Trivium Pursuit

A Few Words About the Sin of Plagiarism

Plagiarism, noun. [from plagiary.] The act of purloining another man's literary works, or introducing passages from another man's writings and putting them off as one's own; literary theft.

Plagiary, noun. [L. Plagium, a kidnapping...] 1. A thief in literature; one that purloins another's writings and offers them to the public as his own. 2. The crime of literary theft.

Plagiary, adjective. Stealing men; kidnapping. 2. Practicing literary theft.

Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828.

plagiarist "a literary or artistic thief"

plagiarize ... "To steal or purloin and use as one's own (the ideas, words, artistic productions, etc., of another); to use without due credit the ideas, expressions, or productions of (another)."

purloin ... "to take away for one's self; hence, to steal; filch"

Webster's New International Dictionary of the English Language, 1925.

plagiarize ... "1. To steal and use (the ideas or writings of another) as one's own. 2. To appropriate passages or ideas from (another) to use as one's own."

Reader's Digest Illustrated Encyclopedic Dictionary, 1987.

At times we become so familiar with another's work that we unwaringly imitate it. Sometimes we cannot so much as recall the source of our ideas. Though it would be good, for numerous reasons, if we could mentally catalogue all of our sources, we nevertheless cannot.

Many thoughts become so repeated that they becomes general knowledge and their source can never be traced. Often enough others give us a "free thought" or so we consider it, and we feel no obligation to credit its source. We often hear things with no source cited, and we therefore presume, correctly or incorrectly, that it is general knowledge. Largely because the verbal citing of sources interrupts the oral communication, we do not feel as much obligation to cite our sources orally as we do in writing. And, at rare moments, the same thought may occur independently to more than one person. Because of such variables in our ways of communicating, nobody in their right mind begrudges an occasional "borrowed thought" which fails to fully acknowledge its source.

But "borrowed thoughts" can be simply, clearly and easily distinguished from the wholesale appropriation of another's ideas without paying them their credit due. "Borrowed thoughts" are rare and scattered in a single work, never of any length, and scarcely ever verbatim. Plagiarism is often repeated in a single work, comes in blocks which follow the outline of the source, and imitates the manner of expression, sometimes using the very words, of the source.

Most of us learned to dabble in plagiarism while writing "reports" in the government grade school. But we never became polished in the practice, and upon conversion we gave up the practice altogether. An honest conscience cannot borrow upon another's labors and extend him no credit.

The deliberate plagiarizing of ideas is akin to the sin of kidnapping. In fact, that is exactly what the word "plagiarize" means "kidnap." "And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death." (Exodus 21:16, compare Deuteronomy 24:7; 1st Timothy 1:10) When you take another man's ideas, born of his own mind, and you use them as if they were your own children, you destroy another man's house and leave him without his child. You steal the heritage which God has given that man. "Thou shalt not steal." (Romans 13:9; Exodus 20:15; Leviticus 19:11; Deuteronomy 5:19; Matthew 19:18; Mark 10:19; Luke 18:20) You take away from him the reward for his own efforts of thought. "Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn." "The laborer is worthy of his reward." (1st Timothy 5:18; 1st Corinthians 9:9; Matthew 10:10; Luke 10:7; Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:15; 25:4) So much did God consider intellectual property to be private property, that He even protected the copyright of His own revelations. "I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal My words every one from his neighbor." (Jeremiah 23:30) Only those prophets authorized by God may use God's words. None others may borrow them to establish their own credibility.

The world may see plagiarism as a small thing of no consequence. But we should see plagiarism for what it truly is, thievery in the sight of God.