Dear Plagiarist

Sue Lyon Jones, alias @esolcourses, who maintains a free website for learning English called ESOL Courses, Free Lessons Online,  put up the following status update on Facebook which touches upon this important subject. Read the update and Lindsay Clanfield’s (@lclanfield) story which follows.

Lindsay’s story is sweet vindication of what plagues our profession – a profession in which for many years it was very okay to use other peoples’ ideas and materials in your lessons wiithout proper attribution and not many people bothered about it. It must be said that in many cases, the teacher pretended this was their very own creation and would never confess to having copied it from some other teacher or from a book.

Thus, careers in materials design and coursebook writing were launched and developed.

The internet has changed all that!

Now it’s possible to google your content and find out who exactly is copying your work, your blog posts, your lessons, or your slides.

It’s no longer possible to hide or pretend you didn’t know about this because plagiarism is an issue taken up by many bloggers and articles writers.

Pre-internet times, it was possible for people to go unpunished and undiscovered for ever and a day.

Now, there are so many plagiarism sleuth tools freely available to anyone on the web, that it’s just mad to try!

Here is a very good example: http://www.dustball.com/cs/plagiarism.checker/. Just copy and paste this post into it and it will check the whole text for you.

N.B. At the time of writing this post, the search string ‘plagiarism checker’ yielded 1.800.000 results, the word ‘plagiarism’ on its own,  28.900.000.

But what constitutes plagiarism in different cultures and societies?

I think this really is a serious issue and perhaps worth considering attitudes of different societies and cultures towards plagiarism.

In the western – educated, I might add – world, plagiarism is the ultimate sin for anyone, let alone a scientist,  an academic or an educator, i.e., someone who is not considered only as a ‘transmitter’ of content or knowledge but someone who, explicitly or implicitly, transmits values. 

Hence, the creation of Creative Commons, an organisation created to explore and regulate how intellectual property can be legally and properly shared.

But the same is not true in all countries in the world; without wishing to name countries, there are cultures where proper attribution to the author or creator does not really mean very much. And when accused of plagiarism, as in the case of a specific teacher-blogger (who also features highly on onestop blogs…) when he was caught with content he had copied and pasted from e-how.com, he staunchly refused the accusation and kept pestering  me with private messages on Facebook for months to convince me that I was wrong and that, really, he was a very worthy individual and a blogger whose texts I ought to read in order to educate myself.

Of course, not all individuals in the so-called western world respect intellectual property either!

Some are extremely happy to pass others’ work as their own; in fact most cases of plagiarism, of academic essays you can buy by the yard in order to pass your courses, of fake degrees you can buy via email come from websites in the US, not some ‘third world’ country!

A personal example or three…

  1. My online PLN may be well aware of the number of articles culled from my school website have graced the pages of commercial sites without my knowledge or permission. One particular site had as many as four or five at one time, listed in their ELT articles sections. This is the group called Icon which owns and runs several ELT articles sites, such as http://www.totalesl.com/  and more.
  2.  Another site called ‘this cool school‘ had three of my blog posts in their entirety reposted without asking or getting my permission to do so.  And I am sure they have copied many of my copies articles and blog posts as well!
  3. One of my ex-trainees following a Cambridge/RSA Diploma for Overseas Teachers of English was caught plagiarizing a full section from an article in www.developingteachers.com.  Unluckily for her, one of the Joint Chief Assessors recognised this as he worked for that outfit! The candicate received a fail grade for her internal coursework and had to retake this examination. Sweet vindication you might say and it should have taught her a very good lesson. Of course, she never acknowledged the plagiarism and pretended it was an oversight etc when it was very clear that the original paragraph had words substituted so it would not look the same. But the lesson was not learnt, I’m afraid. She later went on to do a distance M.A. And passed. Am I wrong to believe the rumour  that her assignment work was paid for?  Perhaps, but after all, I am only human.
Such individuals are not rare amongst educators and, unfortunately, their lack of principles and general ruthlessness allows them to build careers and amass wealth, a shady story of shoddy morals.

What should educators do?

Plagiarism is just one of the expressions of a set of low moral standards, so it’s important not to let it go by without a murmur of protest. Giselle Santos, @feedtheteacher , below, puts this all in a nutshell – do read her comment which came as a response to the conversation started by Sue Lyon Jones above.

The wikipedia article on plagiarism outlines a variety of cases and sanctions, so I believe it is important that educators set an example by not practising it, not allowing it and by educating their learners through direct instruction and by example.

The importance of educators who are informed and properly attribute other people’s work by sourcing all materials has now been taken up by colleges, universities which include specific guidelines for their students.

