By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
Few people sue the journalist who’s caught copying another person’s work. His news organization deals with the offender.
That’s true here and elsewhere. Writers whose articles are pilfered don’t go to court. But they complain.
Victims of plagiarism can scream their heads off. And these days when it’s so easy to spread a message on internet (in one’s blog, tweet, or Facebook account), the outcry may come minutes after discovery.
More of shaming the violator than going after his shirt in court. Only private companies whose business is hurt by an infringement litigate over stolen prose or ideas. Armed with copyright, they seek redress where it counts.
No more quiet exits
Less messy with journalists. I knew of two local writers who, years ago, voluntarily quit the paper when confronted about their copying. The true authors complained but it wasn’t publicized.
Quiet exits though may not be available anymore, especially if the offenders are famous.
Prominent names like Jayson Blair or Maureen Dowd of “New York Times” or Stephen Glass of “New Republic” stand out. Dowd was sanctioned for word-for-word plagiarism; the others, for inaccuracies, distortions, and fakery: different sins in journalism but just as scandalous.
And it’s not journalists who’re being exposed lately for plagiarism: one businessman, one jurist, two senators, and, in the US, the vice president no less.
It’s the word-for-word copying that’s easy to detect and raises the more vigorous complaint because it shows a lot of gall from the offender.
That’s what Sens. Tito Sotto and Pia Cayetano got.
Have journalists become more savvy than non-media people in stealing other people’s ideas?
Journalists might have become more wary of the consequences of committing their profession’s cardinal sin. As to senators, justices, and CEOs, maybe because they don’t think plagiarism is thievery.
But what do editors consider as plagiarism that deserves sacking of the offender?
Primarily, what’s offensive is a journalist’s use of another person’s work and the claim that it is his. The proprietary act is what makes the offense gross. The journalist may use a colleague’s idea or words but he must attribute it to the owner or, failing that, shouldn’t present it as his.
Paraphrased copying or the use of another creator’s thoughts is at times overlooked, if couched in different language, except when it becomes blatant and habitual. As in other crimes, the serial offender gets more attention.
Sanctions when caught
Journalists who plagiarize usually resign when caught although other media outlets, clueless about the cause of their leaving, may take them in.
But what of non-media writers who plagiarize?
The businessman offered to quit the school board he heads; the move to impeach the SC justice was stalled; the senators said that only the Senate can question them for anything they said there.
To justify Sotto’s alleged plagiarism, his staff also raised the defense that there’s no law protecting bloggers’ work.
In contrast, journalists cannot validly offer the same defenses. When you copy other people’s work, it’s plagiarism, you’re fired, end of discussion.
Senators apparently don’t agree. They don’t even dismiss the ghostwriter as it amounts to admitting that what came from their mouth during debate wasn’t theirs. And if they don’t resign when charged with corruption, why should they quit over stealing other persons’ text and ideas?
Senators–and judges and CEOs—need to be convinced that it’s wrong to appropriate for themselves intellectual creation of others and make the world believe it is theirs.
The yardstick used for journalists cannot be different from the measure for academicians, justices, legislators, or business leaders.