MWB. But where did you copy it from? :-)

It's a tough call to besmirch the reputation of journalists, Spin, but it sounds as if your former colleagues managed it.

E. Studnicka said...

How did I know you were going to say that?

The Poet Laura-eate said...

My remix of T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland' has landed me in hot water with his estate.

Can't imagine why.

Anonymous said...

Now I know where I've been going wrong. Time to get the CTRL C ready.