Here is the link to a really nice and simple website with guidelines for students, interestingly titled “academic integrity” : http://tilt.library.skagit.edu/module4/academicintegrity2.htm

Plagiarism image from http://tilt.library.skagit.edu/module4/images/plagiarism.GIF

 

Cambridge ESOL has included proper attribution as a criterion in the assessment of teachers and when grading lessons and assignments, it is clearly stated that copyright should be listed when the material has not been created by the trainee/candidate on courses such as the CELTA and DELTA.

Dear Plagiarist,

Content is what we produce after hours of hard labour and our content is what drives visitors to our websites and what may potentially keeps our businesses open!

By taking my content, by copying and pasting it into your webpage, either openly or in ways that are not visible to the public, you are driving traffic away from my website to yours, so yes, you are stealing my traffic, which I have worked very hard to build!

By taking my content, you acknowledge that it was worth something which you are now monetizing , without my permission or consent!

By stealing my intellectual property, you are making money on my back, through the ads on your website. If my content creates traffic, that translates into clicks and each click is worth money. On free websited like Sue’s or Sean Banville’s, sites which are created with a lot of hard work and whose creators survive on the meager returns of google or other ads, yes, you are taking their livelihood away!

So, I don’t agree that we should keep an omertà about who these people are!

What can you do about this?

Despite the many plagiarism checker tools available, it is still quite difficult to trace all instances of plagiarism. For example, I often find trackbacks to specific posts from this blog or the #ELTchat blog but when I click on the pingback, it takes me to a page which does not include visible evidence of that post; yet the post and its content, rich in key words which drive traffic, have somehow been included on that page.

But if you do discover your work republished somewhere else, do not be afraid to write and do also write to the internet provider of the specific website owner. In both cases of the articles I mentioned above, my articles were removed but only after I informed the owners that I had contacted their ISP provider with an abuse report.

There are no more articles of mine on Icon or its subsidiary sites e.g. http://www.totalesl.com/  or on the cool school site.

But may be yours are!      xyz2

The removals were graceless and curt, as if it was my fault, but really I don’t care about the manners of these people. Crass and unethical, they are not expected to put up a show of giving way with good grace!

Is copying and pasting an entire text fair use?

Anyone who copies an entire article from blogs or websites and posts it on their website are paying lip service to the rules of fair use. If you see this, report it. Do not praise the guilty party but report them to the original author or website owner.

If you notice a link at the end of such a piece and it is a dead link, be suspicious. How many people will bother to visit the original website? None! The link is dead and it’s more work to find the original article. So the website owner loses revenue (if applicable) and the author does not know that his work was copied. Report this person to the author.

Does this matter to such individuals? No, it doesn’t.

But if you shower warm praise on how rich in links their site or Facebook page is (of course, all links leading back to their website) you are condoning unethical use of someone else’s intellectual property.

 

If you have any ideas about how to discover cases of plagiarism or any tools that you have found effective, I would appreciate it if you left them in a comment below this post.

Dear Plagiarist,

You are warned!

We are on to you!

 

 Related Blog Post

(in Greek but you can use the google translate widget)

Ιστολόγια & Λογοκλοπία – On Blogs & Plagiarism by Marisa Constantinides 

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19 Comments

  1. louisealix says:

    Brilliant post! Sorry to hear of your issues with plagiarism. On the up side – it is a form of flattery! I think it’s one of the big issues of the internet era and it’s becoming harder and harder to prove something has been “copy pasted” without reference. It has to be said, the odd very public case does help to curtail it somewhat: we just had a case over here in the Netherlands of a university professor caught fiddling with his data which means everyone knows it’s a hot topic and will no doubt be very ‘legit’ for the time being.

    • Louise,

      If we keep defining plagiarism as a form of flattery, we are empowering the plagiarist, a person who is unscrupulous, lazy and does not hesitate to copy for personal gain or for profit.

      The professor who fiddles with data is not a case of plagiarism; a different issue altogether, but the professor who asks their university students to collect data for an alleged assignment and then uses this data for a journal publication without proper attribution to those who actually collected it for them, seems more like a case in point and it is something which I know happens a lot, at least in my particular locale.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

      Marisa

      • Hi Louise,

        In some ways I agree with you that it can be hard to prove that something has been “copy pasted” without reference in some contexts, though I’m not sure it holds true for the English language teaching community.

        The ELT blogoshpere is pretty tight knit and many of us have come to know each other very well, both online and face to face. We read each other’s blog posts, comment on them, and discuss them on social media sites; in other words, there are plenty of witnesses to be had if the need to establish who originally wrote something ever arises. Many ELT bloggers have a distinctive voice that you can spot a mile off, and when people lift their work it is unlikely to pass without notice. Word will eventually get back to them, sooner or later.

