The ‘Art’ of Plagiarism in the Digital Age


For my first full disclosure of this post: I did not write the above quote. It was written by a much greater writer than I: Ralph Ellison. But that’s for later.

Yes, my fellow readers plagiarism is an art. It has to be if the plagiarist can be artistic enough to get away with one of the most egregious acts of theft: To me there is nothing lower than stealing someone’s words or intellectual property and calling it your own.

In a way, with the Internet, blogs and hundreds of publishing platforms it becomes tempting, almost inevitable and very easy — unless you have a sense of ethics. And, I am not here to make specific accusations — though I could, because I am seeing a growing number of instances.

So what exactly is plagiarism when it comes to writing? We all know what it was called in college when you either lifted a paper written by someone who took the course before you, or found a paper or dissertation in a long-forgotten source.

We have all heard of instances where newspaper or magazine ombudsmen — or “social editors” as some are now called — have either caught the guilty or been alerted to the practice by astute readers.

But in the digital age, the act has become more refined — and subtle. According to, plagiarism is:

“An act or instance of using or closely imitating the language and thoughts of another author without authorization and the representation of that author’s work as one’s own, as by not crediting the original author.”

The bolding is my own. It is the “closely imitating” that seems to have overtaken a lot of posters and bloggers.

It has happened to me, several times in recent months and it makes me very angry. But more than that, there is a certain sense of pathos when you encounter a writer who steals — yes steals — your thoughts because they are too shallow to have any of their own,

For the sake of full disclosure: I am not the first to notice this problem. Search the Internet and you will find numerous programs, for multiple categories, which give the publisher the opportunity to see if the item written — or parts of it — have been used before.

I can say I have never engaged in this evil art myself. I would rather clean hotel bathrooms first.

Then again — and not to belittle those who have to clean bathrooms — there is a distinct similarity.

As a matter of fact, there is more honor in honestly doing a day’s work.

So, if you have nothing new to say or write, have the dignity and self-respect to admire the writer’s words. Quote them, attribute them, but don’t use them as your own.

You eventually will get caught — and after that you might as well go clean toilets.

By the way, the quote in the lead image is from brilliant writer Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” — a book which I have read several times and quoted from, always with attribution.

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