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What I Learned About Being a Copy-Cat: A True Story (A Resource About Plagiarism)

By Andrew Kerr

Part One: In Which the Author Attempts to Steal a Cat, Is Caught, and Learns a Valuable Lesson. 

I really liked my friend's cat, "Gumdrop," so one day while I was visiting I decided I'd just take her. I picked the cat up, tucked her under my arm, said "Bye!" in a tiny voice, and walked quickly out the door. 
"Stop!" my friend Scott said. "What's that under your arm?"
 "It's your cat," I explained. 
"What are you doing with my cat?" Scott asked, angrily. 
"Taking it," I replied. 
"You can't just take my cat! You need to ask permission, first!" 
I couldn't believe it."But your cat likes me more than she likes you!" I said. 
"That doesn't matter. She's my cat. You need to get permission from me before you can take her." 
I realized that I wasn't going to be able to keep the cat. So I put Gumdrop back down on the floor. 
"Andrew," Scott said to me, "if you ask for permission to borrow my cat, I might let you keep her for a few days." 
"O.K. May I borrow your cat for a few days?" 
"Yes."So I picked up Gumdrop and tucked her back under my arm.I learned an important lesson. You can't just take somebody's cat without asking for permission, first. 
Part Two: In Which the Author Lies About the True Ownership of the Cat in Question. 
But what about other people's words? What about other people's pictures? What about ideas? These things aren't like cats. Words don't get stuck in trees. Pictures don't use litter boxes. Dogs certainly don't chase ideas around.The strange thing is, even though you can't pick up an idea, put it under your arm, and march out the front door of your friend's house with it, an idea is still a thing. Ideas are important to people because they help us to change the world. 
Sometimes, people who come up with ideas help us find better ways to do things. Sometimes they help make the world a more beautiful place. In any case, ideas are important, even if they don't purr and lick your nose. 
After I got home with Gumdrop, a number of friends stopped by to see me. "What a nice cat!" they exclaimed. 
"Yes," I replied. "It's my cat." 
"I didn't know you had a cat!" 
"Well, I do. See?" 
And I picked Gumdrop up and pushed her right into my friends' faces so they could see. 
"It looks like Scott's cat." 
"It's not Scott's cat," I said, angrily. "It's my cat!" 
My friends stopped dropping by.A couple days later Scott called me up."Andrew, you can't tell people that Gumdrop is your cat. She's my cat!" 
"But you don't have her now! I have Gumdrop, so Gumdrop is mine!" 
"Just because you're taking care of Gumdrop and showing Gumdrop to other people doesn't mean that Gumdrop is yours. Remember, you borrowed Gumdrop from me!" 
"Oh," I said, remembering that I had. "I'll bring Gumdrop back right now."
 "No. You don't have to return Gumdrop. Just tell people the truth when they come by. Tell them that Gumdrop is my cat and you're just borrowing her for a few days." 
Scott was obviously very proud to own Gumdrop, so I guess it upset him when I told other people that Gumdrop was mine. 
Part Three: In Which the Author Reflects On What He Has Learned and Shares This With the World. 
Just like with Gumdrop, it's O.K. to borrow other people's words, pictures, or stories--as long as you A) ask first and get permission, and B) give credit to the person from whom you're borrowing. If it's not your stuff, you shouldn't tell people that it is.Taking other people's ideas or artwork and claiming that you created those things yourself is called "plagiarism." It's like stealing, then lying about afterward. It's like taking another person's cat and saying it's yours. 
The Internet is a very exciting world. It's filled with pictures and information. It's very easy to copy web information. This is both good and bad. It's good because it means we can easily share information with one another. It's bad because people can steal other people's words, artwork, and ideas very easily.If you're going to copy pictures or text, you need to give credit. If you didn't create it, it's not yours. Taking something without giving credit is considered stealing. It's very serious. You could go to jail and pay fines for taking things without giving credit. 
There is a way to be fair. If you're a student writing a report or a paper and that report or paper is going to be published on the Internet, then state clearly that you are a student, say where you are from, and date the paper.Giving credit is easy. When you borrow words, pictures, or ideas, be sure to say where they came from. You can do that with footnotes, endnotes, or a bibliography. If you're using another person's words you must put quotes around those words and tell people from where the quote came. 
Scott just called. He wants me to return Gumdrop. He let me keep her for three whole days. I'm going to miss her. Now if I can just get her to come down from that tree... 
© 1998 by Andrew Kerr