        Although I appreciate the good intentions behind suggesting people should be flattered when others steal their content, unfortunately sentiments like this don’t tend to hit the spot, and I agree with Marisa that we shouldn’t be making excuses for people who engage in dishonesty.

        Let’s face it; you would never hear somebody say to a friend who had just had their car stolen “you should be flattered – they took it because they admired your good taste in cars!”, would you? ;-)

        Think about it… :-)

        Sue

  2. Great post, Marisa, and topical. a sign of the times I fear. I remember having more than one conversations with teachers about copyright at workshops that I have done in Spain. Typical reactions range from those people who think it’s fine to post copyright images from the Internet on their blogs and encourage their students to do this, but then complain about students plagiarising.

    I have to say that I’m almost embarrassed at the number of times I’ve sat through conference presentations by often well-known speakers (and sometimes representing publishers!) where it’s obvious that they have done the same thing. You can argue it’s different from the kind of plagiarism that you mention here, but the boundaries blur and this leads to people thinking it’s OK to do what they want with other people’s content.

    This subject came up in Jamie Keddie’s talk at IATEFL and became quite a lively discussion, with Gary Motteram. I suggested to Jamie we have a webinar discussion panel sometime on the subject as I think copyright and what people should and shouldn’t do is a necessary topic that needs to be talked about more.

    • Graham,

      I like the idea of workshops with teachers – the more we do to raise awareness, the better. I know what you mean by ‘embarrassed’ – even our well-known speakers and bloggers do this all the time. As a new blogger, I was probably guilty of some trespasses myself but have been trying to rectify and use royalty free pictures or #eltpics, a great resource of free images,

      An online panel discussion would be really good and should hopefully raise even more awareness, as the Learning Technologies SIG does influence many teachers around the world.

      Thank you for your comment.

      • Hi Marisa and Graham,

        I agree with you both that there is a need to raise awareness among teachers generally, and I think an online panel discussion is an excellent idea, Graham! In fact, I think as a topic, there may even be enough scope to merit a symposium at an offline conference… food for thought to digest later, maybe? :-)

        I’m sure many of us have been guilty of transgressions at some stage early on in our career, when we didn’t know any better and we just copied what more experienced teachers around us did. I think you raise a very good point Graham about how it can blur boundaries when educators use content created by others in a way that would result in a good telling off at minimum and possibly even a fail grade if a learner acted in the same way.

        As I’ve said elsewhere, I have a lot of sympathy for teachers who don’t realise that they are doing anything wrong when they infringe copyright or casually plagiarise work that others have produced. It’s an important aspect of digital literacy that really ought be addressed in initial teacher training but often isn’t, sadly. Although most of us have little (if any) say in which the way that new teachers entering the profession are taught, on a personal level we can help raise the bar in a more general way however, by sharing knowledge, modelling good practice, and being transparent about content that we use that others have had a hand in creating.

  3. Jess says:

    One of the teachers at my school had her entire sebatical website copied and pasted by a teacher. It clearly stated the CC. She found it because the person asked to join her wiki. My friend was upset but still was concerned about contacting her. If it was me I’d have been on the phone to her principal. Glad your issue was sorted.

  4. John says:

    Plagiarism is everywhere, at every level. There are businesses whose sole purpose is to create content for applicants to Harvard business school, and other top schools. The organization creates the content and sells it to the applicant. Simple. I know a person who runs such an outfit. It is her bread-and-butter. I cannot believe these schools are ignorant of this. They probably just gave up on policing it.

    • John,

      I regularly review and comment on assignments submitted by my CELTA and DELTA trainees, and it is very difficult to know if an assignment was or was not written by the candidate themselves – especially if they have been ‘buying’ assignments from the beginning. If they do it in a later assignment and you notice the discrepancy, then, you do stand a chance of spotting this as a tutor.

      Thanks for your stopping by and contributing to this discussion

      Marisa

  5. Jenny Ankenbauer says:

    This conversation taps into two different problems I believe. One is a discussion on intellectual property and author rights, the other is ill informed writers posting to the web.

    Therefore I think part of the problem is simply that often a writer does not know how to cite resources correctly, and rather than posting a reference incorrectly they simply choose not to include it at all. Yes, a poor decision but very possibly explains what happens.

    Preventing plagiarism by making it as easy as possible to cite your work correctly is a good first step.

    Why not add the following to your page or post? “To cite this (article, blog, picture) use the following citation” Then format the citation in APA, MLA or Chicago style?

    For example,to cite my reply use:

    jankenb2 [Jenny Ankenbauer]. “Re: Dear Plagarist” Marisa Constantinides – TEFL Matters. Marisa Constantinides – TEFL Matters, 8 Apr. 2012. Web. 9 Apr. 2012.

