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Of Plagues and Plagiarism

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When I was 15, I was a staunch communist. I loved using the “Two Cows” concept to explain my ideology. I didn’t care that it was cliched. I loved Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and then I’d come to love Lenin, the Bolsheviks, and the sound of Russian philosophers. I adored Nikolai Gogol, and Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I’m still a sucker for Dostoyevsky.

At the height of my cynicism, I felt that everything meant for the good of man, or for God, should be free. So, I would occasionally rant about how religious leaders sold books. And yes, there was a time when GMusicPlus didn’t put up gospel songs for free again. Trust me, I cancelled them immediately. I mean, why should you hoard inspirational songs? Freely you have received, freely give, innit?

I guess I wasn’t the only one caught up in that line of thinking. More often than not, our subconscious (despite not being sent on an errand by anybody) pushes us to mark some items as public and free. In other words, we tend to see certain creative works as not possibly having or even needing copyright protection. If “see finish” had an IP application, this would be it.

For example, who cares that the copyright to the Happy Birthday song y’all throw around is worth US$5 million? Let’s just sing it, drink booze, and do one or two. YOLO.

The result of intellectual see finish is that you think you can claim a creativity that’s not yours, The English man likes to complicate everything with grammar so he calls this act plagiarism. Now, that doesn’t sound strange, does it? What’s strange is how much we plagiarize without even realizing. And plagiarism isn’t restricted to dissertations and assignments, you know. Some of you even plagiarize jokes. Well, we know they are plagiarized anyway – your sense of humor that can’t even shine in 1am darkness. Lol.

Plagiarism is the act of stealing and lying at the same time. You take what does not belong to you and technically lie that it’s yours. You don’t need to explicitly say that the stolen work belongs to you. As long as you don’t give the real owner(s) credit, you may as well be the reason Ajebo Hustlers sang “Barawo.”

Plagiarism is pervasive. By 2023, I predict that WIPO will announce that the world suffers from a plagiarism pandemic. Let’s talk academic plagiarism for a while, shall we? You’ll relate well with that one I presume.

A study by McCabe involving 70,000 students in 24 United States high schools revealed that about 95% of these students admitted that they had engaged in some form of cheating (including copying on assessments and plagiarism). 58% of them didn’t mince words – they accepted that they plagiarized. In context, those are figures from folks below the age of 18. Now, let’s talk big guns. A study revealed that 85% of college students believe that plagiarism is necessary. After all, they won’t get jobs without a little cheating here and there. Worse still, a US News and World Report Survey made it clear that 90% of students “didn’t think they would get caught for plagiarism.” Sounds like you, Shalewa, don’t it?

Asides from academic circles, there have been countless other examples of plagiarism. About four years ago, the incumbent President of Ghana Nana Akuffo Addo plagiarized speeches by George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in his inaugural address. Thankfully, he replaced Americans with Ghanaians. He couldn’t get any more thoughtful than that.

There’s another president who has been involved in some form of plagiarism. No, not his WAEC result. Even that wasn’t plagiarism, just pure fraud. Anyways, in 2016, a certain BuBu of Aso Villa was reported to have plagiarized two paragraphs from a speech made by Barack Obama. Funny enough, the speech was to launch his “Change Begins with Me” project, an initiative targeted at stopping civil servants from collecting bribes, among many other commendable white elephant initiatives.

Just recently, news broke accusing the renowned RCCG Praise Team of plagiarizing an entire song and adding it to their album. They are currently said to be facing a ₦350 million copyright infringement suit. In a closely related event in 2004, a preacher at a mega religious institution resigned his position after acknowledging that he had plagiarized several sermons over the course of his active ministry.

An Indian beauty queen, Vasuki Sunkavalli, was also mudded a few years ago after she plagiarized seven tweets from a Wall Street Journal columnist. That’s proof that you can plagiarize social media content, and further proof that it’s okay to stick to posting slay pictures if you don’t have hot intelligent takes.

What do we learn from all these stories? A vast majority of people who have been indicted of plagiarism either said they weren’t aware that such practices are wrong, or that they thought that such materials could be used without permission or risking an ethical/legal issue. Intellectual see finish with the audacity of Zlatan Ibrahimovich. We’ll correct that in a few paragraphs.

Basically, every original picture, social media post, literary piece, musical combination is protected by copyright once it is expressed in tangible form (something you can either see, listen to, touch or share). A plagiarized content could also be protected by a trademark. So, copying someone’s work or mark may amount to both copyright infringement or trademark infringement and plagiarism.

What then is the difference between infringement and plagiarism?

Well, plagiarism is broader than copyright and trademark infringement primarily because you can also plagiarize creativity that cannot enjoy such IP protections. For example, copyright protection does not extend to ideas but you can plagiarize an idea. So, if you copy a movie plot, change character names, and even change some sequence, you’re plagiarizing. You can plagiarize research ideas, examination responses, and even a lecture plan.

Can you go to jail for plagiarism?

I’m glad you ask the right questions, Nnamdi. As it stands, you can’t end up in any Nigerian prison for plagiarism. That’s because plagiarism isn’t even considered a crime in any law. But most academic institutions consider it an offence and take internal punitive measures. In other cases, you may sue for copyright infringement or trademark infringement instead, where it applies. However, if someone plagiarizes your idea, chances are that they wouldn’t probably be held accountable for their wrongdoing. Plagiarism, as serious as it is, appears to be reduced to a mere ethical issue, a plague that should be avoided only if your conscience pricks you.

Plagiarism just like every act of copyright infringement denies creatives of the moral and economic rights to their original ideas and products. Whether you’re a millennial or Gen-Zer, you’re the creative future of the nation you identify with. You simply can’t mess it up by suppressing the amazing ideas you have built up and instead copying existing ideas you should challenge with newer concepts.

Here’s the final charge: Be original, and where you can’t, be honest. No one ever died of acknowledging you cited a source. Your girlfriend won’t love you less if you crack a joke and tell her you got it from Akpors Jokes on Facebook. Cite sources of your pickup lines too. And trust that IPTLC is ready to stand with you.**

*Fun Fact: Many countries celebrate National Awkward Moments Day and National Lazy Day, but there is yet no National Anti-Plagiarism Day.
**Only as it concerns knowing about, monetizing and protecting your intellectual property rights.

Sources

  1. https://skillscouter.com/plagiarism-statistics/
  2. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ghana-politics-idUSKBN14S0VD
  3. https://fij.ng/article/rccg-facing-n350m-lawsuit-over-copyright-infringement-by-national-praise-team/
  4. https://www.wfmynews2.com/article/news/local/pastor-of-huge-nc-church-resigns-admits-he-plagiarized-sermons/83-403963883
  5. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/210515-nigerias-president-buhari-in-fresh-plagiarism-scandal-of-obamas-speech.html

Author
Olamilekan Adebanjo is a Canadian stuck in a Nigeria by birth. He tries to convince himself everyday that he is a law student of the University of Ibadan. Intellectual Property subjects are the only articles he writes for free. No much talk, here’s a link to his abandoned LinkedIn (no pun intended) if you have a crush: https://www.linkedin.com/in/olamilekan-adebanjo-9062a9176

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