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What Is Plagiarism?

(Senator John Walsh Official Portrait 113th Congress)

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The Random-House Dictionary defines plagiarism as, “the “wrongful appropriation” and “stealing and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”

Defining Plagiarism Is Not So Simple

John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, while Lincoln was watching “Our American Cousin,” a play at Ford’s Theatre on Good Friday, April 14, 1865.

Did I plagiarize that statement? It’s pretty hard to write those “facts” in a way that no other person has ever written them before. There are probably a thousand different ways of writing those facts and the chance of someone else writing them nearly, or exactly the same, would be very high based on the number of books about the assassination of Lincoln.

And, I would have no way of knowing that without reading every article and book in print about those events. So there is some leeway in what might be plagiarism and what is simply restating commonly known facts.

Just The Facts Ma’am

My apologies to Joe Friday, of Dragnet fame, for borrowing one of his favorite taglines. But I didn’t try to pass Joe’s tagline off as my own. And that’s where plagiarism becomes more focused.

When I was writing my third book I was getting daily emails from my publisher. “What’s your source for this information?” “Is this fact or your theory?” “We need the author, book title, publisher and date of publication for the books you reference.”

Separating fact and opinion, or theory, is a really big deal in publishing. As an author, I naturally want my work and my ideas protected. My books are referenced in several other author’s books and that’s great as long as they give me the credit for reproducing my ideas.

Some Final Thoughts

Currently, our Montana senator, John Walsh is under suspicion that he plagiarized parts of his Master’s thesis while attending the Army War College.

According to the Army War College web site, There have been 8 cases since 1990 for which the Army War College revoked the graduation status of a former student after graduation: 6 for plagiarism and 2 for misconduct. If the plaque bearing graduates’ names has already been hung in front of the college, they have had their name removed from the metal plate.”

Will Senator John Walsh be number 7 on that list?

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