So I took their advice. I spent two hours looking through her reviews (lucky there weren't very many of them to start with), comparing them with the ones of mine that have been posted on my blog.
I am horrified, angry, and very, very disappointed.
Plagiarism.org quotes the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as defining "plagiarism" as:
- to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
- to use (another's production) without crediting the source
- to commit literary theft
- to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.
All of the following are considered plagiarism:
- turning in someone else's work as your own
- copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
- failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
- giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
- changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
- copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)
From Plagiarism.org, emphases mine.
(See what I did here? I copied content from the website, and I made sure to make it clear that the information came from there, as well as provided a link to their site if you want more info. This is called proper citation.)
Today's teenagers are the first generation to have grown up with Internet and computers readily available for their entire lives. (Even I didn't really understand the use of the Internet until I was in middle school.) With all sorts of information available for anyone to read on the Internet, it is all too easy to cross certain lines, to not understand that Internet DOES NOT EQUAL free and for the taking.
It is one thing to read another blogger's review and go, "Hmmmm. I really agree with a lot of what he/she is saying, especially with such-and-such point. He/she said it really well, and I'd like to mention his/her review in my own as being an inspiration and supplementary material to mine."
It is quite another to have your reviews sound like you wrote one sentence of your review, got stuck, opened up the other blogger's review to see how he/she did it, and then turn back to your own to write down a paraphrased/slightly reworded sentence, and so on and so forth for the entirety of 3-4 paragraphs...and then to pretend that your content is your own. Which is what has happened in this blogger plagiarism case.
Plagiarism is not just the direct copying of uncredited quotes and trying to pass them off as your own. It is ALSO taking another person's ideas and/or sentence structure. To paraphrase without proper citation, or to break out your internal thesaurus, does not mean that you have produced original content.
Sure, I'll say that there are only so many original ideas out there, and that some of your ideas may sound like others'. As a crazy-cool example of this, read the Hunger Games plot study that the brilliant First Novels Club did comparing THG to mythology. You can also check out the HarperTeen reprints of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Romeo & Juliet to see that Stephenie Meyer evidently got her inspiration for her Twilight books from these classics.
But the difference between these examples and this blogger plagarism case is that these inspirations are accredited. Suzanne Collins does not hide the fact that she was inspired by Theseus & the Minotaur and Spartacus (and this here is a properly cited paraphrasing of the First Novels Club's words). Giving credit where credit is due is of paramount importance in our "no tolerance for plagiarism" society, especially as accusations of plagiarism can have long-term effects on the perpetrator, such as college and job rejections, and everyone needs to be all the more careful that they have not "unconsciously plagiarized" other people's works.
Of course, here is where the debates intensify. My blogger friends have emailed this blogger with evidence to her plagiarism presented in neat Word documents and very politely asked if she would remove her plagiarized reviews and rewrite them. It is ambiguous at this point whether or not the blogger will really do that, because we have gotten a good sense that she does not realize how serious her actions are, and what the consequences of her having done this can be. If the most common perpetrators of plagiarism nowadays--teenagers who've grown up with astoundingly easy access to the Internet and information--do not believe that what they're doing is plagiarism, how can we make them aware of the seriousness of their actions?
Some of you may recall how, several months ago, a German teen debut novelist was found to have lifted passages of her book from another novelist's. (See this Time article for more details.) What truly frightened me about the incident, however, was that the teen novelist was unrepetant about her actions, "claiming that 'true originality doesn't exist anyway, only authenticity' and insist[ing] on her 'right to copy and transform' other people's work, taking a stand against what she called the 'copyright excesses' of the past decade" (quoted from Time.com: "German Teen Novelist: Plagiarism or Sampling?").
First of all, there is hardly a thing as "copyright excesses." Says Plagiarism.org on copyright laws:
At one time, a work was only protected by copyright if it included a copyright trademark (the © symbol). According to laws established in 1989, however, works are now copyright protected with or without the inclusion of this symbol.
