The rise of digital technologies has meant that it has become much easier to use other people’s work as your own, while simultaneously, it has also become much easier to be caught due to plagiarism detection software such as Viper. In the past, before the rise of the Digital Age, it was much more difficult to detect acts of plagiarism, because such detection largely involved somebody remembering a specific piece of content, and matching it to the work of a plagiarist. However, with there being such vast amounts of paper content in the world in libraries and bookstores, such content matching would have been quite difficult, and so many plagiarists may have gotten away with their acts of plagiarism in the past. Nevertheless, with the rise of new technologies and the Digital Age, along with the advent of the Internet and the popularisation of online activity, this has meant that much of this paper content has now been produced digitally, which is much easier to locate via searches and plagiarism detection software. Therefore, this has very much shifted the landscape of plagiarism, and we have now entered a new era in the war against plagiarism.
Lea Evering and Gary Moorman have looked at plagiarism in the Digital Age, and they say that:
“The current concept of plagiarism is based on a capitalist view of property and ownership. It assumes that everything of value can be owned, bought, and sold and that ideas, knowledge, and art are created by individuals who have the rights of ownership”.
Thus, every piece of writing that is created is automatically copyrighted, and so any reproduction of such texts or original ideas can be considered to be an offence of plagiarism. This can include text, pictures, and artwork; and also other forms of media such as videos, or computer-generated animations, for example. However, it might be said that any piece of writing, artwork, or any narrative of any kind is rooted in historical processes and popular culture, and so no such works can ever be truly original. For example, you might see a movie that has similarities with something else that you have watched, with just a little twist to differentiate it, or you might read a fictional novel that also has similarities with another novel. However, unless there is something clear that is a like-for-like copy, then this is unlikely to be considered to be an act of plagiarism. Moreover, it is also the case that as human beings, people tend to take in vast amounts of information over the course of their lives, and this information can then spill out subconsciously into works of art or literature, without being aware that the information has been taken from viewing somebody else’s work. Nevertheless for those who do not wish to plagiarise, and want to check that their ideas and work is original, the Digital Age can be a blessing, as there are numerous ways that one can check one’s own work against digital content, such as: (a) by simply copy and pasting the text into a search engine such as Google or Yahoo, or (b) through the use of dedicated plagiarism software that can detect matches of content with all online content, as well as stored libraries of work. For many people with artistic integrity, this is a vital part of the process of writing, whether this is song lyrics, academic work, or a work of literature or journalism. Furthermore, doing such checks also provide a safeguard against getting into trouble or being humiliated for copying later on.
Therefore, the Digital Age has been both a blessing and a curse when it comes to plagiarism. For willing plagiarists, it has provided a wealth of information and ideas to easily copy and use as original work, while for academic institutions it has led to a means of detecting plagiarism. Perhaps such digital means might also allow a plagiarist to check if a document or piece of work has been digitised, and if it has not then it might more easily be copied and used without detection. Moreover, complex situations could arise whereby a piece of online content is already a work of plagiarism, and so someone who uses this as a source, and correctly cites it, might inadvertently be taking the ideas of someone else’s work, without realising it; and could therefore get into trouble for the omission of a citation of this original work. Nevertheless, as time goes by, plagiarism detection software is likely to get increasingly sophisticated, and this will hopefully lead to a scenario whereby fewer and fewer people engage in acts of plagiarism, as the risks of getting caught increase exponentially. What these increased risks will not solve though, are acts of accidental plagiarism, which will continue to occur regardless. What is needed in these cases then, is more education in respect of what plagiarism is and what it entails, and a part of this education could come in the form of digital information, via online tutorials or online articles about plagiarism such as this one.
Finally, although plagiarism has been a big issue with universities and academic institutions for many decades, the rise of digital and online technologies have proliferated such concerns, and have led to a situation in which such institutions have to be more diligent in detecting such instances of plagiarism, so that their academic reputation is not tarnished, and so that it is fair on those students who adhere to plagiarism rules and regulations. Thus, plagiarism can be compared to the world of crime, in which as criminals become more technologically sophisticated so too do counter-crime agencies, and vice versa. This then, is an on-going battle, which evolves as one side responds to the other. However, key to this battle in the academic world is that of teachers and lecturers, as there is a qualitative element to plagiarism as well, in respect of drastic changes in writing style, which tends to be unique to the particular individual. Therefore, vigilant teachers might be able to identify when a student’s work has undergone a drastic change in style, or has suddenly increased in their academic capabilities beyond what one might expect in a short space of time, and this could act as a red flag for further investigation. Nevertheless, if all students’ work is put through plagiarism detection software such as Viper, then this should serve to mitigate levels of plagiarism in schools, colleges, and universities, as the risk of plagiarism would then become in many ways too great for most students.
While it is unrealistic to think that plagiarism can ever be fully eradicated through the use of modern technologies, such technologies could help to significantly mitigate plagiarism in the future, and in fact it could be argued that they have already done so. As such, it is important to use such technologies to one’s advantage, as there is a seemingly infinite number of online sources that can be used if cited correctly, and a plethora of ways in which work can be checked to verify its originality. Thus, although digital technologies can be seen as both a curse and a blessing when it comes to plagiarism, from a positive vantage point, there are many benefits of such technologies that students, in particular, must use to their full advantage. Plagiarism in the Digital Age is becoming easier to detect, so be warned, and take appropriate action to protect yourself from acts of accidental plagiarism.