URC

E-Content Management and Development:
Hijacking Plagiarism on the High Sea of Cyber-Intellectualism

Victor Counted

West Africa Theological Seminary (Nigeria)

 

Keywords: Plagiarism, Research Ethics, Cyber-Plagiarism, Education, Turnitin Software, Curriculum, Tact Management, Cultural Prejudice, Nigeria, Knowledge, Victor Counted, Morality

Abstract

Daily, we see the unethical hijacking of e-contents in the “high sea” of intellectualism—of materials, literature, and other resources of worth—without regard to its original proponent. Upon reflection on the ethics of ownership and place of ethics in research, we seek a solution to this act of infringement, which for centuries has been of knotty problem. The Internet with its TCP/IP network protocols can facilitate data transmission and easily scan selected parts of works that become instances of plagiarism.

My motivation is personal, having being a victim of this villainous act. A few years ago, I purchased a book that had interspersed in it the exact ideas I posted on my blog. For this reason, I answer some ethical questions, share perspectives, and then proffer possible solutions that could be helpful in curbing this intellectual fraud.

This paper offers novel ways of avoiding a “copy-and-paste” practice by applying the research questions of “What,” “Why,” and “How”:

  1. WHAT is the ethics of ownership in research?
  2. WHY has the reuse of someone else’s data become a practice among researchers and students of the developing world?
  3. HOW can we as educators, researchers, panelists, research bodies, scientists, IT experts, internet users, writers, and scholars fight this academic squalor that has eaten the fabric of our very own academic excellence?

Introduction

Plagiarism. The act of taking someone's words or ideas as if they were your own.
It is obvious that some people supplement their lean books with the work of others. But could it be true, like Burton (2001) postulated, that “We can say nothing but what hath been said” (p. 144). Could it be possible that words might have been written by someone unknown? Clifton Fadiman (1963) in his argument opined, “We prefer to believe that the absence of inverted commas guarantees the originality of a thought, whereas it may be merely that the utterer has forgotten its source” (p. 87). But what really is plagiarism? Wilson Mizner (2007), a US Playwright, once presented a rib-tickling suggestion: “When you steal from one author, it's plagiarism; if you steal from many, it's research” (p. 234). The question on the minds of many is what really is the template of plagiarism?

The French Poet and Novelist, Anatole France (2007), abetted the act and sincerely maintained that a good work is worth borrowing. In fact, in his own terms, this was his text-fashion: “When a thing has been said and said well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it” (¶ 1). Now, what is wrong with plagiarism then?

Each of the above statements is pointing to something evasively vivid. Allow me to concur with Henry Wotton (2007) in his persuasive view that “Every writer is but a gatherer and disposer of other men’s stuff (¶ 3). Every structure in the world today (even the world economy) was a clear plagiaristic act. Nations and governments today thrive on the philosophies of unknown dead men. No wonder that after the British Jim Callaghan (2007) observed the movements of history and civilization in his country he surmised: “Britain has lived for too long on borrowed time, borrowed money and even borrowed ideas” (¶ 2). “Nevertheless, let’s allow morality to rule. I know that I will be sufficiently rewarded if when telling it to others you will not claim the discovery as your own, but will say it was mine” (Eves, 1969, ¶1).

WHAT: PRINCIPLES IN RESEARCH ETHICS

As we know, plagiarism has many advantages over the labor of creation. It is much easier to carry out and less hard work. You can finish twenty works of plagiarism in the time it takes to produce one creative work. People want things the easy way---no doubt. They forget that nature itself is never in haste. The way of nature is the way of virtue, and this evolvement involves a systematic progression of the dynamics of universe.

The scope of this topic is not to explicate the ethics in research, rather the responsible conduct of research (commonly considered moral steps in research). These contracting perspectives are basic to understanding when we step off the line to plagiarize.

Often the product of research is for the common good of the society. For example, the research on humans largely depends on volunteer subjects. What are the rights of the subject, and when is the manipulation of the subject unethical?

For several decades now, many professional bodies, government affiliated agencies, and topnotch universities have enacted strict codes, rules, and policies relating to research ethics. Shamoo and Resnik (2009) in their collaborative work, Responsible Conduct of Research, discussed these codes, rules, and policies. We will briefly look at a brief synopsis of some of the ethical maxims they considered.

Honesty

This is the quality, condition, or characteristic of being fair, truthful, and morally upright in your data, report, methods, procedures, and publication status. Do not fabricate, falsify, or misrepresent data. Do not deceive readers, colleagues, granting agencies, or the public. Be faithful with every useful disciplinary perspective you dispense.

Objectivity

Perceive and describe your experimental design, data analysis, data interpretation, peer review, personnel decisions, grant writing, or expert testimony without being influenced by any personal emotions or prejudices. Debar bias or preference. Your deductions must be based on observable phenomena.

