“… these appropriations matter. If the poets don’t assert the value of their words, who will?”

Sandra Beasley is the author of the poetry collections


Well. I have been thinking about plagiarism a lot lately because I have been finding some fabulous sources of inspiration to leverage my own thoughts from. To be clear. I have always been a thought renovator. Okay. What exactly is a thought renovator. I have my own thoughts, have my own ideas, even have crafted my own composition of words, but I have found they are better when framed by either a contrary thought or *leverage* thought.

** note: leverage thought is when you find a paragraph or passage someone has written, or spoken on a podcast, which offers some framing for your own idea or thinking

I pluck a paragraph, passage, phrase and place it within something I am writing – and source it or credit it. That all seems safe and honest. And then there is the creep of what I call ‘the gray of Plagiarism’.

Before I started writing a of of my own things I had a very clear point of view on what plagiarism is.

Today? Whew. There is a lot of gray area. I have always believed that original ideas and original thinking are fleeting at best. And I have always believed that 99% of the time if you were thinking something, someone else in the great big world of ours was thinking it at exactly the same time.

Before the worldwide web that was just a theory. In today’s world it is a truth.

A tough truth for people who have convinced themselves they are original thinkers, entrepreneurs or ‘disruptors’.

Now. Sometimes plagiarism is so glaringly obvious that it sends a shiver down your spine. The poetry world offers the most vivid examples. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You are saying ‘who cares about poetry?’ <answer: an obscure few>

But it permits me to make a point and discuss plagiarism.

In one poetry scandal one bonehead <a guy named Christian Ward> lifted lines and slightly paraphrased another published poet. The accused poet, Ward, defended himself by saying:

I had no intention of deliberately plagiarizing and suggested he had used the original poem as a model and had submitted a premature draft.”

And another British poet has been lifting lines <actually entire poems> from numerous poets in the U.S.: 

Publishers and magazines have been working to take down poems and suspend sales of collections by David R Morgan after the American poet Charles O Hartman realised Morgan’s poem “Dead Wife Singing” was almost identical to his own, three-decades-old “A Little Song”. Assiduous digging by the online poetry community, led by the poet and academic Ira Lightman, then discovered that Morgan, a British poet and teacher, had lifted lines and phrases from a host of different writer.

Those examples are clearly plagiarism. This example helped me because I have always felt like I have had a pretty firm grasp on what constitutes plagiarism.

Well. That is until I began writing a lot and publicly on enlightened conflict.

Writing is easy, but writing skirting other people’s ideas and words is difficult. I know I have a method to avoid <or slow down> plagiarism.

I write down my basic thoughts and thinking before I even go online to do any research.


Do not pass ‘Go” before doing this basic writing.

It also helps in that I find myself in a somewhat enviable position in that I have never faced the seemingly oft-discussed strain of coming up with new material <called ‘writer’s block’>.

write passionI may write about bad ideas or silly things or inconsequential things, but I have never, never once, not had something I didn’t want to write about. What this really means is that I am in the enviable position of not having, never in fact, to cruise the web seeking inspiration for writing ideas.


That said.

I do seek inspiration <and additional knowledge> on thoughts I have.

Uhm. And, well, correspondingly, who hasn’t wanted to steal words from a better writer? Even a somewhat clever mind and clever writer can give into the temptation to be a cheating plagiarist <borrow some words>.

Sometimes this plagiarism is simply a sentence.

Sometimes this plagiarism is stringing together quotes from other writers.

Sometimes this plagiarism is just laziness because you cannot envision ever being able to write the thought any better than it was written.

As one writer <I am stealing from> suggested:

‘Until very recently, most scholars have been happy to simply chalk these up as “allusions” to the work of other authors. For a long time, it was regarded as something poets just did, as a way of honoring their influences.’

This is a slippery slope.

And even slipperier <that is not a word> because even if you do what I do <write before research or the search for additional inspiration> you can still find your own words in what someone else has already written.

