What Happened To Originality?

Photo: Daily Nation

First it was Melania Trump, wife of USA president-elect, Donald Trump plagiarizing the outgoing First lady, Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech. Then, just as Nigerians joined a host of other nationals to poke fun at the Slovenia born ex-model, it was revealed that our own president was guilty of the same offence. His “Change Begins With Me” campaign speech was discovered to have some too-coincidental-to-be-ignored similarities with that given by President Barack Obama during his 2008 victory speech. And just when one would have thought any other presidential team, speechwriter or public figure for that matter would be extra careful not to fall into the same pit of embarrassment, the newly elected Ghanaian president, Nana Akufo-Addo took his a notch higher by plagiarizing not just one, but two presidential inauguration speeches; passages from speeches delivered by Bill Clinton and George Bush were lifted in President Akufo-Addo’s inaugural address. 

In all 3 cases cited above, both the speechwriters/communication director and the presidents apologised for the less-than honourable situation they found themselves. In the case of President Buhari, he even mentioned that the speechwriter would face appropriate disciplinary actions. Apart from these 3, a couple of other prominent politicians and leaders have been caught up in one plagiarism scandal or other. They include former Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, Madagascar’s president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, and Irish prime minister Enda Kenny. This only goes to show that the practice of passing someone else’s work or idea as one’s own is not new. It’s always a worry for any creative person. With the increase in the cases of plagiarized materials, there’s no doubt that the situation has become more worrisome.

Why is plagiarism rife nowadays? Is there a dearth of speechwriters? Or are writers who are supposed to continually seek creative ways to hone their craft becoming lazier by the day? It’s important to note that this unwholesome trend is by no means limited to the literary or writing industry. We often hear of copyright infringement issues and cases in court. One person stealing another’s intellectual property without giving a hoot about how they would feel or the amount of mental and physical work that must have gone into creating that piece of work. It’s a huge shame.

I am particularly passionate about this issue as a creative myself because I know all too well the amount of toil, drudgery and research that goes into producing good content. As much as it’s enjoyable, it can also be exhausting. And so to have someone lift passages, paragraphs or in some cases the entire work of another person is criminal, in much the same way as a robber who puts a gun to his victim’s head in a bid to dispose them of their belongings. The snag is – because the act of appropriating another’s work remains mostly an institutional matter, usually punishable by warnings, suspension or expulsion, it’s likely to continue to constitute a major headache for anyone who chooses to do things right by putting out original content.

Plagiarism is becoming more and more common these days because people simply aren’t doing any independent thinking anymore. True creativity is on a steady decline. Nowadays, the mentality is to copy and paste from different sources. A blogger makes it big from gossip blogging, and every other blogger in the country embarks on a copy and paste spree of their material. And before you nod your head to concur with this, be sure you’re not guilty of something similar. If you’re one of those who share a friend’s inspiring Facebook post without giving them due credit (and no, simply writing #Copied doesn’t cut it) or pass off someone else’s tweet as yours rather than retweet them, then you’re not different from from the speechwriters in the examples above or the blogger who copies a colleague’s article word for word.

It’s the same copycat mentality that has resulted in everyone wanting to be like the next person. The fake accents we acquire, the fashion trend we sheepishly follow without stopping to think about it’s suitability for our body type or personality. It’s in the meaningless slangs we adopt. It’s even in the way we bring up our children. Most of us are guilty of plagiarism in the words we use, in the essays and stories we write, in the lyrics we pass off as ours, in the academic projects and thesis we write without referencing the appropriate sources.

In the case of Nigerians or Africans, one can’t help but wonder if the economic situation or internal demons we face as a continent is responsible for the nonchalant disposition towards an ethical issue such as this. Is the pervading financial poverty in many parts transcending to the poverty of the mind? But, if one makes that case for Africa, what about the developed climes of the world who hardly have this challenge?

The reality is that the problem of content appropriation is mostly one of mental laziness and has little to do with the dwindling fortunes of the citizenry. People are simply not ready to get their hands dirty by doing the work required to produce authentic content. And if stiff penalties such as a jail term or hefty fines are not imposed on intellectual property thieves, then all the hue and cry surrounding the rising spate of plagiarized work would only end up as what it is – all noise without action. This essentially means offenders are going to continue to have a field day appropriating work that isn’t theirs, and simply apologize and walk free when they are caught.

On our part as individuals, we must ensure that in our own little corner of the world, we do things right by giving credit to whom it’s due when we use other people’s content. It shows that we are humane and respect the owner of the content.

It portrays reverence for intellectual property.

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