One of my arguments for the importance of understanding plagiarism is that it is not just an academic obsession: in the “real” world, real writers can face scandal and even legal action if accused of plagiarism. Traci Gardner has this detailed summary of the latest such case over on NCTE’s InBox blog. I need to brush up my German and read the novel at the center of the controversy, Helen Hegemann’s Axolotl Roadkill. (If I’ve translated the blurb on amazon.de correctly, it’s a semi-autobiographical novel about excessive drugs, partying, and speech in Berlin. Excessive speech? Now I’m curious what Sprachexzesse really means …)
This reminds me of the most famous recent case in academia, in which Steven Ambrose, a well-known historian, was accused of plagiarizing from a book by Thomas Childers, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania (a Penn undergraduate wrote a nice article about this for the Penn’s alumni magazine). The situation here was more complex: the issue was whether Ambrose gave adequate credit to Childers — in the German novel, there are (apparently) entire pages lifted from other sources.
Regardless of the merits of the accusations and defenses in either case, you don’t want articles and blogs about plagiarism to be the first hits in a google search for your name! Another reason to teach and learn plagiarism well as early and often throughout every stage of higher education.
You can watch my video introduction to plagiarism and paraphrasing for ESL (mostly graduate) students here.