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On Plagiarism, Tangentially (One Blogger’s Dilemma) January 30, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Academically Speaking, Books, Ramblings.

.While browsing at a nearby Barnes & Noble, I came across a copy of Richard Posner’s The Little Book of Plagiarism on one of the featured shelves of short books near the checkout counter.

Naturally, the title caught my attention. I began to wonder whether it was going to be a tongue-in-cheek compedium of shamelessly plagiarized passages to drive home the broader point about intellectual honesty. After browsing the book, I learned that it wasn’t; rather, it was more akin to a philosophical treatise on the subject by one of America’s more established legal scholars, occasioned by the recent publicized controversy of such practices in the chick lit genre. Overall, the book reminded me of Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit; yet unlike that one, this book didn’t nearly have enough novelty value to merit adding to my shelf. Thus I decided to come back another time just to browse it at my convenience.

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I take a very hard line about plagiarism. If memory serves, in the two years I spent teaching at the University of Asia and the Pacific I caught upwards of twenty cases of plagiarism among my students. Within an academic environment, plagiarism strikes me as a cop-out for laziness rooted in poor values, undoubtedly performed with malice. It doesn’t take that much effort to cite a source, and plagiarism belies an intention to deceive, where “submission for submission’s sake” or “the need to make the grade” become more important than the learning that underlie such requirements. This is the same point I would try to get across to my students: Have some self-respect. Take pride in your work. And exert the effort to give credit where credit is due.

Which brings me back to the book. Seeing it brought to mind a dilemma I’ve experienced now that I’ve begun blogging that doesn’t have anything to do with what I write. No, I have too much pride to out-and-out cut and paste off someone else’s work; instead, my dilemma has to do with the images that I employ to make my blog a bit more interesting.

Within the blogosphere, I’ve noticed that people generally take liberties “borrowing” images from websites for posting on their blogs, albeit observing the norm that one shouldn’t “piggyback” on another site’s bandwidth by simply linking to an existing image. For the most part I’ve observed these unwritten rules, and by and large most of the images I’ve put up on my blog are stock photos of items I write reviews about. I would like to think that what I do is no worse than what most maven bloggers do on their sites, and certainly nowhere near as egregious as some self-styled journalists-cum-bloggers with an axe to grind. But I’ve become increasingly uneasy about this, more so now that I’ve seen how consistently at least one former colleague gives props to the photos he uses on his blog. Shouldn’t my sentiments about plagiarism and intellectual honesty extend to the images that find their way onto my blog? Am I not obliged to walk my talk?

I think the answer has to be in the affirmative, even if this makes me borderline obsessive. Thus let me issue a blanket mea culpa for the images of the past, and promise to be more steadfast in giving credit to the images I will use in the future, either contextually or by adding descriptive tags to them that can be viewed upon mouse-over (which, pathetic as it sounds, I have only just learned to do). Don’t get me wrong: I will think no less of bloggers and blogs that churn out original posts and make use of images across the web as is common practice. Ultimately, a blog is a blog is a blog, and the internet is much more interesting this way. I do hope, however, that people start thinking more of me and mine.



1. John-D Borra - February 1, 2007

Actually, I never looked at it that way. It’s just the way that I was “raised”, metaphorically speaking: I never really considered my blog any different from anything written that I’ve produced. I don’t think I did it consciously, and I think it’s more a function of my slow learning curve when it comes to blogging, but thanks for the compliment. 🙂

2. Brian L. Belen - February 1, 2007

Thou art welcome.

For me, the problem was more of: “if it’s a stock photo that everyone can find anywhere anyway, does it still need to be referenced?” Plus, since I make a conscious effort not to “burn” anyone or anything (hence “private thoughts for public consumption”) and often try to get reader(s) to check these stuff out, I assume (rightly or wrongly) that it’s welcome publicity.

And yeah, like I said, a blog is a blog is a blog.

But I am still in awe at your uncompromising consistency!

3. sandrar - September 10, 2009

Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

Brian L. Belen - September 11, 2009


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