Borney E. Mastarreno from Glastonbury found a commencement speech on YouTube, copied it, and delivered it as his own. Now his life is ruined and that sucks. You can read the whole story here. But that’s not what this blog is really about. It’s about plagiarism.
My favorite communications college professor once told me that I will never have an original idea, so when I do something, I better make sure to do it better than the person who did it last.
I didn’t 100% get what he meant at the time but now (way too many years later) I fully understand. In the last few years, we’ve seen Justin Bieber, Pharrell, Robin Thicke, and many more artists being sued over the use of similar music, similar lyrics, similar beats in their songs. Sometimes I listen to the two songs side by side and I wonder what drugs these people are on that they actually see a correlation between the two. America is obsessed with plagiarism. In a world where every topic you can dream up already exists on the Internet, we are still panicked over “stealing” each other’s work.
It needs to stop. I remember years ago I was writing an article for CTBoom.com. I had received a tip via Facebook about a stolen dog (or something of that nature) and I developed a story about it. I didn’t give it a second thought. Then I started being harassed by a psycho that worked for some no name newspaper up in northern Connecticut. An Internet news source that I had never heard of accusing me of lifting their story. I calmly explained that I had received a message from a family member sharing their story, and that I had never even read their article. That wasn’t enough for this lunatic who then went to Twitter, Facebook, and every other Internet source to call me a plagiarist, a liar, and a whole slew of other names. He actually got me on the phone and yelled at me that he had better things to do than go after sourcing rights since he had a newborn at home.
I was shocked. This guy had a baby at home and he was spending his days hiding behind a computer screen trying to tarnish my image. Go hold your baby.
The reason why I share this story is because it’s a perfect example of how obsessed we’ve become with “copying” and “protecting our work”. I’ve been on the other side too, I’ve had photographs that I’ve gone out of my way to get for this website used on other blogs and news outlets, I once wrote a story that went viral about Rob Zombie and I watched as direct quotes that I got from town officials quoted with no sourcing credits given to CTBoom.com (or me for that matter). Did I freak out? Nope. You want to know why? Because if you’re going to have an idea, someone already has had it, and it’s up to you to deliver it better. It is what it is.
I’m not saying that there isn’t blatant plagiarism in our world, of course there is, but maybe we should really look at the big picture before we chastise people.
This teenager in Glastonbury was probably under a lot of pressure to give a great speech and what he did was idiotic. He found a speech he liked on YouTube and copied it. But, what if he had watched the speech, taken the ideas and then delivered it in his own words with his own twist- Would that have been plagiarism? See, in that situation, I think you’re taking an existing idea and doing it better- and in my mind, that’s fair game.