Saturday, 1 September 2012

Plagiarism Rules the Roost!

A few weeks ago, there was a lot of brouhaha about a journalist in America who had been ticked off for plagiarism, although now he is back with his organisation! Just today, when I thought that we had left behind plagiarism for some other juicy titbit of scandal, plagiarism returned with a bang and A Hindustan Times Newspaper Headline today read, “ Harvard rocked by mass copying scam”! Now, I often wonder why we call collaborative work plagiarism, especially when Internet makes it possible to share information like never before! If information is in the public domain, then why do we crib about intellectual rights?
What happened in Harvard was however something different! If students copy material and information (being too lazy to put in more efforts in using their own brains) for a thesis or an exam meant to examine them and qualify them, then this is plain cheating! It is plain stupidity and sheer laziness on the part of students to resort to mass copying or cheating to pass an exam. I wonder, if the growing liberalisation in the system of education in India today will not encourage plagiarism? Take for example the numerous projects given to students studying various subjects including Social Sciences. What most students do is to copy-paste relevant matter from the net and then get it printed to be submitted as a complete project for the Formative Assessment! Who wants to go to libraries these days to consult books when you get everything from the net? Are we not to blame for encouraging students to copy-paste entire passages from the net turning a blind eye to the plagiarised work when they are submitted for assessment?
Education, however is not the only area where plagiarism reigns the roost, the entertainment industry too is one of its victims! Very often newspapers carry stories about actors, directors, and script writers accusing each other of plagiarism. Very often we hear Tollywood accusing bollywood of being copy-cats, while Mollywood accuses Jollywood of being copy-cats! I have watched movies which have been complete copies of English movies, and songs which have the same tunes as the English hits! This happens when people want to cash on to the success of another film by doing it in a local language film, without putting in much effort!
So then, what do we do to prevent plagiarism? Well I guess we could start with patenting thoughts and ideas, and if anyone wants to borrow  ideas, then they should pay a royalty! Those who steal  ideas can then be prosecuted under the Copyright law and made to serve term in jail! No, I guess that would be too harsh and it would stifle educational research and the spirit of enquiry! So, then what about education till class ten? I guess we should put in guidelines and  checks to ensure that students do not submit copy-pasted projects to their teachers as one of the tools for their Formative Assessments!
Plagiarism, we can be sure is another form of cheating and the perpetrator should be given a rap on the knuckles! When the alert teacher notices that the scripts being marked by him, or the project files being marked by him bear the same sources and the same ideas, then he can be sure that it has been a “collaborative work” and marks should be given not for content, relevance, or presentation, rather marks should be given for Co-operation, sharing among peer groups, collaboration, and generosity among students for sharing their sources and their work with each other! Think of the whole thing as one of the goals and aims of teaching Life Skills to students!  The open-book system of examination will open more and more avenues for Plagiarism and so called collaborative/group work, so we should have the open book system of examination only for subjects which don’t count!
I often wonder why, in an age of growing liberalisation in Education and the Entertainment Industry we are talking about Plagiarism! If we can have open book exams, and are allowed to copy material from the internet, and are not compelled to submitted handwritten projects then why blame the copy-cats? If somebody doesn’t understand English, then obviously it makes sense for script-writers to re-do the whole English film with the home-grown actors so that the audience can identify itself with its favourite heroes and heroines, and moreover, dubbing is not always perfect, is it?
Well I guess, the world will go on and little will change! The lazy ones will continue to steal ideas and thoughts while the fastidious and the great thinkers will go on churning great ideas and thoughts. There will be cases of infringements of intellectual property, there will be cases of copying and cheating, but then I guess it is very difficult to patent thoughts and ideas! Today we are living in the Information Technology Age where there is a dissemination of vast amounts of Information, and this information can be freely accessed without any inconvenience from the comfort of you home! Why then crib about something that you have encouraged yourself by making all this information freely available? Being generous and large hearted, I welcome my readers to copy from this article as much as they want, and enrich the experience of collaborative work!
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