Integrity

Avoid polarity of thoughts. Strive for consistency of thoughts and actions, and keep your promises and agreements. Steadfastly stick to your original principles and professional standards, no matter the consuming snag.

Cautiousness

Avoid laxity or negligence. Work strictly with your peers, and be attentive and cautious about possible dangers. Keep good records of research activities, such as data collection, research design, and correspondence with agencies or journals.

Human Subjects Protection

Resnik (2009) in an article suggested that “When conducting research on human subjects, minimize harms and risks and maximize benefits; respect human dignity, privacy, and autonomy; take special precautions with vulnerable populations; and strive to distribute the benefits and burdens of research fairly” (¶ 24).

Other Ethical Principles in Research Ethics

This includes openness, respect for intellectual property, confidentiality, responsible publication, responsible monitoring, respect for colleagues, social responsibility, non-discrimination, competence, legality, and animal care.

Needless to say, we see the inconsideration of the principles above, and that is why we struggle today to curb this practice. There can be no talk of curbing plagiarism without first looking at its root cause, which stem from inability to draw conclusions due to lack of knowledge of research ethics.

WHY: THE SLAP OF CYBER-PLAGIARISM

Cyber-plagiarism could be as a result of misinformation on how to use Web contents. According to Goessi (2010), cyber-plagiarism becomes more of a problem because of the different philosophies associated with information obtained on the Internet. It is true, however, that there is a percentage of people who likely don't understand the concept of intellectual property and view the Internet as one big, information resource (¶ 5). For example, in Nigeria, some students view it as a default research engine, ready to spring into action. Hence, they see the Internet, more or less, as free-to-use resource for anybody on a first come-first serve basis. Students do not realize that these materials were originally authored and require proper credit. At this point, referencing a writer sounds so alien to them. Another reason could be that (as in the typical African worldview), there is no point for intellectual ownership. Africans believe in community life, no idea is personalized to someone. When an idea is good for the community it thus belongs to every member of that community without a trace to its author. Journals, articles, and books found online often are not properly cited (if cited at all) for this same reason. Africans don’t believe in individual ownership. That’s what separates Africa from the capitalist America. Some African students see the Internet as some sort of answer robot. And who is to blame them if there is no proper awareness? Most of them don’t even know how to reference an Internet work, or even aware that information found online is the intellectual property of its creator and requires proper attribution (Ibid. ¶ 6).

The knowledge of e-content management for academic writing is requisite to understanding why people helplessly get themselves involved in plagiarizing. This section described why researchers and students might have plagiarized. Briefly, we will look at some possible ways the praxis of plagiarism has fearlessly choked our moral and academic muscles.

DEARTH OF SKILLS

Lack of Writing Skills

Sometime ago, a fellow student boldly told me that she couldn’t write without lifting other people’s materials. She even said that I was blessed to be artistic. But the truth is: she never gave time to studies. On the other hand, some students develop very poor writing skills due to their backgrounds, and this needs to be corrected before it is too late. My recommendation for such students is either to study or take fresh courses that will whet their writing skills.

Lack of Research Skills

It has been reported that many “Undergraduate students do not know how to search the library catalogue, search databases for journal articles, or use other reference sources. Faculty can help students acquire these skills by working in conjunction with their library (and lecturers)” (Ibid. ¶7). Truth be told, I fall into this category. But thank God for having a good editor that guided and tutored me on the process; I’m learning this skill myself.

Computer Inexperience

Some African students don’t know how to evaluate or access Internet data. This could affect student analysis and the whole process of writing. Although for some, due to incompetency, they make referential mistakes.

EXTERNAL FACTORS

An Ethos Prejudice

The language of plagiarism is Western. For a typical African man that word sounds so alien. The truth is, in African cosmology, some ideologies are ludicrously perceived. One such perspective could be that an author has ownership of language or line of thought. Copying someone else's words or ideas is a high form of flattery. The notion that words can be "owned" is a facet of Western culture. Bowden (1996) brought more light to this when he writes:

Many non-Westerners have a very difficult time understanding that a person can own discourse. For many Asian students in composition classes, proper acknowledgement of the language and ideas of others is a very difficult concept to understand; much less master . . . in the West . . . there is a strong connection between ownership and selfhood, with the implication that whatever one owns (language included) makes up one's personal identity (p. 5-18).

Just like the Asians, a typical African philosophy does not eulogize ownership. Rather, ownership in the African worldview is communal. The release of a nugget is for the benefit of all; and like the 18th century French Novelist once said, “When a thing has been said and said well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it,” (Anatole, 2007, ¶2). That’s a typical African persuasion when it comes to authorship. But notice that the usage must be for the benefit of all (the community).

