We had a minor plagiarism problem at the school this week. A group of students, working on a shared project, used some source material from Wikipedia and did not cite their source. All the students are really good kids and should have known better. As I am writing this essay on plagiarism, several of the students are writing their own essays on the same topic, with no help from the internet. These things happen and teachers and priests are here to transform devastating experiences into teachable moments. My guess is that none of the kids who are writing essays will ever again transgress against the rules for citing sources.
This reminds me about a lawsuit around the popular song, “Blurred Lines,” by Robin Thicke, et al. A jury recently ruled that the song breached copyright of Marvin Gaye’s hit, “Got to Give it Up.” The plagiaristic use of the song netted a payout of $7.4 million dollars and a tremendous amount of negative flack against the artist and his song.
In graduate school, we were warned at the beginning of our first year about giving credit to authors. That was it, a simple reminder. The punishment, however, was anything but simple. It could go so far as expulsion from the seminary which would, at the very least, slow down the ordination process. Many lessons are best learned young.
Tuesday of this past week is Stations of the Cross day for our Middle School. Now in our second year, we show a slide presentation of each station while three students take turns reading from a script. I plagiarized the entire thing. I didn’t write the script, I didn’t create the images of each station, and I did not create the music that was played as an introduction.
I especially did not come up with the concept of Stations of the Cross. But, I did not take credit for creating it, either.
The first mention of the Stations of the Cross came about from journals written by travelers who happened to be in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. Journal accounts show Pilgrims of The Way (a pre-Christianity name) following Jesus’ path from his trial to crucifixion. There were stations along the way where the pilgrims would stop and remember a particular action that occurred there – like Jesus falling, talking to the women, seeing his mother, and Simon carrying his cross. Some stations are found in the New Testament, others are not. They exist because of tradition and, well, plagiarism.
The Stations are not the intellectual property of the Pilgrims of The Way. It’s an open source. We’re free to use it and not give credit to the original author. Additionally, the writers of the New Testament do not get caught up with plagiarism. They wrote what they saw and experienced with an open source hope – that others would hear the stories, copy them, and share them. Likewise, your own faith story should be open source. You should share your story with the hope that others will hear it and be inspired to write their own story.
I write Reflections and sermons with the hope that they will become an open source of inspiration. I want others to borrow from them if that brings them closer to God. We have an open source faith and tradition. It’s vitally important to stick to our rules around plagiarism; authors and artists deserve credit and compensation. But it’s also paramount that we openly share our faith and give credit to God.