This article was submitted to Ergo by an author named Cryptic Candour.
Indeed a sorry state of affair,
Where copying occurs without care;
Argued fair use and public domain,
Systematic destruction of the brain.
A question even more serious,
Than any action deleterious;
Where aping is the fashion
And creation an exception!
What could the reason be for emulating,
While raw ideas, world stands awaiting?
What are the reasons behind the criticism,
Of the perpetually practiced plagiarism?
Does plagiarism mean only copying,
Where generations blindly following,
Ruthlessly copy and paste,
Jamming the minds with nothing but waste?
It is the fear of rejection
Causing loss of conviction
In opinions given by oneself
Leaving them unreachable on the shelf.
Fear of being alienated,
Underlie the various ideas being unstated;
Fear of being ostracised,
Reasons the mind compromised.
Acknowledging the source
Aint enough a measure,
When creation is the requirement
Not mere recognition of expressed treasure.
Battle against plagiarism shall be won,
The old ideas overrun;
When every mind thinks new,
Letting the impossible, audaciously, brew.
Socrates: Come on in, Aristotle. I was thinking to have a discussion with you on a very strange dream that I had last night.
Aristotle: Aye, Sire. In a moment shall I settle before your chair, mine and shall we begin with the discussion.
Socrates patiently waited and looked on as Aristotle moved his chair into Socrates’ room and drew his rough manuscript and charcoal piece to make notes.
Aristotle: You may begin, Sire.
Socrates: I went to sleep at around 3’o clock in the midnight and was greeted with strange yet intriguing dream.
Aristotle listened intently, without interrupting.
Socrates: I saw men in clothes so different from our generation’s. I could not determine the exact time period but they surely seemed men of future. Their language was more refine and much well framed then ours. They wore cloth around their neck and wore a trouser, like the ones soldiers wear today. But it seemed loose enough and not meant for horse riding. On top of the garment covering the upper body, they wore some more garment, probably to shield themselves from the cold.
Aristotle was busy making notes. He did not stop or question to clarify on details. He just went on taking down points.
Socrates: But I saw them busy doing something extremely strange. They were taking down books authored by me and you from their shelves and kept on noting things vigorously. I was startled by the speed at which they moved their fingers on some strange machine and literally taking everything down from what he have written.
Aristotle: What did they do with all that information? And, can you remember the place where you had been to in your dream, Sire?
Socrates: I cannot recall exactly, but from what it seemed, it was probably a library. Might be in some institution. And, regarding usage of the information, they just noted everything and again used some other machine and out came some manuscripts from it at high speed. They put all the manuscripts together and just wrote their own name on it.
Aristotle: Did not they spend time pondering over, why we wrote such things?
Socrates: Precisely. They never did that!
Aristotle: You may not worry about it, Sire. They might have used the valuable ideas you have given for application to some cause or issue.
Socrates: No, Aristotle. These ideas which you and I express are not meant to be used like pigeon holes and problems are not to be fitted into them for solutions. People need to think before applying. These ideas which we express today, may not be clearly applicable in future times to come. These are only expressions and not rules to be followed without application of mind.
Aristotle: I agree, Sire.
Plato was sitting quietly all the while, looking out of the window, in some deep thought. He intervened in the conversation.
Plato: This is precisely why you rejected my idea of totalitarian state, Aristotle, and gave your own ideas on what an ideal state should be. It was definitely a matter of experience to learn how despotic the philosopher ruler could behave when vested with ultimate power to rule.
Aristotle: Precisely, Sire. This is what I have been thinking all the while. The strange behaviour of the people in the dreams forces me into thinking. While I strongly believe in individuality of thoughts and the resultant debate provoked from the persisting multiplicity of ideas, these humans merely emulate what we three propound without exercising their minds into why we said such things at all!
Plato: But did they mention your, Aristotle’s or my name before handing over the manuscript to others?
Socrates: Even if they mention our names, the ideas will not be unique enough to be debated. Neither will they refute ours, nor will they contribute anything new to the discussion we have had all our lives.
Aristotle looked through the window now, wondering.
Socrates: What shall this action be called? I can only wonder as to what these humans were up to in their time and age.
Plato: I cannot fathom of any specific word for such action.
Aristotle: Neither do I, Sire.
This is only a fictional account of conversation between the three great philosophers.
The concern of the three philosophers is certainly correct. The question is not whether copying should be permitted. The question is will it really help? Even if copying were to be allowed disregarding the interests of the person who created the material or expressed certain lines, entire generation will not be benefited from it. The matter shall definitely land up in the public domain upon expiry of copyright protection. But then, should copying be condemned only in the period when it is given protection under law? Or, even if the author were given adequate credits for his expressed idea or even given certain monetary compensation for the use of the idea, will the generation benefit from the latter person’s use of an already expressed idea?
The word ‘plagiarism’ came into this world only around the year 1800. The oldest possible legislation which existed in the field of copyright protection was the British Statute of Anne, legislated in the year 1710. Before this law, there existed another law titled Licensing of the Press Act, 1662, where the Act was to prevent printing of unlicensed books and pamphlets and for regulating printing presses.
Thus, law makers have tried to fight against copying since a long time, but have they never initiated their fight against natural human tendencies. The natural human tendency to imitate and to use what is already propounded. This is logically connected to various arguments. For example, limited freedom of expression is one of the prime reason for our inability to generate new ideas. Freedom of expression is curtailed at three different levels: political, religious and social. The moment as idea is expressed, it is either politically censured, or slammed by religious outfits or thrown off the chair by the society. The idea expressed need be in line with the accepted norms and practices in all three dimensions. Anything outside these is automatically rejected. There are several instances, where writers have been executed for writing on equality in a capitalist government state or where painters have been outcasted for painting blasphemous paintings or where designers have been rendered failure for designing clothing beyond the sense of fashion of society.
Anything accepted by the majority becomes the norm. The essence is the race behind the norm. Some do argue the need to control this freedom and the reasonable restriction which the government should impose on the freedom of expression of men. Thus, anything beyond the scope of what is accepted is impliedly rejected. But those dissents from the mainstream thinking is what is to be urged than just preventing the abuse of somebody else’s efforts or curtailing them under the garb of security of nation and society at large. This is indeed true! Socrates was executed for his new thoughts. But he went on to give what generations after him only copy blindly. His ideas are definitely open for all to see and use but this brain was not given to us only to invent new methods to copy. It was given to critically analyse, debate and to keep changing things.
Acknowledgement of source is surely not the best way to reduce plagiarism. The only way out is to let men do what they wish to: to express themselves freely. Only then will the world be more competitive. Today, we perceive plagiarism in its narrowest sense. But, the real meaning is much deeper and having wider ramifications.
While only some risk their lives rallying against the already stated facts, the entire generation continues using footnotes. Plato did refer to footnoting in his dialogue with Socrates. But, Socrates had already foreseen its misuse.
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