You Don’t Own Me: Original Content & Plagiarism

Published 7/23/13 by:

The video above is from John & Hank Green, better known as The Vlog Brothers, who have created probably the most docile and literary of all the militias: The Nerdfighters. I love what John and Hank are able to do, and that is provide current, valid, accessible content on subjects that people should know a lot about. Are you confused about how the electoral college works? There’s a Vlog Brothers video for that. Interested in how publishing and royalties are negotiated? Vlog Brothers got you covered. They are witty, approachable, earnest guys, who want people (especially young people) to be informed. They started their YouTube channel in 2007, partially because they knew that Gen Y’ers were no longer reading newspapers or watching the news, and attempted to fill the void in my generation’s knowledge that was (is?) essentially becoming a gaping hole.

I chose this video because I find the discussion fascinating, and pertinent to what I teach in my sixth grade language arts class. Who owns what content? When can you borrow/emphasize/embellish/endorse it? While Hank delves into the monetary aspects of why corporations benefit from people borrowing songs or quotes from films, books, characters, bands et. al., I want to discuss this on an academic level. When someone creates an idea, thought, image, song, film etc. and it’s published, people (more specifically students) have an obligation to credit the source. Hank freely admits in the video that he didn’t create DFTBA (Don’t Forget To Be Awesome), but he was able to promote/grow it through his vlog because he thought it was such a fine idea. He gave credit where it was due, and was on his merry way. Here’s the rub: when people/students don’t have a platform in which to credit their original source, they don’t. When they don’t, it can often be identified as plagiarism. Plagiarism results in failing grades. It is a vicious and universal cycle.

Now, you may be wondering why students wouldn’t have a platform in which to voice/credit the original source of the content they’re using. This is where ownership and its trickery comes into play. The internet is at fault. Oh, internet, I love you, but you make things magically difficult. I can’t tell you how many times I have had students find incredible information on something they’re researching, but they are unable to identify a source, or the validity of the content. Wikipedia has become my arch-nemesis throughout my teaching career, and it’s because kids can’t fathom to look farther than the first google hit, which is inevitably Wikipedia. They can’t comprehend (or choose not to believe) that the data can be edited by anyone, even someone twelve-years-old! This brings me back to Hank and his willingness to credit DFTBA to Kate. Why are (my) students unwilling to put it in the universe that they’re borrowing someone else’s ideas? Why do they think it’s better to pretend it’s their own, and then hope that I don’t google what they’re saying? How can I convey to my students that it’s perfectly fine to quote someone else, or borrow their image, so long as you maintain that they own the content? I’ve approached this in as many ways as possible, and mention it at least once a week in my own classroom, but it’s not sticking. So, here’s my new idea: Why not show them this blog post with the link to Hank’s video to demonstrate that I used someone else’s voice of reason to catapult my own discussion? Wouldn’t that prove to them that it’s do-able and doesn’t take away from their own argument? Original thoughts can still be created when interpreting/promoting/discussing others’ work. My blog has purpose! Nailed it.

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