As a former English teacher, one of the things that used to upset me the most was catching the occasional student who plagiarized their work instead of writing it themselves. The consequences for that poor decision was an automatic zero – a failing grade. Yet I’m surprised to learn that plagiarism in writing is on the rise, and that there are a shocking number of people who believe that it’s an okay practice. Now, there’s Alison Gilmore plagiarizing romance novelist Lorelei James’ work, a copycat tweeter formally known as @prodigalsam, and an alarming trend.

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Romance author Cat Johnson posted on her blog about how a person using the Twitter account @AlisonGilmore (now closed) was posting on her website free stories. However, those stories were actually copies from the writer Lorelei James (@loreleijames). Perusing through the comments, more information is given that this person has been threatened with legal action. After much attention and some back and forth on Twitter, Alison Gilmore’s account was shut down.

Another writer showed how what goes up on the internet doesn’t go away. On her Rizy’s blog, she screen captured between the Gilmore website (which is now gone) and the Kindle pages from the James’ books where only character names are changed. Now, the stories were up on the website for free, but they were also being marketed as being written by Gilmore with no credits at all given to James. It’s plagiarism at its lowest form, and yet with the internet it’s becoming a growing phenomenon.

Recently, comedian Patton Oswalt posted a letter to himself about thievery and other things from his experiences as a stand-up comedian. In the first part of his “letter”, he talks about where comedians get their ideas and how sometimes they accidentally steal when they’re first learning the business. However, he also gives examples of those that steal knowingly and without much guilt in order to gain career momentum. So plagiarism can be found in many art forms.

But what’s becoming disturbing is that there’s a growing acceptance of copying and plagiarism. Because so much is available on the internet, information can be garnered quickly and without payment. When we rely on Wikipedia, a service where anyone can offer the information and not all of it is verified, how can truth not be devalued?

Part of what Oswalt talks about in his letter comes from the attention that Sammy Rhodes, a University of South Carolina campus minister, received with his tweets from @prodigalsam. Rhodes got so much attention that Aaron Belz for Huffington Post wrote an article about his intellectual tweets. Then slowly, it became clear that Rhodes’ tweets were plagiarized from others best seen in the Tumblr http://borrowingsam.tumblr.com/. Rhodes spent more time making excuses and justifications, which is something that Gilmore did with the plagiarism of James’ stories. Both have now disappeared from Twitter.

Now that there’s self-publishing and an increase in digital books, there seem to be more opportunities for plagiarism. In the non-fiction genre, there are authors who find incredibly similar books with not only lookalike covers but also incredibly close material. Yet sometimes, these copies are allowed to stay.

Let me be clear – plagiarizing drives me crazy! As a teacher, it took up extra time for me to prove that it happened to have the back up information in order to fail the student. But mainly it made me sad, and that’s how I feel about these situations. I was sad for the student who chose to cheat instead of learn. I’m sad that these people decided that it was okay to steal from someone else. I’m sad that they and others defended their actions because they don’t see anything wrong with it. And I’m sad for those who had something original stolen from them.

With the increase of information being able to be accessed, will we start seeing an increase in copies and a decrease in original work? If so, the state of art and of human creativity will pay the price. For now, I wish those that did the plagiarizing understood that they failed. And if others are like me, they won’t get a second chance to try and do better next time.

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