There is a terrific article on the New York Times website on the changed attitudes of today’s students towards plagiarism. It develops a number of points I vaguely hinted at in my earlier post on ‘DIY plagiarism detection.’ The most disquieting observation is that students simply no longer realize that they are plagiarizing another author’s text, or, even more perplexing, that they do not grasp that text is never just nameless ‘copy’ or texte trouvé, but always someone‘s writing. (Even if that someone is an anonymous collective, as in the case of most Wikipedia articles.)It is just one technology, the internet, that has made this enormous change of attitude possible in the space of a mere twenty years. In the 1990s, ‘plagiarizing’ still meant to physically copy text from a (printed) source into your own text. So you were holding not just a text but a document — it was a book or a journal article or a videotape that had at least one and mostly numerous mentions of the author’s name on it. Merely consulting the document — i.e., holding the object in your hands — implied to become conscious of its authorship.
(And the other conditions of its production: publishing house, printing quality …)
Nowadays, a huge amount of ‘text’ is indeed, as Teresa Fishman of Clemson University rightly remarks, “hanging out there.”
Now we have a whole generation of students who’ve grown up with information that just seems to be hanging out there in cyberspace and doesn’t seem to have an author (…) It’s possible to believe this information is just out there for anyone to take.