In university, I was an English and international relations double-major plagued by extreme fear of plagiarism. The "P" word, instructors warned us, encompasses the deliberate or accidental use of another author's ideas and/or words without giving due credit. Committing "P" would lead to automatic expulsion. "P" prompted me to be extra careful when I researched my term papers. In fact, I have a plagiarism-proof research method which I'll share with university students in the Comments section if they care to know. (Note: It involves a lot of note-taking and the utmost meticulousness--definitely not for procrastinators.)
It's ironic and disheartening now that I find myself in the real world, not the ivory tower of academia, and I discover that plagiarism is either unaccounted for or rewarded rather than punished. I mean, sure, on a benign level, I plagiarize where possible at my job as a technical writer and am rewarded for it. New content costs the company a pretty penny to translate, so if technical writers can reuse sentences and paragraphs that have already been translated, they're encouraged to. But what about more insidious forms of plagiarism?
This is what happened to bring up such negativity: I'm disappointed and upset that my words and ideas have been echoed in another blogger's post without due credit. About a month ago, I was reading a blog I follow regularly and discovered a sentence that sounded all too familiar because I'd written something similar almost a month before this blogger published their post. The wording and ideas conveyed in the sentence were uncanny when I compared it to what I'd written. Yesterday, I revisited the post and, looking for a third opinion, sent the links to that blogger's post and my post to a guy friend.
His succinct response: "Holy crap." He was stunned at the similarities.
I've been harbouring negativity for a while because of this incident. I won't name names, partly because it's not my style, partly because I believe this person is ultimately a good person who just made a bad mistake unintentionally. Besides, the blogger had rearranged the words just enough so that it's vaguely passable as their own original thought. I can just imagine the reaction I'd get if I were to actually confront this person: "You're being way too sensitive. Besides, we have similar tastes. I can't remember who came up with this first."
Again, I'm sure it was unintentional. The blogger's post was written in a rush under great stress, and in the eleventh hour, the brain tends to grasp at ideas in vain, hoping that these ideas will turn into something. However, in their rush to come up with something, anything, they lifted my words and ideas, words and ideas I'd spent a long time perfecting because the post was short and I wanted to capture just the right tone.
This does make me rethink being too close to this blogger and talking too much about fashion and blogging with them. I'm reluctant to discuss things as candidly as I did with this person in the past because I don't want this to happen again. If this person has figured out I'm referring to them, look long and hard at what each of us has written, and see if you can spot what made my guy friend say "Holy crap."
I haven't been in the blogging world long enough, nor has my blog ever been big enough, to know whether this sort of thing happens to bloggers a lot. Has something like this ever happened to you? How would you handle it if it did?
Update: So, the day I complain about how people who plagiarize never get caught in the real world, I read an article in The Globe and Mail about Stephen Harper's speech writer resigning from the Tories campaign after admitting he plagiarized large portions of Stevie's speech from the Australian PM. You can read about it here. Oh, the irony! At least it's nice to know there is such a thing as karma.
Another update: After I published this post, I was contacted by the blogger in question and a lengthy discussion ensued. The blogger conceded that there were striking, albeit unintentional, similarities between the pieces. We've chalked it up to a bad coincidence and left it at that, and I appreciate this blogger taking the initiative to contact me. I didn't intend to humiliate anyone, which is why no names were mentioned, links provided, or specific details recorded. I'm glad we settled our differences.