Choleric Targets and Student Ethics

Goal-oriented targets could be another factor. Some students will do anything for good grades and scholarships. For them, good grades are all that matters. They sidetrack the chief purpose of learning simply because they want to make good grades so as to gain scholarships and impress friends and family members. So they are goal oriented and more interested in achieving goals than gaining the value of learning.

Conversely, another principal reason a student might plagiarize could be on competitive grounds. “Students may also not be as personally interested in their own education versus their career aspirations. Even students who are concerned about the learning part of their education may justify plagiarism based on the fear that others are already cheating, causing unfair competition” (Fain, 2004, p. 213).

Students lack a basic reference point for ethical academic behavior. For some students, getting the grade becomes the goal, and they might see any behaviour as appropriate. Thus, lacking clear guidance from faculty and confused about the goal of education, students do not know what constitutes academic dishonesty. (Lathrop & Foss, 2005, p. 115) 

Some are so ambitious that they miss the real deal of success. And sadly end up trading their education for collusion. 

Commoditization of Knowledge and Education

Due to the kind of economy the Government runs, African students view their education as a commodity and a means to an end. Alberta (2010) reported that

There has been a shift from valuing education for the sake of learning to valuing education so that career aspirations can be fulfilled. As a result, some students expect to pay their tuition and cruise through post-secondary education on their way to becoming a professional in their chosen field. Education can be viewed as the passport to a desired job rather than a learning experience (¶ 6).

Hence, students want to get the piece of paper by all means possible in order to get that perfect dream job without necessarily confronting the challenges of learning.

INTERNAL FACTORS

Laziness

Some want be writers to author articles but are too lazy to exert effort. “Why get knotty when the web is there to surf and copy?” they ask. Researchers, students, bloggers, and even companies often infringe on intellectual property rights simply because of their attitude toward self-exertion.

Convenience/Poor Time Management

The length of assignments overwhelms some students, and thus they procrastinate. Goessi (2010) opined that this factor was a motivator for any plagiarist. In addressing this point, Goessi asked rhetorically, “If a school essay or term paper is due, why put all the effort that eats up time that could be used doing something more fun or interesting. Too much effort when it's easy to copy someone else's work or buy a paper off a web company and claim those words as their own?” (¶ 6). Most students recognize that plagiarism is not the right course of action; yet, they find themselves exploiting other people’s works because they are finding it difficult to meet deadlines. And to ease the tension and load, they surf the web and copy others’ thought and submit as original material.

Misunderstanding

To a degree, the misconception of a concept could suggest foul play. For example, students may erroneously assume that the act of plagiarism only involves written text. However, the theft or lack of attribution for someone else's idea is also plagiarism. In fact, some students’ perception of online information as content for public knowledge could be another misinformed way of plagiarizing.

HOW: PERSPECTIVES FOR AMELIORATION

Synthesis

Bruce Leland (2002) outlined 12 feasible ways to curb plagiarism among students. Although the twelve are plausible, I believe these four practices are especially pertinent:

  • Direct students to one of the Websites. Have students look at a weak paper and analyze its failures. They will learn something about writing and also understand that what's available for downloading may not impress their teacher.
  • Teach the class to use the papers on the Internet as sources for their own papers. Show students how to correctly cite electronic sources.
  • Be careful to give specific, non-generic instructions for papers. An assignment to write about AIDS, for example, might tempt students to plagiarize because thousands of writers have posted such papers. A more specific assignment where students have to deduce, juxtapose, or syllogize will make plagiarism much more difficult.
  • Give writing assignments that will capture students’ attention. If they can develop some interest in the subject, students will less likely cheat (¶9-15).

Also if possible, I recommend that teachers use practical, enthralling issues raised in class as assignments. This will stir an interest for better performance because students will have to exert effort in resolving such issues in writing. This will lessen their reuse of someone else’s details.

Needless to say, we can either be part of a problem or part of a solution. For this reason I proffer solutions to advance research studies. It is important however, that we bear in mind Anthony Giddens’ (2007) popular saying: “Global problems respond to local initiatives but they also demand global solutions” (¶ 3). Permit me to paraphrase this statement by saying that global problems provide global solutions only when local initiatives are collectively given, employed, and enforced for the common good of all.

The following resolutions may also be useful in preventing plagiarism for empirical reasons:

Foundational Cubhood Fosterage

Let’s start with a Foundational Cubhood Fosterage. The unwillingness to reckon with the basic principles in Research Ethics, which is imperative to the researcher’s absorbance for moral serenity, could whimsically bend a researcher to live a plagiaristic lifestyle. Remember, one of the ways to instill ethics in up-and-coming researchers is via a systematic teaching process. This enlightenment must start from cubhood; when you give leeway to a child you in turn whisk such child away to the cold hands of failure (plagiarism). In contributing to the autonomy of a child, we must swiftly teach them at their tender age of adaptation. We can contribute to their development by nourishing their mindset and thought pattern with core virtues, truths, and values for living.

