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In Defense of Plagiarism

“I am writing to you and everyone in the Class of 2004 about a serious problem: from time to time, an HBS student submits plagiarized work and suffers serious penalties.”
– From an email memo to ECs by Joseph Badaracco

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”
– Albert Einstein

Query:
What is the big freaking deal about plagiarism?
This is the problem that keeps us up at night? “Lock the windows, Mabel, there’s plagiarists out there!” Let’s get real. Here are 11 reasons to stop worrying and learn to love plagiarism.

1. IT’S IRONIC.
Here’s one problem I see with all this talk about plagiarism: NO ONE WRITES ANYTHING AT HBS. We don’t believe in it. Studies show that there are 70,000 words spoken to every one written at HBS. If you exclude crossword puzzles, that ratio increases to 95,000:1. So where’s the beef? Looking for plagiarists at HBS is like looking for cyclists at a one-legged-man convention.

2. IT’S ELITIST.
Dean of Ivy League college: “Pull out all the stops! If there are students who incorporate ideas without the proper citations, I want them identified, rounded up, and rooted out!”

Dean of college in Sierra Leone: “Let us pray that we make it another day without being slaughtered by 12-year-olds with machine guns.”

3. IT’S UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
Does the First Amendment say, “Thou shalt have freedom of speech, unless you forget the footnote?” No. As you know, it says, “Thou shalt have freedom of speech, but please spare us your online journal.”

4. IT’S LAME.
Plagiarism is the whitest of white-collar crimes. People who obsess about plagiarism are the kind of people who quibble about words in Scrabble (“‘Gooch’ isn’t in the O.E.D.! It doesn’t count!”)

5. IT REFLECTS QUESTIONABLE CAMPUS PRIORITIES.
SECURITY OFFICER: Chief, we’ve got reports of another 37 burglaries in SFP today. Want me to check things out?

CHIEF OF SECURITY: No time, Officer, we’ve got a report of an EC ripping three sentences out of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Get to the library, stat!

6. IT’S DISCRIMINATORY.
If you believe that plagiarism is “unethical,” you are basically endorsing discrimination against people who lack original ideas. Is that the kind of society we want? Is this the message we want to send? “Hey, dumb guy, I know you lack the capacity to generate original thought, and that sucks for you. Well, here’s a double-whammy for you, nougat-head: If you try to correct your weakness by using the ideas of people smarter than you, I’m going to smack you down with the sceptre of ethical purity! [WHAPP] Get back in your hole!”

7. IT’S IMPRACTICAL.
All the anti-plagiarists are always yapping about “citations.” Go ahead and use other people’s ideas, they say, just make sure you attribute the ideas to the sources. Yeah, easy for you to say. Have you ever tried to use the footnote feature in MS Word? Richard Feynman spent his last 10 years trying to crack auto-footnoting, and it eventually killed him.

For another thing, what exactly are we going to plagiarize? It’s not like we’re college freshmen writing a 5-paragraph essay on Hamlet. When’s the last time you saw a field-study paper on “industrial biocide” zipping around P2P on Kazaa?

8. IT’S INCONSISTENT WITH EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE.
If plagiarism is so bad, how come I got into HBS with self-plagiarized essays? How can something be wrong that has generated so much goodness in my life?

9. IT PUTS CONSTRAINTS ON ARTISTIC EXPRESSION.
If I rip a few paragraphs out of a book, you can call that “plagiarism.” Or you can call it by its real name: “sampling.” It’s no different than putting a James Brown scream in the background of your gangsta rap.

When Duchamp puts a moustache on the Mona Lisa, it’s called great art.

When I grow a moustache and hand in someone else’s paper under my name, it’s called “plagiarism.” Sprechen sie “double standard”??

10. IT’S INCONSISTENT WITH OUR TRAINING.
In the business world, if you take credit for someone else’s good idea, you don’t get called out for plagiarism. You get promoted. Part of being a good manager is knowing when to steal your subordinates’ best ideas.

11. IT’S IMPOSSIBILE.
It is not possible for plagiarism to occur at HBS for one simple reason: We are too arrogant to think that anyone else’s ideas are better than ours. Case closed.

Editor’s note: As usual, this is satire. Relax. That Guy is not in favor of plagiarism. In fact, he writes all his own columns. If you still want to quibble with him, you can email him at thatguymailbox@yahoo.com.

November 3, 2003
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