The issue of plagiarism is something we college students struggle with every day, and it’s becoming more and more difficult to avoid as the years go by. We are taught growing up that plagiarism is using someone else’s words or ideas as your own without giving them any credit for it. Now, the lines of what is and is not plagiarism have become a bit blurred, and it’s hard to do anything you think is original without the fear that it may be copying someone else.
For example, I’m sure we’ve all heard about the lawsuits involving Taylor Swift, America’s most beloved pop star (or is she country now, who knows?). Even though Taylor has to be raking in billions of dollars, it was leaked that she was suing her own fans for “illegally” using titles of her songs and phrases she had “coined” herself on merchandise being sold online. Read the article here! What, Taylor? It’s okay for people to watch your music videos on YouTube billions of times in any way possible in order for you to get those views, but someone can’t write “Shake it off” on a mug without you getting offended? Let’s get real.
The best part, though, was the OTHER lawsuits being filed by Jesse Braham for supposedly stealing his lyrics in order to write “Shake it Off.” Here’s that one, too. Apparently, one can’t use simple phrases that are spoken every day like “Haters gonna hate” without being accused of stealing. What’s next? No one can call their significant other “baby” anymore since Justin Bieber wrote a song about it?
What’s most important, though, is not the petty lawsuits being thrown at each other by already-millionaires, it’s that college students and students in general are struggling to find reliable topics, sources, and issues to write about without the fear of plagiarism.
I, for example, am an English major in the process of earning a creative writing certificate. I want to write books for a living, mainly fiction novels, and give young (or possibly even older) readers the thrills I get from reading my favorite books. I have a lot of hesitations, however, since the fear of plagiarizing or stealing from someone else is so relevant these days.
Let’s think about this for a second, though. Jonathan Lethem goes into great detail in his article about plagiarism, with dozens of examples of what could be considered as such. “Literature has always been a crucible in which familiar themes are continually recast,” he writes. What does this mean? It means that just because Jane Austen wrote about the struggles of love and finding one’s identity in Sense and Sensibility back in the 1800s, doesn’t mean that Nicholas Sparks can’t write romance novels in the 21st century because “Love has already been written about” or some bullsh*t like that.
The point is, Lethem says it best: “If these are examples of plagiarism, then we want more plagiarism.” Some of the greatest works of all time would not have been written if certain ideas could not be shared and recreated. Ever notice how similar Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Lion King are? Or Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story? There is a fine line between plagiarism and a recreation of themes and ideas. Instead of being so uptight about someone stealing your lyrics or plagiarizing your poem, just remember this: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Besides, if we keep going down this road of being over-sensitive Sally’s when it comes to plagiarism, what’s next? We can no longer take selfies because someone else has already done it? “The photographer should be free to capture an image without compensating the source,” Lethem says. Let’s all try to focus on what’s important. Stop peeking over your shoulder at your neighbor’s art and focus on your own!
Written by Meg Murray.