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Thursday, February 17, 2011

You thief

The dean, accompanied by the professors of the English Department, entered our class in a solemn mood early one morning. Explaining the purpose of their delegation, the dean shouted at us for stealing. Yes, he was accusing us, a dozen mature students well informed about the sins of stealing. Curious to know about the items that were stolen, we listened alertly to the dean. But, the dean was not talking about any commodity theft; rather he was talking of the theft of ideas—plagiarism.

Not knowing much about the issue of plagiarism, we were astonished to hear that all 12 of us had committed plagiarism in one form or the other, and legally we were all thieves. Plagiarism, in a layman terms, is ‘copying anyone’s works, words, and sentences, without any or proper citation and apparently making it their original work’.

Though there are various complicated levels of plagiarism as well, the Dean defined plagiarism as not merely the stealing of words, but as the stealing of ideas.

In my 20 year-long career as a student, I had never learned about plagiarism in detail, or even gave it much thought. But after this incident, I became conscious about not plagiarising. I started quoting, citing, and paraphrasing authors in every sentence that drew ‘influence’ from others. I made sure that the credit to another writer’s work was given. And, later I got the sense that just adding a few words in my work, by citing and referencing, not only saved me from being a ‘thief’, but also helped the readers know that I have read enough books to thoroughly prepare and understand my work.

After that, I started noticing rampant plagiarism in the works of ‘famous’ writers as well. I have found that not only regular columnists in newspapers but also renowned authors of books plagiarised on more than one occasion. Copying and pasting in newspapers, articles and books without mentioning the source is an unchecked practice in Nepal, but copying lines and lines from authors is also frequently seen, not only among students, but also among academicians.

I admit that academia anywhere in the world can never be totally free of plagiarism, and it is hard to discover every minute issue of plagiarism every single time. Moreover, due to the lack of proper copyright and plagiarism laws, one cannot legally punish plagiarists in contemporary Nepal’s context.

But, just having the courtesy of giving someone the credit for their work they are due would certainly stop plagiarism from the individual level. Again, the problem with the act of plagiarising is not in copying the words, as words are limited, but of taking credit for other’s ideas, which are unlimited, as no two person can think exactly the same. Just think how you would feel if someone steals your bike and claims it to be their own! Let’s unite and stop plagiarism.
by:Sanjay Sharma, The Kathmandu Post