On Intellectual Property and Plagiarism

I remember the moment very well in second grade when Mrs. Johnson confronted me for cheating on a math test.  In my heart, I knew it was wrong because my parents had taught me much better.  I’m not sure if it was because I didn’t know the material or whether it just seemed easier to copy off the girl sitting next to me.  Regardless, I immediately acknowledged what I had done and accepted the consequences.  My parents had applied no pressure to get high grades for their instructions sounded like this, “We don’t expect you to have an A in every subject, and we expect you to do YOUR best.  But, we know you’re capable of at least a C in your worst subject.”  Fact is, they were right.  Truth was, I was capable of an A in every class but sometimes didn’t work as hard as possible.

I don’t share that uncomfortable memory because I’m proud of it.  Rather, to illustrate the innocence in which some kids make mistakes.  If children are not taught the values of honesty, self-reliance, self-determination, hard work, and integrity then they will not understand them when they are most needed later in life.  While I regret the mistake made so many years ago, I am so glad that lesson was learned back then.

I remember several years ago when I first heard the term “intellectual property.”  I reflected for a moment and then quickly understood that what is produced from one’s brain should belong to them.  The issues of pirated music on the internet seemed minor until I realized that what was being stolen was indeed an intellectual product.  (Just to note, I’ve never pirated music off the internet.)  Like music, people’s ideas and how they are expressed (their words) should enjoy the same protection as music.  The creator should be credited and their work should be attributed to them.  I like how Gerhard (2006) pointed out that the “fair use” provisions in the United States Copyright law does not prevent a person’s intellectual property from being used as long as that information is strictly limited in scope/quantity, and the copyright holder is appropriately documented/credited.  She went on to note that both Shakespeare (Romeo & Juliette) and Thomas Jefferson (Declaration of Independence) capitalized on ideas from previous authors.  In both cases, they “recycled” previous ideas; they further developed and refined them into new conceptualizations; then they expressed them in their context.

The idea of protecting intellectual property must be approached from both a scholarly and a marketing perspective.  It would be extremely difficult to trust scholarship with a high level of integrity and honesty.  In a very real sense, we could not identify the primary sources of ideas with any certainty unless scholars establish a strong commitment to a high level of integrity.  It is vital that researchers credit their sources and work within high ethical guidelines to preserve the cognitive property of others, to establish the integrity of their current work, and to maintain a clear path of evolutionary thought in the various threads of scholastic progression.

The marketing perspective of intellectual property is equally important.  If we define intellectual products in terms of property then we have to realize the legitimacy of ownership.  If these cognitive products are owned, then the owner has certain rights and privileges that others do not.  Free use of that property only belongs to the owner.  Since we attribute value to property, reasonable remuneration should be expected for use of that property.  Remuneration could be described in several ways.  It could be simply crediting or attributing who owns the intellectual property we’ve chosen to cite.  It could also include financial payment.  In either case, the owner of the property should under all reasonable assumptions have the right to offer or withhold that property.  For instance, the author may choose not to publish the work so it remains outside the public domain.  Or she/he may choose to publish and sell their property.  Whether referring to the scholarly approach or the marketing perspective, it is important that we allow the creator to receive appropriate attribution for their work and we allow them to determine how their intellectual products will be distributed to others.

Capitalizing on those ideas, I am a strong believer in maintaining the integrity of myself and others.  Craig (2010) offered excellent ideas on how to teach academic integrity to high school students.  I completely agreed with the idea that academic integrity is learned.  As with so many things we teachers assume, we often expect that students know what plagiarism is and that they would automatically choose to produce their own work.  Unfortunately, they often don’t.  It is important that we teach the ethics we expect.  We have to explain what plagiarism is and model the integrity we expect from students.  I was fortunate to have parents with strong Christian morals and clear views on “right” and “wrong.”  I need look no further than my parents to see people of the highest moral integrity.  Fortunately, they modeled those principles and I have learned them.  To that end, doing the “right” thing is a powerful motivator in my life.  I model those ideas in my life and in the classroom.  I was committed to and achieved high academic integrity in past academic settings, and I will sustain that commitment and success in all future ones.


Craig, P. A., Federici, E., & Buehler, M. A. (2010).  Instructing students in academic integrity. Journal Of College Science Teaching, 40(2), 50-55.  Retrieved from:  http://ezp. waldenulibrary.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=54564701&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Gerhardt, D. R. (2006). The rules of attribution. Chronicle Of Higher Education, 52(38), B20.  Retrieved from:  http://ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost. com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=21076202&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Author: Ronald Gay

Educator. Student. Researcher. Expositor.

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