As you may or may not have heard, the book blogosphere exploded of late when it was discovered that a massively popular YA book blogger had plagiarized six posts from a group of style bloggers. I'm not going to recap the situation, since those involved in the situation, Dear Author, and the Smart Bitches have already done pretty excellent jobs at that already.
No, this post comes from reading the comments and arguments that erupted in the comments section of this plagiarist's apology post. I found there were an overwhelming amount of uninformed or else willfully blind opinions on the exact nature of plagiarism and how bad it is, and I realized a little educational session was in order, and that perhaps the super-fans of this blogger need to be invited to my Internet Counsellor's Office for helpful words and pamphlets.
Listen up, my fragile, hurt ducklings:
1. Plagiarism is wrong. I know it sounds like this should be obvious to everybody but clearly a few people need a little more education. It's okay to like or have liked this blogger (you can actually count me in that group), but that doesn't mean you should sugar-coat or ignore the implications of what happened. She willingly plagiarized another person's work and if she had been doing so in any professional field she would have been fired.
I've seen commenters frantically hand-waving it by saying, "Oh, well, she just copied Blog Tips and Tricks - none of those are original to begin with." Um, she didn't just copy tips and tricks - she also copied the format, the page design and also the sentence structure and syntax - things which naturally tend to vary from person to person and are what differentiates one writer's style from another's.
2. Plagiarism is a BIG wrong. Intellectual property is ephemeral and incorporeal, but that doesn't mean it isn't important to those who toiled to create it. It's easy to hand-wave it when it comes to bloggers, who do their writing for free, because it doesn't feel as though you're taking someone's livelihood away - but you would be wrong. From my own personal experiences as a writer, and I'm sure thousands of others' experiences, my writing and my ideas MATTER to me and whether or not I'm getting paid for them is irrelevant.
3. Plagiarism is not less wrong if "everybody does it." Do I really need to bring the "if everyone jumped off a cliff" argument out of my grandmother's handbag? Really?
4. Plagiarism is not less wrong if "it happens to lots of people." I particularly enjoyed the "Well, that's Chinatown" argument, as if Bloggerville was some lawless pioneer town on the unexplored frontier of the internet. You know what happens to a lot of people? Poverty, murder, torture, famine - those happen to millions of people. Does that make these things less wrong? Does the fact that they happen to a lot of people lessen how awful they are?
5. Plagiarism is not less wrong if the blogger apologizes. Don't get me wrong, apologies are great and absolutely necessary when someone has committed an error. And to forgive is divine and all that - but that doesn't mean a person is freed from the consequences of their actions. This wasn't a "victimless crime" (which is one of my LEAST favourite terms, right next to "diet cheese"). Other people were injured in this case. They had their rights infringed upon. They had their content displayed by someone else under that someone else's name. While the blogger may have apologized, that doesn't make the consequences of her actions go away.
While reading the comments section following the blogger's apology, I noticed the argument "not everyone would own up to plagiarism" was tossed around in her defense. Congratulations, you owned up to a mistake you made four months after it happened and only once your actions were publicly outed, instead of continuing to deny the allegations. You're a special snowflake.
6. Plagiarism isn't something that "could happen to anyone." It's not like farting in an elevator, where if you don't clench hard enough or you sneeze, you end up accidentally blowing stolen content onto your blog posts. Plagiarism requires intent and agency. Nothing happens to a plagiarist. In the act of plagiarism, they are not the ones acted upon. They are making an active decision. So really, plagiarism isn't something that strikes you when you aren't paying attention - it's an active decision that requires intent and action.
And let us all remember that not all mistakes are the same. "Mistake" is a pretty convenient umbrella term that some of the commenters are using that allows them to play up idea-theft as if it's no big deal. But consider the word "mistake." Leaving your umbrella at home during a rainstorm is a mistake. Having a few beers too many and deciding to drive is also a mistake. The difference between these two mistakes are the consequences. With one, you get wet. With another, you hurt (or risk hurting) other people.
Not all mistakes are created equal. You forgetting your umbrella does not put you on equal moral terms with someone who steals other blogs' content - and vice versa!
7. Plagiarism is not less wrong than BRINGING UP PLAGIARISM. Clearly, this blogger tried to go the "silent but deadly" route but misjudged the amount of clenching required to pass a bubble of rights-infringing flatulence. But the ones who smelt it are not the ones who dealt it. But tell that to this commenter on the blogger's "Apology" post:
Worse, this commenter flogs the plagiarist's victims for being so unclassy as to "create drama." It's bad enough you were so ungrateful as to be angry when a popular blogger stole from you - but you had to make a stink about it, too? Why can't victims just shut up and be quiet? Why do they have to speak up and make us think about bad things when we'd rather be thinking about Hugh Jackman on a unicorn?
I could go on about how the completely heinous victim-blaming is not only RUDE but 100% inaccurate, but the stylish chick at Grit and Glamour gives her own (and far better) explanation.
It's not like I don't get it. I used to be a huge fan of this blog. I don't want to think about her having done something so awful and monumentally wrong. But attacking the people SHE HURT for making YOU realize that someone you admire did something wrong does not make that fact go away. Sending hate e-mails (I wish I was kidding) to people who had the gall to protect their rightful intellectual property doesn't do you or your favourite blogger any favours.
You're all going to have to deal with this in different ways. I can't tell you to not go to her blog or to stop reading her posts, obviously. But the comments section made it pretty clear that people need to be educated on why plagiarism matters, and why it doesn't suddenly not matter when it's perpetrated by someone you admire and care about.