Monday, February 4, 2008

Travelogue #24: Copied, Pasted, and Pissed: Plagiarism Gets Personal

<---Travelogue #23: The Day I Introduced Korean Kids to Fruit Loops
--->Travelogue #25: Diaries of the Chinese New Year, Beijing 2008

Am I oddly flattered? Am I ticked off? Am I downright puzzled? I'm all those things. She stole my words, my sentences, and my thoughts. I might be overreacting or slipping into melodrama, but as Usher puts it, "these are my confessions."

Wednesday morning I find a co-worker's blog and skim it, curious of how her experiences in Korea compare with my own. My eyes drop on her January 23rd entry, where she writes, "It's difficult to believe that I've been in Korea for almost a month, but I'm believing it because I don't have time to be pre-emptively nostalgic."

Oh my God.

Am I hallucinating, or is there something weirdly familiar about her words?

"It's still "busy season", which means we teachers are spending eleven hours a day at the academy teaching English. Busy busy busy. Last week was especially rough; a stomach virus over took the majority of my co-workers."

My fingers get frantic. I click to my blog and its January 20th entry. I re-read my first paragraph.

"It's hard to believe I've been in Korea for three months, but I'm believing it because I don't got time to be pre-emptively nostalgic. It's still "busy season", which means we teachers are spending eleven hours a day at the academy parting English lessons on to the kiddies. Busy busy busy. Last week was especially rough: an office-wide virus left the majority of my co-workers, myself included, drained and sick."

I can understand high school students copying an English essay for an A, but to snatch language from a blog without crediting it? A blog focused on your personal experiences and your memories?

What could be the motivation for doing a thing like that?

The more I looked at the words she copied the angrier I became. Not only had she ripped off my language, but she'd also whitewashed my voice. In my entry, I wrote, "I don't got time to be pre-emptively nostalgic," hoping my use of "got" would add light swagger to a potentially pretentious sentence. She wrote, "I don't have time to be pre-emptively nostalgic," a sentiment that loses its swagger with the verb switch.


I need to be careful not to drown in minutia, because the problem with the nature of plagiarism in 2008 is a bigger one than shared words on different blogs. We're talking about the nature of intellectual property in the Internet age. Are we reaching the point where only content and not authorship matters? If I don't publish a novel with copyright, is anything I write fair game to be distributed with somebody else's name on it? If I don't financially benefit from writing "pre-emptively nostalgic" blog entries, and my co-worker doesn't profit from copying them, what legal complaint do I have?

Emotional damages? Bleh.

Plagiarism draws a line at once razor-sharp and remarkably fuzzy. I'm reminded of the Kaavya Viswanathan controversy. Viswanathan is a Harvard student who in 2006 authored a much-buzzed-about debut novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. The young author was set to be crowned the next queen of chick-lit... until several newspapers uncovered glaring similarities between her novel and works by The Princess Diaries scribe Meg Cabot. Examples of lifted passages can be found in this Harvard Crimson story. But even after a subsequent media firestorm, Viswanathan trumpeted her innocence, calling any instances of similar language "unintentional and unconscious." When further allegations surfaced, Viswanathan turned silent. Mehtha was removed from bookshelves, its film adaptation was cancelled, and so was Viswanathan's literary contract.

Still, she received no punishment from Harvard's administration. No suspension, no expulsion. She's now a senior, and she'll graduate with an Ivy League degree.

My co-worker didn't pull an Opal Mehtha, but she pulled something. I should talk to her and ask for her side of the story. Maybe she'll claim any similarities between her blog and mine were "unintentional and unconscious. " I don't know. I wrestled with the idea of talking to her before writing this entry, but part of me did not want to let my voice be neutered . I wanted to let out my frustrations, even if they were messy.

My position has only strengthened on this Sunday morning, for when I check her page...I find an entry suspiciously similar to a former co-worker's blog.

She did it again.

To all writers: appreciate your own voice. Value it. Respect it. Even if your work doesn't grace the shelves of Barnes and Noble, somebody out there might be hearing your words...a little too well.

<---Travelogue #23: The Day I Introduced Korean Kids to Fruit Loops
--->Travelogue #25: Diaries of the Chinese New Year, Beijing 2008


Anonymous said...

How pathetic. You have every right to be royally pissed at this girl. I hope she reads your blog and is embarrassed to even show her face.

Are you going to confront her in person? I truly don't know what I would do; I tend to loose my temper easily over such things. I am steamed just reading this blog entry!


Don said...

Thanks Alex for the visit to my blog. I will come back during lunch break and read and comment on this post.

Natarsha said...

I am speechless. I hope that you and the co-worker will be able to resolve this issue.

Don said...


This was a funny post. I couldn't stop laughing when you clicked on her blog, and found that she did it again. I know I shouldn't be laughing. Although you also managed to find the humor in it.

Funny stuff.

Does she know you are aware? I agree, The Internet Age gives birth to much plagiarism. Sad, but true.

Appreciate the compliments, especially coming from an anglish/creative writing major.

Sidebar: For a minute I thought Natarsha had jacked your post. lol.