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Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:18:00 04/06/2010

Filed Under: Literature, Patents and Copyright and Trademarks, Media

The case of tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan, who was recently involved in a plagiarism controversy, points up the risk one takes when he enlists the help of a ghostwriter or an assistant in writing a speech. Unless his assistant is a very trustworthy person, he cannot be sure that the former will not commit plagiarism.

To Pangilinan?s credit, although the plagiarism was committed by two Ateneo students who helped him write the speech, he took full and sole responsibility for the act, and offered to retire as chair of Ateneo de Manila University?s board of trustees.

Pangilinan is not the first to be involved in a plagiarism controversy, nor will he be the last. William Shakespeare is thought to have liberally sprinkled his work with ideas borrowed from fellow playwrights. But one critic said, ?If this is plagiarism, perhaps we need more of it.?

T.S. Eliot is thought to have borrowed a big amount of the content of his poem ?The Waste Land? from a lesser known poet, Madison Cawein.

Short story writer Jack London was accused of using other authors? works as a basis for his own, particularly ?The Call of the Wild.?

More recently, Alex Haley settled out of court for $650,000 after he was accused of plagiarizing more than 80 passages of Harold Courlander?s ?The African ? for his own Pulitzer Prize-winning work, ?Roots.?

Authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh accused Dan Brown of using ?the whole architecture? of their ?Holy Blood and The Holy Grail? book.

Plagiarism is the act of passing off as one?s own the ideas or writings of another. The Modern Language Association of the United States defines plagiarism thus: ?To use another?s ideas or expressions in your writings is to plagiarize. Plagiarism, then, constitutes intellectual theft. ?[I]t is a moral and ethical offense rather than a legal one, since most instances of plagiarism fall outside the scope of copyright infringement.?

Wilson Mizner, a colorful American playwright and raconteur, made this famous statement: ?If you steal from one it?s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it?s research.?

To avoid the charge of plagiarism, academicians have adopted three conventions: (1) If you use someone else?s ideas, you should cite the source; (2) If the way you?re using the source is unclear, make it clear; and (3) If you received help from someone in writing the paper (or report or speech), acknowledge it. Even if one is paraphrasing, one is still using someone else?s ideas and arguments, and must cite the original work.

A mild form of plagiarism goes on all the time in journalism. News organizations and reporters save clippings of news stories and articles and later use them in their stories without acknowledging the source or sources. Some editors say this is no big deal when the material being lifted is from one?s own paper but it is more serious when the words and ideas are lifted from other writers and other papers without credit.

One columnist who was caught plagiarizing some other people?s writings three times said his problem was that he had a photographic memory and sometimes forgot that he was using other writers? material. The columnist was asked to stop writing his column after the third offense.

Government officials, politicians and celebrities are among the people who frequently use the services of ghostwriters and assistants in writing articles and speeches and thus run the risk of mouthing plagiarized passages. They generally want to make their speeches read and sound well. Some may know how to write good speeches but want to save time. But they should choose their ghostwriters and assistants well to avoid the embarrassment of being accused of plagiarism.

In the case of Pangilinan, the fault was that of his assistants, but he gallantly took full and sole responsibility for the ?borrowed? parts of his speech. Taken as a whole, as he said, the body and substance of his speech represented his own story and his thoughts. Even if we excise the plagiarized portions, it is still a good and inspiring speech for new university graduates.

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