Lisa Maruca Department of Interdisciplinary Studies Wayne State University Detroit, mi 48202 The Plagiarism Panic: Digital Policing in the New Intellectual Property Regime Presented at the ahrb copyright Research Network



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II. Plagiarism and Copyright
The relationship between plagiarism adjudication and copyright protection is one of those areas that seems so obvious that it has become virtually invisible. Many schools have “intellectual property” or “plagiarism and copyright” sites, which explain both terms—but completely separately, usually to warn against both cheating and the downloading of music using university equipment. There is a boundary maintained between the two to illustrate the fundamental difference: one obviously a legal issue, one in the sometimes more nebulous realm of ethical behavior. Bill Marsh, summarizing an online discussion of this issue, refers to “the sometimes sticky relationship between two worlds often problematically opposed -- one legal/corporate and the other educational/academic.” Yet he relates the common sense view when he reports that, “While the two worlds might occasionally meet in battles waged over copyrights, most participants . . . agreed that copyright violations and plagiarism, though sometimes related, are quite different beasts, as evidenced by the fact that, if nothing else, behaviors normally regarded with disdain in the academic world are treated less seriously in the business world.”16

Despite such claims of the divergence of the “beasts,” however, I would assert that there is a deep connection between both the two seemingly distinct environments and the two ways of managing information circulation within them. As one university policy site which does address them together puts it, “Plagiarism and copyright are different aspects of the same core issue: respecting and appropriately acknowledging the intellectual property of an individual or group of individuals responsible for the creation of original work.”17 Though this sort of acknowledgement is rare, I believe the boundary between the two realms is quite permeable, with the values and language arising in one realm supporting the policing of the other. Indeed, my own research into historical Lexis/Nexis data shows that within the last decade the frequency of major print media references to “plagiarism” spiked (after a one-year lag) in tandem with references to the Napster controversy; before “Napster” was part of our everyday lexicon, the term’s usage coincided with that of “copyright law” (see Appendix). This is perhaps not surprising: new digital technologies are perceived as both allowing for increased plagiarism and promoting an environment in which copyrights are violated, creating a culture in which information is thought to need increased and extended protection. What is surprising is that this common framework is not more frequently examined, beyond often superficial references to the “Napsterization of knowledge,” the belief that young people’s attitudes towards information have been fundamentally structured by their exposure to file-sharing and other Web forms of copying.18 Little has been noted, however, about how concerns about this attitude have also molded our information environment. Ignoring this connection, I believe, and allowing this cultural work to continue without comment has specific consequences. As I will show in my final section, the increased vigilance over source use that results because of and as part of the plagiarism panic may be actually increasing the domain of copyright, extending its reach by working to limit fair use and to commercialize texts not usually considered part of the market economy.

The relationship between the two sorts of intellectual property concerns has been addressed in the work of a few composition scholars. They discuss the ways in which the work of writing within the academy is not as “pure” –or outside the taint of the market—as many would like to believe. Lunsford, Rickly, Salvo, and West, for example, have commented that “Our nearly compulsive scholarly and teacherly attention to . . . hypercitation and to endless listing of sources, in fact, are manifestations of the need to own intellectual property or knowledge that can be commodified, traded, and so on.” They claim that this model structures student writing as well, as students

are led to realize their own subjectivity by establishing their rights to ownership in the form of property that is commodified into grades and performance on tests, or even into other measures such as portfolios, measures that still depend for their efficacy on the traditional "author" construct and on the notion of knowledge as a product that can be bartered and traded.

They continue by outlining the system as a whole:

The business of education, from this viewpoint, can be seen as accessing and trading knowledge packages--accumulating them and then using them for advancement--toward grades, toward graduation, toward admission to graduate school, law school, medical school, business school, toward jobs, toward promotion and tenure, and so on and on and on.19

This “business” ethos can be seen even in the language we use to acknowledge the research and thoughts of others in our work. As Marsh points out, “we operate in a system of exchange that treats words and ideas and sentences, etc., as commodities with exchange value – hence the whole idea of giving ‘credit’ and acknowledging ‘debt,’ of ‘ownership (i.e., not passing off another’s words as ‘one’s own’), as if ideas were properties.” He also notes the "heavy reliance on commercial metaphors" in published rules regarding use and attribution.20

Jim Porter, however, is much more concrete about the consequences of the commodification of academic work. He extends this understanding of the exchange value of writing specifically into the realm of copyright by discussing the ways in which “work for hire” has the potential—and is sometimes in fact—used to claim property rights to faculty writing and other products. He explains,

Writing teachers tend to think of writing as words, as text, as personal expression, collaborative exploration, or even political action. But these are all fairly naïvely notions of writing that will be obliterated if the corporate conglomerates have their way. The government, corporations, and increasingly, our own universities view writing as information. And, in order to enhance the commercial value of that information, they want to define writing/information as property, a frame that will make writing a purchasable commodity, which we and our students might not be able to afford.21

He also warns that even student work could be vulnerable, a point I will return to below. We might note here, though, that given this environment, it is no wonder that many students have no qualms about purchasing papers from digital “paper mills.” I will show, however, that the unrelenting policing of plagiarism—or at least certain high-tech forms of policing—can actually serve to buttress a climate in which all writing is perceived of as marketable information.

In fact, at least one lawyer, Ronald Standler, asserts that plagiarism is actually a legal issue, despite his acknowledgement of the fact that it “is rarely discussed in legal journals and law textbooks.”22 While the website in which he promulgates his views is clearly not a scholarly source, I think it is worth discussing as a symptom the larger copyright culture (it is also interesting to reflect on the ways in which the author might hope that these views would attract potential clients; he claims to be a specialist in education law). Indeed, Standler does link plagiarism directly to copyright law, explaining,

laws in civilized societies regard expression as property of its author. . . . Plagiarism – either by verbatim copying or paraphrasing – is infringement of a copyright, a kind of tort. . . .The owner of the copyright (i.e., in most cases, the true author) could sue the plagiarist in federal court for violation of the copyright (n.p).

While this argument is perhaps not entirely credible—least of all for its reliance on a narrow, ahistorical and apparently prejudiced understanding of “civilized”—its existence points to a broader climate in which all texts are always already protected and therefore restricted from use, except under certain conditions. As Standler reminds us, “Any work created in the USA after 1 Mar 1989 is automatically protected by copyright, even if there is no copyright notice attached to the work. 17 USC §§ 102, 401, and 405.” While this very law can be used to actually protect student work from exploitation, as I will discuss below, in this context is serves to reify the structure of commercialized text production within academia that the compositionists I quoted above have described and critiqued.

Within this commercialized environment any sort of uncredited source use prevents erstwhile claims of originality. “It is important to note,” Standler asserts, “that the addition of original material by the plagiarist in no way excuses the act of plagiarism. The focus is on what the plagiarist did wrong, not what the plagiarist did right.”23 In promoting this viewpoint, in which “right” and “wrong” are clear and stable categories of textuality, Standler advocates a view of language that is very rigid. Linguistic sense, import or the subtleties of implication do not seem able to vary through context or emphasis; rather, this commodified view of language fixes the text into impregnable units in which meaning is irrevocably secured. In fact, in this view, words are almost not meaning-laden at all—since meaning is always achieved through surrounding language—but merely opaque, purely visible things. Ironically, this model actually perpetuates the “cut-and- paste” mentality decried by the anti-plagiarists, as it supports a view of language in which words are infinitely transferable, able to remain unchanged when divorced from their original communicative context.24






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