I read about this in the Times this morning, and. being a writer myself, a nosey one at that, wanted to know more, so I googled. And, wow, just wow - the gall of this woman is just amazing, and she's an academic with the OU as well! Not only did she plagiarize Thomas, but she was discovered by another author, whose work she had nicked, Alex Keegan: the entire saga of how he found out is detailed on his blog, an interesting and horrifying read on the scale of Benford's copying. Within hours, he and his contacts on-line had discovered more cases than could be counted on your fingers and they were still going.
This whole thing got me to thinking about plagiarism and what goes through someone's mind when, in this day and age, they think they can get away with it.
Dr Benford (whose PhD Thesis was also being looked at by Alex and his band of investigators, see his blog for details), is alleged to not only have copied, but copied blatantly. The Thomas work apparently just had a different cover and her name on it. Not even the names of the stories and poems she allegedly stole in a lot of cases, Alex Keegan's being one. For a literary academic to do this is dodgy enough, I mean, imagine going to a conference and someone noticing that your work bears a remarkable similarity to a famous writer like, oh, let's say, Dylan Thomas, or Leonard Cohen (another cut and paste job under investigation), but it is also reprehensible: plagiarism will get a student thrown off their course. Add to that, in this day and age, when half an hour on Google can get you enough evidence to hang someone out to dry, how can anyone possibly be deluded enough to publish their copied work on Amazon, iBooks, LuLu etc, where the search engine is king?
From my own point of view, I'd never consider plagiarism:
- I think stealing someone else's words is reprehensible.
- I have enough ideas of my own to keep me going for more than a lifetime
- I feel guilty enough if my ideas vaguely resemble someone else's, even if they were independently created. This happens with me and my twin a lot, we just think alike and sometimes come up with stories that are very close to each other without even discussing them first. We've come to accept this fact and just look at it as interesting.
- I don't do bad things well, I get guilty (I'm the person that buys a ticket for a train that is half an hour late and left me standing in the rain, even though there is no conductor and no-one checking tickets at the other end - I just can't cheat) and then I'd worry, for the rest of my life, I'd worry about getting caught, about having done a bad thing
- I want my work to be mine. I would not gain any satisfaction from any praise, or prize if that prize was earned by someone else's work, because, I would know it was not my effort that made it great. What type of glory is there in fakery?
So, finally, I detest the stealing of words and images and music and anything else, but, being an author, words are closest to my heart. To take credit for someone else's work, whether that is emotional or monetary, is not right. I don't understand how anyone could feel good about something like that. But to create something beautiful built on the support of other's ideas when those ideas are freely given appeals to the creative and collaborative part of me.