Copyright or copy right?

The World Wide Web has blurred the definition of plagiarism.

Is there original writing left? (Or was there any to begin with? Well, surely writer Adam or novelist Eve must have penned those first words ever.)

All content emanates from an idea, so to expand on my first question - is there any original idea left? Content providers (and I use that word here to include not only writers but artists, film-makers, artistes, journalists, et all) are just re-telling the “same ole, same ole.” Even this very subject, for that matter, plagiarism, has been done to death.

In the digital world that we are in today, plagiarism exists but you shall find no plagiarists. Such is the nature of the content beast that defining one is problematic.

I shall get more granular - all of us in the content world are aware that duplicating someone’s work is a no no. Which means, you can`t put your name on John Doe`s poem or Jane Doe`s research. Simple enough, as clear as day and night.

But what about ideas?

For every idea you get as a content provider, there are already 10 versions, including the “original” (or what you thought was one) available on the Web.

Yes, I agree that plagiarism includes the theft of ideas. But tell me the last time you saw this legend at the end of an article or a YouTube video: Sources: XTM University or ZY blog, and so on? Writing this installment of my newsletter on the subject of plagiarism….have I copied, too?

Online search has opened up the world of content. It no longer is “siloed”. It has come out of classrooms, libraries, film archives and movie theaters into our offices and living rooms. In the palm of our hands, in fact. You need not even be literate to ingest content.

Before online search and the World Wide Web, we could mislead ourselves into thinking that our idea was original; that nobody else had thought of it before. It was an illusion whose boundaries were defined by physical impediments.

In today`s 360 degree, digitized environment, everything that we read, see, or hear is labelled “content”. Contact with content is unavoidable. It has dawned on us (finally) that all human beings think, and by that virtue, come up with ideas that match. Indeed, there is no original idea.

So where does an idea stop being, and where does plagiarism begin?

Here`s the distinction - get used to the fact, however distasteful, that the subject of your content is not original. What is though is how you present it. The articulation of your thoughts, in words or visuals, or both, is what matters and decides whether you have plagiarized or not.

One would have thought that the World Wide Web would bring in order in the world of content; that it would help curb lawlessness in this domain. Instead, the opposite has come to be true.

The Web has given birth to a new tribe of phony and counterfeit content providers. Even, lazy ones. Promoted by desperate content clients. Leaving the “honest” practitioners of the craft behind. Plagiarizing from them, getting higher rankings on search engines, even. Those who do not have the intellectual honesty to cite their sources.

So here`s the deal - a content client must ask this of his content provider: is he a phony? Is he a paraphrase artist? Or into patchwriting? Does he merely re-arrange words or visuals to prop up a point? Or does he really put in some thought and “say it in his own words”?

Honest content providers fall under the category: I am; therefore I write, while their less-sincere counterparts can be grouped under: I write; therefore I am.

I end this piece with this messed up rhyme, “Copy cat, copy cat, where have you been? I have been online to search for the first cat who went to London to visit the Queen.”

Why? So that the new-gen cat can re-trace the steps of the first voyager in order to get an audience with the head of state. Why make the extra effort when it`s easier to follow in the footsteps of the pioneer, right?

Readers, please feel free to interject and send in your views on plagiarism.


Image by: Jonny Lindner from Pixabay