A few months ago, I was waiting for my husband to finish up his class when I overheard one student lament to another that writing papers was so hard. Or maybe, “like so hard.” I can’t remember.
But I do remember the response. Her friend told her that it wasn’t hard at all. In fact, it wasn’t even that time-consuming: “Just Google a bunch of stuff, then change the words around.”
To be honest, my reaction was mixed. I was outraged, in that classic, “Kids today!” sort of a way that makes you feel really old. But I was also a little jealous. And upon deeper reflection, I had to climb off my high horse, remembering a time back in junior high when I “borrowed” generously from the “L” encyclopedia for a history paper on Abraham Lincoln.
I’m not even sure I bothered to “change the words around.” After all, the encyclopedia was from the 1950s. The paper came back with a “C-” and a note that read, “Watch the plagiarism.” From then on, I did. I had learned my lesson.
Which is why I find it so disturbing to now have to report to you, our faithful blog readers, that we have been victims of plagiarism by none other than The New York Times. I know, I can’t believe it either. And I wouldn’t if it weren’t for the indisputable facts …
Indisputable Fact #1: Mere days after we blogged about the new cult of mom bloggers, “This Conversation is Sponsored by Pampers,” this appeared: “Approval by a Blogger May Please Sponsor.” Now I don’t know Pradnya Josh, but she (he?) better watch out in dark alleys.
Indisputable Fact #2: I was willing to let Pradnya off the hook. Hey, we all get stumped for ideas every now and then. Until! Yesterday while enjoying the Sunday edition of the Times, I stumbled upon Noam Cohen’s article, “To Be ‘Verbed’ of Not ‘Verbed.‘” I’m sure you all remember that on Dec. 1, we wrote nearly the exact same article. What’s next, Noam, an exposé about Comfort Wipe?
Okay, I don’t really think the Times is stealing our ideas. And if they were, I’d be too flattered to press charges. Besides, it would be pretty hypocritical of us since we certainly borrow ideas all the time for our blog.
Are we really so different from Ms. “Term Papers are Easy”? Okay, hers was an egregious example of willful plagiarism. But what do we do with this cavernous gray area of “acceptable” versus “unacceptable” when it comes to other people’s creative or intellectual property?
And here’s a question for my fellow copywriters: Have you ever had the bizarre experience of realizing you are plagiarizing yourself? I have — and have had to go back and rewrite because, though they are my words, I don’t own them anymore. Strange days indeed.