Tuesday, February 17, 2009

labeling paraphrased material as mine in the third grade

I have an important confession and apology to make concerning my life of writing.

Just recently I have been reading the Chicago Manual of Style and I happened to come upon a statement that the law of the united states considers paraphrase to be equivalent to copying in matters of copyright infringement.

When I was in the third grade I entered an essay contest sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution. I chose the topic of how people tried to find a water route from the newly discovered east coast of the new world through to the orient. It so happens that I was unable to conceptualize in English any of my thoughts about this topic or my studies of it. Setting upon the task of writing I decided in desperation to paraphrase all my sources. Furthermore, I did not get permission to do so from the copyright holders of the material I copied, which at that age I was not in any way tutored in just how to do that. I sensed that paraphrase might be unsportsmanlike or worse, just how much worse I did not fully try to anticipate. In view of my findings of late, I am now certain. It was unlawful use of others' work and I had no right to claim the essay I created as my own, especially since I was competing for a coveted prize. I won nothing with my essay, which disappointed me only because I considered myself a good student with a record of consistent superior performance, scoring high in my schoolwork without much notice by myself of the good qualities of my work. I never saw the other students' work, pretty much, so I had nothing to compare it to. This was a public school education.

Had I been aware of myself sufficiently, I would have stopped at the moment I realized my English was not up to the task of the essay and planned out for myself an ambitious course of self-study to learn how to express my thoughts in speech and writing--I was not very good getting my points across in speech either. Such a course of study would have meant practicing the solution of very precisely formulated problems, starting with simple but challenging ones. I certainly would have resigned from the essay contest.

However, I stayed in the contest and paraphrased and now I must offer an apology especially to the authors of the work I paraphrased for labeling as mine what really was theirs and not mine in the least. The academic world depends on fairness according to the law for its reasonable good functioning and by putting aside my second thoughts about paraphrasing I damaged the foundation on which I was building for future possible participation in academia or the general field of writing. So much misery could have been avoided...