I recently wrote a 10-page paper about basic evolutionary biology, and, wow, what a miserable experience that was. It’s such a simple topic to write about; I should have been able to do it in my sleep. Instead, it took me days. This agony was not because of the topic or the content of the paper. In fact, the subject matter is easy to understand, and Darwin’s theories do hold my interest. The reason I spent so much time on it was because I needed to rewrite every word perfectly to avoid accusations of plagiarism, which professors love to warn us about.
But how can I write a fresh perspective on a topic like Darwinism? Since I’m not doing any scientific research of my own, my purpose as a student is regurgitating information handed to me in a textbook and then making it sound brand-new and exciting. At first, this doesn’t seem like such a difficult task. I can jot down my interpretation of how evolution works. But then when I do a bit of online research, my sentences seem to have already been written by someone else. Apparently, there are dozens of Web sites devoted to this subject, and at least four other bastards wrote those sentences almost the same way I did. Dammit, I had worked hard on those. Time to rewrite them. Thank the Lord for my thesaurus. What’s another word for phylogeny? How can I rewrite dates without making it look like I copied and pasted them? I swear, professor, I typed in each date myself!
Eventually, I rewrite the same tedious phrases over and over until they eventually don’t mean what they’re supposed to mean and my paper sounds moronic. But at least I know when I turn it in online and the Anti-Plagiarismatic 9000 double checks my paper, I’m in the clear. Nobody can write as badly as I can.
But this paranoia thing sucks. Why should I have to research other authors just to make sure my words haven’t already been written? There are only so many different ways to write the same sentence. Different ways are there only to so write many sentences the same.
Not everything can be original and unique. Take a look at the article on the adjacent page. Is that the first time you’ve ever read about that? I’m sure someone else wrote about it elsewhere. Is this article one-of-a-kind? Somebody has probably griped the same way that I am right now, maybe using the same brilliant vocab words that I’m using – even a thesaurus can’t get me out of this one.
Subconscious plagiarism is prevalent in more than just the college paper-writing industry. The Chiffons sued George Harrison of the Beatles because his song “My Sweet Lord” sounded too close to “He’s So Fine.” Some might say he purposely hijacked those same chords with an identical melody, but the lyrics are quite different! There are no “doo-langs” in Harrison’s song. Maybe we can say he randomly came across those chord changes and thought they’d be great for his new song. But he was unlucky, because the Chiffons happened to write those chord changes first. Since this is an opinion article, I’m allowed to say I like George Harrison’s song better.
The same applies to trademark infringement. Apple was sued by Cisco because the iPhone was already a registered trademark – but how was Apple to know? I’m sure they just came up with that arbitrary name, “iPhone,” randomly on their own and had no idea it was already one of Cisco’s products.
And what about copyrighted phrases? I was just told Emeril Lagasse owns the rights to the word “BAM!” and I never would’ve thought I could be sued whenever I pretend-punch my roommate. Maybe I really should be paranoid about this whole plagiarism thing.
I’ve never been accused of plagiarism, but I sure feel like it could happen at any moment. Please don’t sue me, Emeril. And professor, please don’t fail me from the class if I happen to have a few similarities to Wikipedia in my paper.