The Politics of Plagiarism

U.S. FlagOver the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to report on a series of plagiarism scandals. The first involved Obama, the second McCain and, finally a rehashing of the Biden Scandal from the eighties.

This election cycle has been an especially tough one for copyright issues and the word plagiarist has been used as an insult by both sides. This has put people who write about plagiarism, such as myself, in a no-win situation.

I tried, to the best of my abilities, to look objectively at the three scandals. I didn’t find that much of concern with either Obama or McCain though I did express greater concern over Biden’s history.

I have no political axe to grind and no real interest in mud slinging, but as some of the comments to the pieces, both on the site and in my inbox, have shown, others do.

However, I didn’t tackle the issue of plagiarism to become a political pundit. I took it on for my benefit as a writer, the benefit of other content creators and for the benefit of the public so often deprived of the truth.

But I’ve watched in horror as those issues have been pushed aside and the word “plagiarism” has become just another blade in a political knife fight.

Politically Motivated

My greatest problem with these attacks is that they are, generally, not motivated out of outrage at the offense or because anyone is genuinely upset at the infringement. Rather, they are motivated out of political means.

In my experience, how you feel about the Obama/McCain plagiarism cases says less about one’s views of plagiarism and more about one’s views on the politicians themselves. People that were outraged by Obama’s alleged plagiarism, generally, didn’t like him before the scandal. The same is true for McCain.

To me, the use of plagiarism accusations in these cases is just as worrisome as cases where organizations, including the Church of Scientology, use questionable copyright claims to silence critics. Both are examples of one side of a debate using plagiarism and copyright issues to address other grievances and hurt those that are against them. These situations hurt legitimate copyright holders, make it harder for legitimate claims to be heard and, in many cases, stifle free speech.

If there is a copyright infringement, it should be dealt with. Similarly, if there is a plagiarism from a politician and it appears to be wholly intentional, it should be looked at and discussed. However, the word “plagiarist” should only be thrown about with severe caution and only when the evidence wholly supports the accusation and the alleged copying goes beyond what is typically acceptable in the field.

These politically motivated attacks do nothing to help the cause of fighting plagiarism and, in truth, greatly hurt the efforts of legitimate artists to protect their works.

After all, no matter who wins, it is almost certain an accused plagiarist will be President after the election.

Reshaping the Debate

Even though my presence and this blog mean nothing in the larger political debate, I would like to ask both sides to please give the chant of “plagiarist” a rest. These political fights play a major role in shaping both America’s and the world’s opinions of terms and ideas. Throwing around insults so carelessly can have horrible unintended consequences.

For the sake of artists, musicians and writers who deal with plagiarists every day, I urge the pundits to be more careful with their words and their accusations.

Like most Americans, I would rather see this debate be about issues that are important, not largely unfounded accusations designed to slander one’s character.

As I’ve repeated many times, I have no political axe to grind here. I created this site for Webmasters to help them protect their content. I have helped all comers including sex bloggers, churches, gay and lesbian groups, right-wing blogs, left-wing blogs, mommy blogs, sports blogs, crochet sites and much more. I have extended my hand to all who have needed it, regardless of their politics, so long as their content was legal.

This site is not about a certain political or philosophical affiliation, but about protecting hard work. That is why I write this piece, to help the creative people I care about.

Conclusions

I realize that my post here will not stop the accusations of plagiarism or even put a dent in them. But if it helps one person think twice before speaking, then it will be worthwhile.

However, I know well how the rush of politics can make people forget what is important and how the words that they say can damage those that they claim to be trying to represent and help. I know how easy it is, when your heart is dedicated something, to fool your head into believing an idea the evidence does not wholly support.

This is not a debate that can be resolved with insults. It must be one about ideas and information. I hope that, maybe, some of that can be salvaged in this debate.

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