    ““““““““““““““““““`

    Source: “MLA Works Cited: Electronic Sources (Web Publications)” The Writing Lab and OWL at Purdue and Purdue U. Web. 9 Apr. 2012.

    • Good idea, Jenny, and one I might start adding to my blog posts.

      For starters, it would be a nice idea to add your suggestion to the body of the blod post as an addendum with ideas contributed by the commenters – please let me know it this is all right.

      Thanks for this contribution

      Marisa

  6. Hi Marisa

    Thanks for this post, and for sharing the poetic justice story I told Sue on facebook. The funny thing about plagiarism of the ELT blogosphere is that, if the offenders bothered to ask the original blogger permission to repost the blogpost on their site, the original blogger would probably be all too happy to do so! I’ve allowed people to repost bits of Six Things in other places (as long as it’s not direct advertising) and would probably say yes to most things if asked and I held the permission.

    When I blogged at Six Things, I used photos from morguefile (free of copyright) almost always. I sometimes emailed the photographer to check and always got a positive answer.

    Thanks too for pointing out some of the guilty culprits and how to research this. Am off to scour the web for more right now.

    • Lindsay,

      You’ve made such a good point! You are absolutely right in that if we are properly asked, we generally don’t say no. I know I don’t.

      But in the spirit of freely sharing resources and information, a lot of people take advantage of the ease of copying and pasting our work and this is really not on!

      Happy hunting! You’ve posted such good stuff, I wouldn’t be surprised if you found it sprawled all over the world wide web.

      Thank you for continuing this coversation, Lindsay!

      Marisa

    • I second your thanks for posting this Lindsay, as I feel that it’s an important issue which deserves to be thrashed out and I’m really glad that Marisa decided to tackle it.

      I’m really glad too that you’ve mentioned Morguefile, as it’s one of my favourite sites and I first learnt about it via your ‘Six Things’ blog – which goes to show I think how being transparent about sources and sharing them with other people can help promote and encourage responsible use of other people’s content.

      best wishes,

      Sue

  7. Hi Marisa,
    To my mind, plagiarism is, indeed, a forever debatable issue.
    Very well expressed by Jenny Ankenbauer above, “This conversation taps into two different problems I believe. One is a discussion on intellectual property and author rights, the other is ill informed writers posting to the web.”
    Needless to say, technology has provided us with, re-edit-it-your-way-now tools to pass on information to others. This faster flow of information, which ‘we’ as educators have the duty to disseminate mainly takes place online and unfortunately plagiarism today is much easier to be done (or have it done) than 40 years ago, for example.
    I couldn’t agree more with Jenny again, when she says that “Preventing plagiarism by making it as easy as possible to cite your work correctly is a good first step.”
    I won’t base my comment on the grounds of originality here. However, a quick glace on cuts such a forever debatable issue too short, if not to say vague.
    “An original idea is one not thought up by another person beforehand. Sometimes two or more people can come up with the same idea independently.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Originality
    However, Wikipedia was able to give me a better understanding on my questionings at another page
    Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but I guess we might be overgeneralizing plagiarism here, or underestimating Academic Authorship.
    “Guidelines for assigning authorship vary between institutions and disciplines. They may be formally defined or simply cultural custom. Incorrect application of authorship rules occasionally leads to charges of academic misconduct and sanctions for the violator. A 2002 survey of a large sample of researchers who had received funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health revealed that 10% of respondents claimed to have inappropriately assigned authorship credit within the last three years. This was the first large scale survey concerning such issues. In other fields only limited or no empirical data is available.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_authorship
    In my opinion, I also find to be worth pointing another 7 different forms of Academic dishonesty which we should be all aware of their characteristics http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_dishonesty
    Thanks for opening this place to discuss this issue.

    • Leonardo,

      I liked the link to the 7 forms of academic dishonesty you shared here.

      I think you are right that different cultures and institutions may vary in the way they view this issue but clear author guidelines are much needed – we of the blogosphere have not yet perhaps cottoned on to this in the same way academic journals do.

      This is also particularly important to people following graduate or post-graduate work where it is often quite difficult to decide how much citation makes an assignment a valid one which does not plagiarise the work of other creators.

      The guidelines are often vague on this particular issue, I’m afraid, in some cases.

      I think we may need to change our attitude (or lack of attitude in some cases) and take on a proactive stance.

      Perhaps we should create the 7 different forms of academic integrity and actively introduce our students and trainees to them so that they can be aware and not break the rules either knowingly or unknowingly.

      Thank you for continuing the conversation

      Marisa

  8. *which we should be aware of all their characteristics.

    Sorry, really didn’t proofread it.

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