I cannot tell you how many times I have thought I was brilliant only to find that my own words, the words I salivated over with sheer joy over their taste, had already been used by someone else on some obscure blog in Europe or in some obscure town in North Dakota.

I recognized this was going to be an ongoing slope I would find myself slipping on all the time and I even published a post clearly stating “I steal images” because I realized that with at least that one component <images> I was going to be constantly at the fringe of straight robbery.

But words? Here is exactly what I wrote in my ‘steal images’ post:plagiarism university


Words I use.

I seriously doubt I have consciously plagiarized anyone’s thoughts or words.  I have seen some well articulated thoughts that are components of what I write about and while trying to avoid using the same words … a well articulated thought is a well articulated thought and, frankly, it’s difficult to find better words if something is well articulated. I have found things that I have written appear somewhere else (even though I know they have never seen what I wrote).

That is the way of the world.

If people have the same idea and they know how to articulate it, it will often look very similar in verbiage. When I do actually use something that someone else wrote I either italicize or credit it.


So. I also know <going back to poetry> that when I write my own bad poetry it is littered with small phrases I have scribbled down that inevitably were coined by someone else. Similarly my blog writing is littered with wonderful two or three word phrases and words, in general, I have picked up here and there.

Were they used in the same context as what I write? Nope <99% of the time>.

Is that still plagiarism? Well. I assume it is.

It certainly constitutes some level of ‘not an original work’ and serious professional writers refer to this as ‘textual rape.’

I am certainly not rewriting whole documents. And I have found inserting copied words <citing the source> helpful to provide context for my own thoughts. And I try and be generous with regard to admitting I did not create a thought or actual words <even if I am horrible at sourcing and citing>.

All that said.

Plagiarism is tricky <when it is not clearly black & white>.

Now. There is plagiarism technology out there.  And technology can help but inevitably it really <mostly> comes down to human analysis. It is a judgement call. In addition <to be philosophical> … if a tree falls in the wood and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound.

Huh? If I write something on enlightened conflict and no one reads it, but someone else 6 months from now writes the same thing are they plagiarizing?

And … trust me that kind of stuff happens all the time. ALL the time. People have the same ideas & thoughts at the same time … all the time.

We don’t like to believe that, but it is so. In fact. I would suggest it is a Life truth. Well. It is certainly a writing truth.

Here is an additional fact. No one knows everything, and I must research in order to write on a topic I know nothing, or little, about. I have opinions and points of view on just about anything, but not supporting it is lazy, therefore, I need to do some research on what other people think (and know) when I write. And, once again, I absolutely suck at formally citing sources if I use them.

Although, once again, I freely, informally, give credit where credit is due.

It’s an interesting challenge I face every day in detecting and slowing/stopping plagiarism when I write.

When your work is posted and reposted online and the simple publishing of a blog post enters into a global community I imagine <hope> all writers struggle with a somewhat flexible definition of intellectual property.

Regardless. It comes down to 3 things for me.

idea_stealing–          1. The obvious steal

This one is easy. I began with the poetry example because that is plagiarism at its worst. Worst? Because it is not simply copying words … it is copying thinking & creativity.

It is the full alignment of plagiarism at it’s worst.

Copying words simply to get some words down on paper is bad. And it is the obvious steal. Thoughts & creativity may be slightly more difficult to assess, but, an obvious steal is an obvious steal.

–          2. Simultaneous originality

Sometimes I get really lucky in distilling an insight, or something relatively smart, into nicely crafted gathering of words <rare … but it happens>.

Sometimes I am simply early in the sharing of an idea and thought <I cannot tell you how many times I have seen one of my post ideas published in a viable credible publication maybe 2 weeks to 2 months after I wrote mine … please note … typically written better than how I wrote it>.

