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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