It’s a great question, that, like so many things, deserves a good answer and acknowledgement that the answer will be complicated. We too often treat plagiarism like many labels, red neck, communist, democrat, republican – black or white, right or wrong. Gray areas complicate teaching, doesn’t it. But life happens in gray areas as do the ways that we use information.
A cluster of media organizations (see right) are organizing the National Summit on Plagiarism and Fabrication, which will begin April 5. The participants, invited by the American Copy Editors Society, will be conducting research aimed at producing a practical set of recommendations for combating and dealing with plagiarism and fabrication. Their conclusions will be presented at the ACES conference in St. Louis that begins on April 4.
It is hard to predict what will come out of the summit, but the conversations have already begun, much of it aimed at bringing some sanity to how we treat the practice. Roy Peter Clark tried to describe the difference between plagiarism and carelessness in a Poynter blog post,
A classic case of overcharging occurred in 2007 when journalism teachers at the University of Missouri condemned a colleague of plagiarism after he used quotes from a student newspaper in an opinion piece without attribution. I argued then that while the practice may have been sloppy, to call it plagiarism was like “shooting a fly with a bazooka.”
Clark goes on to suggest four books on the subject: