Social media is a funny critter. It has the diurnal activities that are for public consumption and the more nocturnal texts and private-message side conversations that are hidden in the dark of the internet.
This week I saw a blatant case of plagiarism among my barrel racing circles on social media, growled at it and decided to ignore it, chalking it up to a weak character trait of the plagiarist. Then my inbox got flooded with some of those nocturnal communications-four different friends had decided I was the person to address the question of plagiarism-probably because they know I hate that particular type of theft.
Ugggh! Why am I always nominated the bad guy?
Maybe that’s the wrong question.Maybe “Why do my friends know I hate plagiarism?” is a better question.
I can’t answer for what goes through other folks minds, even my friends, but I do know what goes through mine.
I love words. I love word-smithery; the pure art of putting syllables together to tell a story and play a reader’s heart-strings. I don’t figure I’m especially good at it, but I love it, I respect it when it’s done well and I dabble at imitating the skills of master word-smiths. Occasionally, very occasionally, I get it right.
When I nail a good piece of prose that brings tears or laughter to a reader, a lot of stars have to align first. I need a subject that touches me deeply. I have to be inspired by the topic at an instant when I actually have time to write and enough creative inspiration to craft it. And the hardest element…enough courage to publish it. And just maybe something is receptive in the reader at the moment they stumble upon it.
It’s hard to put a piece of your soul on paper. It’s even harder to set it free on the wilds of the internet. Writing is a cathartic struggle. If it’s published, it’s a naked dance of the soul in a public place. Something intensely intimate and hard to share. If it is enjoyed with that understanding, it is art. If it is stolen, it is rape.
If you like words, you read and write. If you read and write, you gain an innate sense of syntax and personality. A piece of prose owns its author, and vise versa. A stolen piece of work just screams incongruity. It is an obnoxiously, glaringly wrong combination. In today’s digital world it takes less than 30 seconds to copy, paste, Google search and confirm an author has been violated.
The saying goes that imitation is the highest form of flattery. If you write something that someone else values enough to share-why that is a fine thing! But what are the rules of sharing? Do you like it so much you claim it as your own? Or do you share the discovery and credit the creator? The difference reveals the quality of the admirer’s character. Are you going to rape and pillage an author or acclaim them and share the talent with the world? Are you a flatterer or a thief?
The difference between a flatterer and a thief is explicitly described by countless style guides: MLA, AP, ALWD, Chicago, blab, blah, blah… there are countless correct methods, but the bottom line between grounds for a lawsuit over intellectual theft and appreciation of fine word-smithery are are as simple as means to proclaim “I wrote this” or “I discovered this”.
I love the current theme I am using for Rural Redoubt’s way of setting off a quote because the format is unmistakable as intellectual property not my own.
“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.“
I may have thought something similar, but I didn’t arrange quite the fantastic syntax that C.S. Lewis composed. However; I can share it with the world by the simple addition of quotation marks and the author’s name. That addition protects me from both lawsuit and moral corruption.This simple mark, “”, means a great deal. It is the difference between flattery and theft.
May God smite me if I ever steal from another in this way. You can bet your hiney I will hunt you down if you steal from me or in front of me!