Thou Shalt Not “Clip & Paste:” A Ten Commandments’ Tale

‘Looking back at this moment, I ignored my instincts,’ she reportedly wrote. ‘I ignored the voice inside that said, quietly, this is wrong, wrong, wrong.’

jumi bello

with the advent of word processing, “clipping and pasting” has become a writing process for many. the process is treacherous as it exposes one to both the accusation and risk of plagiarism.

in the legal field, plagiarism can actually a good thing. long standing legal principles are often laid out in court decisions. these principles can take the form of a sentence or paragraph referring to sections of law, court case decisions, treatise on law, and perhaps a legal dictionary reference. these sentences or paragraphs are known as “string cites.” in legal writing, finding a “string cite” that is authoritative is golden. citing well established legal precedent is an effective way of persuasion.

as a legal brief writer, when you offer up the proper “string cites,” you are speaking the court’s language. sometimes, “string cites” are copied verbatim from other cases. sometimes, in haste, in the “clip and paste” mode, the case where the “string cite” was copied from is not given attribution. in other words, the citing case is not cited. in law, however, as long as the “string cite” is an accurate representation of the authority, no one really cares about plagiarism. citing the correct law and authorities is of greater import.

over thirty years and countless of briefing for the california supreme court, court of appeal, and administrative law boards, i have never been admonished for plagiarism in using “string cites.” getting the authorities correct is their concern. rather, correct representation of the fact and evidence if of import.

the law, and perhaps some other forms of writing, may embrace moments of plagiarism. there are other form of writing, however, which do not. professional writing, news reporting and books are intellectual property. in these circumstances, their work is truly intellectual property. to plagiarize is an act of theft.

in an hilarious story, it is reported that an author, who was about ready to have her first novel published, was accused of plagiarism. the allegations were so serious that the book’s publisher cancelled it. the author then took to publish an article explaining why she plagiarized. this article was also the subject of plagiarism claims and it was also taken down.

apparently, her writing process, somewhat like mine. i work on a word processing program from the get go and frequently “clip and paste” materials into my work. [in fact, i am doing it right now.] in her work process, however, she apparently intended to write something original and not quote the material clipped. from the accounts, it appears that she failed to re-write the material to make it her own.

her statement was as follows: ‘iI tell myself i’m just borrowing, and changing the language,’  she reportedly wrote. ‘i tell myself i will rewrite these parts later during the editorial phase. i will make this story mine again.’ dailymail

also of import was that she said ” ‘looking back at this moment, i ignored my instincts,’ she reportedly wrote. ‘i ignored the voice inside that said, quietly, this is wrong, wrong, wrong.’

her story leads me to offer insights about writing and about life.

first, for this young lady and others who tend to copy other’s work, consider the legal field. plagiarism, done in the correct way, is actually good lawyering. if you are able to discern legally correct law and case law, copying other’s work is acceptable.

second, her comment concerning “instincts” offers a profound insight into the human psyche. everyone has their instincts. we know inside what is wrong and what is right. these instincts may have been embedded due to experience or perhaps religious training. we, as humans, however, have a tendency to wrestle with our instincts. we like to push ourselves to the envelope to see what we can get away with. we like to come as close as possible to a flame without getting burned.

alternatively, was her act of doing plagiarism the second time a subconscious attempt to get caught? did she need a second round of accusation to wake up her inner self?

and finally, it is possible that she was an habitual plagiarist who made it through all of her academia by plagiarism. did she somehow think that she would not get caught a second time? after all, assuming she had an extensive past of doing so and had not been caught, she had made a career of doing it. her actual motivation is a fascinating topic.

recently, a friend of mine came to me with a dilemma. he told me of a problem. without hesitation, i told him that his initial instinct on the matter was correct. i told him that he sought me out of the hopes he could break from his correct instinct. i told him that he perhaps needed my validation to accept his instinct was correct. i told him that he could now blame me for trusting himself. too often, we don’t trust our instincts. perhaps, discussing the issue with a trusted adviser is the best way to handle this “instinct” crisis.

in sum, i hope and pray that i did not “clip and paste” too much from the story. i hope young writers will take her story as a cautionary tale. take the time to trust your instincts and seek assistance if necessary. further, citations and references are not so bad in writing. it can offer a positive view of the writer as one who is knowledgeable of material.

be well!!

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Published by biblelifestudies

I am a practicing lawyer and long term admirer of the bible

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