Check out this article: Plagiarism Prize. The article summarises a Northern China writers’ association award for the best plagiarism of the year. Of course, it’s an ironic award, but it once again highlights the rampant problem of plagiarism in the world today. A good (and funny) article to stimulate class discussions.
A week ago, Saturday Night Live, a comedy sketch show that’s aired for forty years, was accused of plagiarizing one of the week’s sketches. The admittedly hilarious skit depicted a team asked to draw Muhammad during a kind of Pictionary contest. It was very popular and elicited a lot of laughs. However, within two days of the show’s airing, news outlets were crying plagiarism–in fact, that’s the second time this year SNL has seemingly committed plagiarism.
Here is the SNL skit:
Interestingly, a Canadian comedy show, 22 Minutes, aired a similar sketch this past January. The sketch has been available on Youtube since January 15, 2015. Here’s the video:
Looks pretty similar right?
This past week, I showed both videos to my students asking them why it appears SNL plagiarized. After doing so, I gave them this CNN article (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/14/opinions/obeidallah-snl-not-plagiarized/) which argues that SNL did not intentionally plagiarize. Instead, the writer argues, it’s just coincidental. I asked my students to argue against the article. They were easily able to destroy the writer’s arguments citing his ridiculous naivety.
I agreed. Try it out on your students.
In the end, I see the article as assuming that no one will plagiarize because no one wants to get caught, therefore, it has to be a simple error or mere coincidence. The writer fails to recognize, even though he does point out that it exists, the super-competitive environment an SNL writer inhabits. This alone creates the temptation to cheat. That temptation sometimes outweighs the fear of getting caught. It’s the same thing for students. It’s not just bad students who plagiarize, good ones do too. When the desire to succeed at all costs outweighs the fear of getting in trouble for cheating, THEY CHEAT. It’s our job to create a learning environment that does not push success at all costs and utilizes originality and creativity as requirements to complete assessments. The students picked up on this. It’s a pity that CNN is so naive to think that good, talented writers are above the temptation to cheat.
“Mrs. Simpson, don’t you worry. I watched Matlock in a bar last night. The sound wasn’t on, but I think I got the gist of it. ” –Lionel Hutz
There have been a lot of high profile plagiarism issues recently. These cases can be used as tools to highlight the consequences of plagiarism for students. For example, Senator John Walsh suffered public shame and had his master’s degree revoked when it was discovered that he had plagiarized his thesis (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/11/us/politics/plagiarism-costs-degree-for-senator-john-walsh.html?_r=0). Recently, potential presidential candidate Ben Carson came under fire for plagiarism in a recent book of his (http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/08/politics/carson-plagiarism-charges/). Ben Carson’s scandal along with past plagiarism scandals by Joe Biden and Rand Paul promise to bring the issue of plagiarism into the spotlight during the upcoming presidential races.
Unfortunately, other cases of plagiarism are rampant. The actor Shia LaBeouf has had a long history of passing off other ideas as his own (http://time.com/6094/shia-labeouf-plagiarism-scandal/) and Vladimir Putin is apparently as good at plagiarism as he is at warmongering (http://www.rferl.org/content/article/1067113.html). Other famous people who plagiarized include activist Jane Goodall, Roots author Alex Haley, and many more (http://www.politico.com/gallery/2014/07/10-high-profile-plagiarism-cases/001951-027782.html). Sharing with your students these cases and the embarrassment committing plagiarism brought them can help students begin to realize the seriousness of plagiarism.
*Lionel Hutz picture and quote from http://consequenceofsound.net/