Jane Goodall, the esteemed naturalist and best-selling author, is embroiled in a literary scandal. According to the reports in the Washington Post, New York Times, and other news outlets, Goodall’s latest book has been delayed by the publisher for numerous passages which were lifted from Wikipedia and other websites. The publisher now needs to get written permission for all those passages or the writer needs to remove them from the manuscript. Plagiarism is illegal and a very serious issue…and a black mark on an author’s reputation.
I have great respect for Jane Goodall and don’t want to suggest any wrong doing on her part. Goodall worked with a co-writer and publicly apologized for not realizing that parts of her new book were copied from websites, so we can assume it was done without her knowledge.
However, many authors are unaware of the plagiarism laws and may accidentally fall into the same embarrassing situation that Jane Goodall finds herself in today.
Today an increasing number of high profile authors are being accused of plagiarism. Before the internet, if you were doing research and wanted to use information from another source, you had to copy the information out by hand. Remember composition classes in high school which required you to turn in note cards full of citations with author, title, page numbers and even the publisher’s name for your sources?
Now it is so quick and easy to cut and paste information from websites into your document that you may not even think twice about it. Unfortunately, when you do that, you are plagiarizing.
Just keep these rules of thumb in mind:
1. Any material that is published in a book, blog, website, magazine, or newspaper belongs to someone-either the author or the publisher. If you did not write it, you can’t use it in your writing unless you give credit to your source. For example, if I wanted to use part of the Washington Post article on Jane Goodall, I’d do a direct quote like this;
Washington Post reporter Steve Levinson writes, “Among the passages her new book apparently rips off (as discovered by a critic for the Washington Post) are ones stolen from Wikipedia, some marketing material for an organic-tea company, and an astrology Web site.”
2. Copyright law allows you to do brief quotations, generally considered a sentence or two, without written permission from the author as long as you cite your source as in the example above. If you are using more extensive material, you need to get written permission from the owner of the material.
I suggest that you make it easy on yourself. Do your research, find all the facts you need from the web and other sources, and then express the information in your own words. If you need to use a quotation to support your ideas, give attribution to the original author.
In that way, you are acting from the highest levels of integrity and professionalism, plus giving your readers what they long for- your knowledge, ideas, and wisdom, not anyone else’s.
What do you think about this? Leave your comments below.