Which only goes to stress that plagiarism, even of bloggers' material that is posted online for public perusal, is WRONGWRONGWRONG. Even unintentional plagiarism is a serious crime that, like intentional plagiarism, can be punishable in court:
While it is possible that you might write on the same topic as someone else, odds are that you will not have exactly the same ideas or express them in exactly the same way. It is highly unlikely that you would be accused of plagiarizing a source you have never read. Be careful, however, of "accidentally" plagiarizing from sources you have read and forgotten -- if your ideas turn out to have been influenced by a source that you read but failed to cite for any reason, you could be guilty of plagiarism. [http://www.plagiarism.org/plag_article_plagiarism_faq.html, emphases mine]
So no, I don't believe this blogger's claims that she "subconsciously" wrote structurally and phraseologically similar reviews to mine and others'. Not after placing the reviews side by side, examining them line by line, and discovering identical syntaxes and more, from each individual line to the overall paragraph structure of the review. This is plagiarism, even if you didn't intend to exactly copy my work--and I'm not sure what the case is at this point. What you have done IS punishable by law, and your weak defenses for the originality of your work (subconscious influences, analyses for school projects) would NOT hold up in court.
I hope that this blogger will realize the seriousness of what she has done, rectify her plagiarized reviews immediately, and be all the more vigilant that she doesn't plagiarize again in the future, whether consciously or not.
How can you avoid plagiarizing?
Adele and Tirzah, two other bloggers whose reviews were plagiarized, have written great posts on this issue, and I highly suggest you read them (clicking on their names will get you to their respective posts). They have suggested that you not read others' reviews before writing your own, in order to avoid plagiarizing.
However, I am going to respectfully modify their advice. I don't know how possible it is to not look at reviews of a book before writing your own review. I'm afraid to count the number of times I go on Goodreads every day or open my Google Reader. There are also times when I've read reviews of a book beforehand that encouraged me to pick the book up. So yes, it's really hard to cut yourself off from reviews before writing your own.
My modified suggestion is that you be aware of any reviews you've read before writing your own, particularly the ones that resonated with you. Sometimes I come across well-written reviews that make me go, "Ah, that is almost exactly how I felt about this book!" And then I'll keep that blogger in mind, but I won't write my review with the same structure and phrases as the review I admired. It doesn't need to be that hard, really, to be more self-conscious when you're writing. If you've come across a review that really stuck with you, mention the blogger in your review. We loooove other bloggers who respectfully link back to us, and we love knowing that our reviews have influenced you to pick up the book!
BUT, we do NOT love when you paraphrase our ideas and words and pass them off as your own.
Get the picture?
Needless to say, the strongest emotion I feel right now is disappointment. I hope that the blogger who plagiarized off of my, Adele's, and Tirzah's reviews (and who knows who else she plagiarized off of?) now more clearly realizes the seriousness of her actions, and the life-altering consequences that may ensue if this behavior continues. (Did I mention you can go to court?) If you would please respect our requests that you remove your plagiarized reviews from your blog, we would appreciate it.
I don't think you want to know what can happen to you if you don't.
It is my sincerest wish that we all--bloggers, blog readers, authors, industry professionals--can learn from this incident and be all the more vigilant about our writing. And yeah, I remember being extremely frustrated as a teenager that I didn't seem to know what my own voice was, or if I even had one. It's taken me many, many years to finally feel like I have created some semblance of a writing style that I can call my own and be comfortable with. You should also check out Kristi the Story Siren's post about this issue, in which she talks about this very concept of finding your own blogger voice. Please help one another realize that turning to other published works for "inspiration," ideas, and sentence structure is an immoral--not to mention illegal--act. I really hope nothing like this will happen in the future.
ETA a list of bloggers who were affected by and/or posted about this issue:
Adele - http://www.persnicketysnark.com/2010/04/plagiarism-personal-account.html
Tirzah - http://www.thecompulsivereader.com/2010/04/just-reminder-paraphrasing-is.html
Kristi - http://www.thestorysiren.com/2010/04/my-one-piece-of-advice.html
Liz - http://myfavouritebooks.blogspot.com/2010/04/lets-talk-about-plagiarism-today.html
Lenore - http://presentinglenore.blogspot.com/2010/04/bloggers-behaving-badly-2-plagiarism-is.html