5 lessons to learn from plagiarism at the Senate
At the height of the plagiarism uproar at the Philippine Senate, the issue of intellectual property rights has once again come to the fore. As an educator, here are some lessons I’ve learned and taught to avoid plagiarism.
Lesson 1: Cite your source.
The most fundamental rule when using someone else's ideas in your own paper or speech – whether through a direct quote, a paraphrase or a summary – is to always cite the source. This includes not only academic research, but also both old and recent readings, which have eventually become part of your stock knowledge. At the end of the day, every writer should realize that she or he still owes these ideas to the source.
Applying this rule would have prevented the lifting of excerpts from the blog of Sarah Pope who said, "I don't like the fact that my blog was used without my permission against the education of the women of the Philippines and their reproductive rights. That is the issue and it was indeed plagiarism"
Lesson 2: There is such a thing as a "source in another source."
Sotto's use of Sarah Pope's blog entry would have been all right had he and his staff understood what is known in academic circles as citing a "source in another source." Sotto or his aides should have said something like, “According to Natasha Campbell-McBride who is quoted in Ms. Pope’s blog…” Pope has good reason to claim that the Senator and his staff used her paraphrase of Campbell-McBride’s ideas without acknowledging Pope’s authorship.
Pope said: "If his staff did it, he (Sotto) condoned it. He is responsible for your actions. My blog was quoted, not Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. I put her work in my own words and you copied my words."
Lesson 3: Acknowledging a source belatedly does not correct the error.
Recognizing the source belatedly has no place once plagiarism has been committed. An attribution to the source, which is a plain after-thought, as what happened, becomes moot and academic. This is what Sotto's chief of staff Atty. Hector Villacorta tried to do when he wrote on the comments section of Pope’s blog after the plagiarism was exposed: “If you wish that you also be credited with the contents of this book, let this be your affirmation. I can do it and by this message, I am doing it. Hope this satisfies you.”
But recognizing the author in a discourse different from the form where plagiarism was committed just does not rectify the error. It only shows deeper ignorance of the accepted practice. It can, in fact, be punishable by law.
As discussed in Plagiarism and the Law, “Plagiarism covers a spectrum from word for word textual copying, through changing some words but retaining the basic structure, through to copying ideas and arguments. The common thread is that the copying is dishonest because it is unacknowledged.”
In discussing the right of attribution, Ronald Standler cited Article 6 of the Berne Convention saying, “the true author has the right to have his/her name on the work.” This principle is also shared by the UK Intellectual Property (IP) rights government body which says that respect for copyright “…also gives moral rights [for the true author] to be identified as the creator of certain kinds of material, and to object to distortion or mutilation of it.”
New Directions in Copyright Law emphasizes that “Plagiarism and copyright are different aspects of the same core issue: respecting and appropriately acknowledging the intellectual property of an individual or group of individuals responsible for the creation of original work.” Hence, seen from any of the two perspectives, copyright- or plagiarism-wise, something was not done right.
Lesson 4: Plagiarism is fraudulent.
There is no such a thing as unintentional plagiarism or "oversight" as claimed by Villacorta. While some sources claim that plagiarism on its own may not be considered illegal, it can be considered one if "…it offends against the law of misrepresentation,” as argued in New Directions in Copyright Law.
Apart from issues concerning intellectual property rights, Dr Eleanour Snow of the University of South Florida said the plagiarist can be committing “fraudulence [that] is closely related to forgery and piracy – practices generally in violation of copyright laws.”
Earlier, Villacorta owned up to the "oversight" and said Sotto was not involved in plagiarizing Pope’s work.
Lesson 5: A plagiarist has little reason to complain.
A plagiarist has no right to state a grievance because "...it is unwise for a plagiarist to complain about how he/she was treated," according to Checkforplagiarism.net, one of the leading online management tools used by universities to detect and avoid plagiarism.
It was odd for Villacorta to request Pope to "take their side in the discussions on the RH bill and not 'deflect the debate toward this issue of plagiarism. It is so out of sync in this great debate.'"
What can be learned from Sotto's situation is that legislators (and their staff) – who regularly research vast amounts of information, and whose products, namely, legislative bills, have far-reaching consequences on citizens – must strictly observe rules on intellectual property rights.
A 2011 Bagong Bayani awardee and a 2010 SEAMEO-Australia Press Award finalist, Analiza Perez-Amurao teaches at Mahidol University International College, a leading state university in Thailand. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Multicultural Studies. Ideas expressed in this article, however, are entirely hers. To follow her work, visit www.analizaperez-amurao.com. Follow her tweets, too, at @analiza_amurao.