Why plagiarize?

Slate’s Jack Shafer has an article which purports to analyze the motives of plagiarists. Let’s see how he does.

Ambition Often Exceeds Talent. This one holds the most water to me. As deadlines loom and the job isn’t done the temptation to pass of someone else’s work as one’s own becomes greater. In fact, I’d submit this is the only reason. What other reason is there? Shafer offers a couple more.

Writing Is Hard Work. Well, yes, this is true, and Shafer offers it as a corrolary to the first reason. But why be a writer if you don’t get some enjoyment out of the actual process of writing? I can’t imagine why anyone would want to have the job of a writer without, you know, writing something.

The Thrill Factor. Shafer claims people plagiarize for the thrill of getting away with it, like Winona Ryder’s shoplifting. Again, I’m not buying this one. What’s thrilling about being a fraud? It’s humiliating, not thrilling. The thrill is in getting published, not in the act of plagiarizing itself.

Evening the Score. Professional writers might plagiarize in order to embarrass their bosses. Huh? Even Shafer admits this one makes no sense.

Force of Habit. After you get away with plagiarizing for a while, this might come into play. But why does it come into play in the first place? Go back to reason number 1.

Contempt for the Business. I’m not sure this is so much a cause of plagiarism as an effect. If you got away with plagiarism for years, wouldn’t you have more than a little contempt for a business that tolerates hacks like you?

Even If You Get Caught, You’ll Probably Get Away With It. This may be true among your basic hack journalists, and I’ve certainly found it to be true among students, but the high-profile cases like Stephen Ambrose Bierce and Doris Kearns Goodwin have paid dearly for their offenses. It’s hard to live down the reputation as a plagiarist.

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4 Responses to Why plagiarize?

  1. KaneCitizen says:

    Ambrose Bierce? Stephen Ambrose?

  2. dave says:

    Yes. That’s right. Stephen Ambrose. Sigh.

  3. hanaru says:

    Who is Stephon Ambrose ? I want to know

  4. dave says:

    Stephen Ambrose is a historian who has written a large number of popular historical accounts. He was accused of plagiarism in a book about World War II because some passages in his book were taken verbatim from another account of the war.

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