The plagiarism debate

Recently two prize-winning poets have been exposed as plagiarists, you could say serial plagiarists. Where I stand on the issue is quite simply that I regard it as theft. It’s a total breach of the trust of editors and competition judges who can recognise quality in a poem (after all, that’s why they are editors and judges) but who will be unaware that the works have been stolen from the works of earlier authors.

As an editor, I frequently publish work submitted by people I don’t know, and I take it on trust that the poems submitted are their own work (I have a statement to that effect in my Submission Guidelines for The Open Mouse). I’ve read widely, but I haven’t read everything – who has? It’s entirely possible that, inadvertently, I may have published plagiarised work. I hope I haven’t, but I could have. The plagiarists rely on such uncertainties, and the chances of discovery and unmasking are remote.

Other poets have influenced my own writing, that’s inevitable, but I wouldn’t steal their words. Every writer has such influences; we recognise them in ourselves but, normally, we learn to strike our own paths to publication and competition success.

We rely, as we must, on sharp-eyed readers, to point out where plagiarism has occurred. I can’t see any simple technological solution to the problem, although word pattern recognition software may offer possibilities in time.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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One Response to The plagiarism debate

  1. As you say being influenced by others is one thing.. I have been writing verse for about 40 years, though I make no claims as to quality . I do my best to say well what I have to say, that’s all I can do. The thought of inadvertent plagiarism fills me with the screaming ab-dabs. I cannot imagine doing it deliberately.

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