Sometimes, actually most often,  what I consider a quasi-original thought on my part is simultaneously <or close> not only being thought by someone else, but actually being shared somewhere on the world wide web. Here is where working for a while in a creative industry helps me mentally.

What do I mean? We all are accessing the same stimulus. With the world wide web even more people are being stimulated with the same information and background and news than ever before. If you put the same material through the same filters inevitably similar thoughts/things are going to be generated. In the advertising world everyone realizes in new business pitches that the final creative ideas presented will be very very similar throughout four disparate agencies simply because the initial strategy and research <the input to the development> is very similar.

Ideas and thoughts on the web are the same. We are all absorbing the same stimulus inevitably a number of us will generate similar responses. Ponder that.

–          3. The inspiration

Plagiarism posterprintThere are gobs of beautifully talented writers out there and even the quasi talented can craft a beautiful thought on occasion. All these beautiful words serve as inspiration.

But inspiration ‘borrowing’ doesn’t have to happen on the web.

John Fogerty says about Proud Mary.

In 1967 he sat in his apartment in San Francisco and says “I began playing a song intro I had been working on which was based on the opening of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. I didn’t like how Beethoven had composed it and preferred hitting the 1st chord hard for emphasis and not the 4th. “

Margaret Mitchell took the title of “Gone with the Wind” from a beautiful lyrical poem called “Cynara” written Ernest Dowson:


Yea, I was desolate and bowed my head:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

All night upon mine heart I felt her warm heart beat,

Night-long within mine arms in love and sleep she lay;

Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet;

But I was desolate and sick of an old passion, 

When I awoke and found the dawn was gray:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,

Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,

Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;

But I was desolate and sick of an old passion, 

Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,

But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,

Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;

And I am desolate and sick of an old passion, 

Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:

I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion 


Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm … is that plagiarism or is it simply inspiration?

Words I see inspire me to think all the time. Sometimes someone’s words inspire me to write. Sometimes their words become the cornerstone with which I build my thoughts and words around.

My larger point is that the internet has made the random beautifully crafted thought more accessible than ever. It’s not just published literature anymore, Beethoven or poetry, but now it can be a blog in the Philippines with a readership of less than 50, a tween on tumblr or some obscure thesis from a graduating student.

We have access to more thoughts and thinking and words than ever be for and all of it can be used for inspiration not to be plagiarized.

Ok. Those are my three. Experts & professional writers <of which I am not> have others.

In the end?

While some people suggest ‘it has become common on the web to ignore the basic courtesy of giving others credit for their idea’, I don’t agree.

Original ideas are few and far between.

Original words, and wording, probably even rarer.

That certainly doesn’t absolve anyone from citing or providing sources or even sometimes sharing credit for inspiration but originality of thought is a myth.


All I know is that plagiarism has entered into a big massive humungous gray area. I struggle with it every day when I write. To me, its kind of like trying to make sure the taste of words is palatable:

“With every draft I read aloud, I tasted the words in my mouth. Salty, sweet, fatty, lean, velvet, metallic, mean. Mine. What does it feel like, tasting words you’ve stolen? Like sand, I suspect. Sand that a man dying of dehydration drinks in the desert, never slaking his thirst.”

Sandra Beasley is the author of poetry collections

Sandra is 100% correct.Words to Savor

My own words taste like the most indescribably good taste in the world. The perfectly cooked steak, the sip of a cool drink on a hot day, the robust blossoming of a super Tuscan red wine on your palate or the hamburger straight off the grill, you can savor each word as you read them.

Others words can taste great also, but they don’t taste as good.

Why? I didn’t cook them up. And words that I am tempted to plagiarize? Taste like sand.

I spit ‘em out.

That’s how I keep myself out of the gray. That said. There are times I look back on things I have written and sense a taste of grit in my mouth and that’s when I wonder – “did I plagiarize something by mistake?” I believe anyone who writes is uncomfortable in the gray and wonders on occasion if that gray is black or white.

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Written by Bruce