We are responsible as parents, educators, and religious models, to morally influence our children’s mind with the codes of ethics. We must act in order to perfect this process of inculcation, and this must start during their puerile years.

Student-Teacher Relationship

Let’s ignite a Student-Teacher Relationship. To teach well is to be a lifelong student, they say. Because good research is really time consuming and students fall often into the quagmire of academic fraud just to meet the teacher’s deadlines, I suggest that teachers should acknowledge that it is hard work. This, of a truth, authenticates Atxaga’s (2007) prior stance that, “You can finish twenty works of plagiarism in the time it takes to produce one creative work” (¶ 1). Thus, a mutual interest between both parties could launch a considerable understanding and thus affect hard work among students. Teachers should learn to empathize with their students in order to think in their thought pattern and arouse their utmost interest and contribution. 

Turnitin Software

Let’s not get overly enthused with the Turnitin SoftwareEven the Turnitin software, a postmodern way of possibly showing copied content, can only signal plagiarism because a student failed to reference his work properly. This is a flaw. Turnitin shows where texts matches are made with other sources, and the accuracy of your use of quotations and citations. So, the Turnitin software might not be the solution.

This however, calls for extra care and attention plus involvement of teachers in helping their students learn the basis of researching and referencing methods so as to avoid a misguided Turnitin report. The answer still lies on our ability to teach, understand, and have patience.

Update Policy

Let’s Update Our Curriculum and modify it by adding novel disciplines. Initiate a study discipline on e-content management that will teach the students how to manage and use online materials. Let’s add this study discipline into our curriculum. And of course, we need specialists in this field of study. Students must be taught e-content management and development so that they can respect electronic intellectualism and its creators.

Embrace an Ethical Tact Management

Let’s Embrace an Ethical Tact Management. Consideration in dealing with others and avoiding giving offence is vital to life itself. We must respect the ethics of research and its clear codes. And what better way can one respect others or conform to ethical laws if not when it is convincingly intrinsic?

Notice that this paper does not look at how to catch someone who has stolen an intellectual property--rather, how to tame plagiarism. Any other solution proffered, without first addressing this issue in our classrooms or homes, might not be a lasting solution at all. The root is where the problem lies. And in this case, plagiarism has it basis in upbringing, and it is only from this understanding that can we positively think of a solution. So let’s institute a grass roots rectification process and go back to basis.

SUMMARY

History, they say, relates good things of good men. The attentive hearer is excited to imitate that which is good. If it mentions evil things of wicked persons, the religious or pious hearer is more earnestly excited to perform those things that he knows to be good and worthy of God.

I hope this contribution will whet the yearning of morality in us? This change cannot come about if we are not ready to be absorbed by the justification of morality—which by the way outshines the iron-wiliness and adamic nature that is inherent in us. A moral alteration in a person is the repositioning of a person’s mental consideration and responsibility. The halting of plagiarism will only be reasonably significant when people begin to sincerely question their morality and drift from those paths. This issue of plagiarism is a question of morality. 

References

Alberta, U. (2010, July). Guide to plagiarism and cyber-plagiarism. Retrieved online at  www.guides.library.ualberta.ca/content.php?pid=62200&sid

Atxaga, B. (2007). Obabakoak. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation 

Bowden, D. (1996). Stolen voices: Plagiarism and authentic voice. Composition, Studies/Freshman English News, 24.

Burton, R. (2001). The anatomy of melancholy: Democritus to the reader. Redmond, New York: New York Review Books 

Callaghan, J. (2007). Microsoft Encyclopedia. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation 

Cole, J. B. (2007). Microsoft Encyclopedia. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation 

Eves, H. (1969). In mathematical crcles. Boston: Weber and Schmidt, Inc

Fadiman, C. (1963). On being fifty. Cleveland: World Publishing 

Fain, J. N. (2004). Sanctified trial. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press

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Goessi, L. (2010). Why people plagiarize. A publication of Helium Inc, retrieved online at www.hilium.com/users/256411/show_articles

Lathrop, A., & Foss, K. (2005). Guiding students from cheating and plagiarism in the Internet era. Englewood, CO: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc. 

Leland, B. H. (2002). Plagiarism on the Web. Retrieved online at www.wiu.edu/users/mfbhl/wiu/plagiarim.htm

Marion, J. (2004). Life in a fast lane. New York: Warner Books

Mizner, W. (2007). Microsoft Encyclopedia. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation 

Murdoch, R. (2007). Microsoft Encyclopedia. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation 

Resnik, D. (2009). What is ethics in research & why is it important? New York: A publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences – National Institutes of Health (NIEHS)

Shamoo, A., & Resnik, D. (2009). Responsible conduct of research (2nd Ed.).New York: Oxford University Press

St. Bede the Venerable. (2007). Ecclesiastical history of the English people. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation 

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