On Plagiarism

On October 15, 2010, the Philippine Supreme Court made a decision that would lead to the death of academic and intellectual integrity in the country. Justice del Castillo was tried for allegedly plagiarizing international literature in his court decision and was cleared of these charges.

In July 2010, a case was filed against Justice del Castillo on the basis that he directly quoted several authors who wrote on topics related to the case he was handling without proper citations. After proper proceedings, he was cleared for of the following reasons:

  1. The legal researcher accidentally deleted the proper citation
  2. Microsoft Word failed to supply a mechanism that will allow it to check for copy-pasted material
  3. There was no malicious intent to pass the work as his own

It is absolutely preposterous for the Supreme Court to have agreed to this faulty reasoning presented by del Castillo. First of all, it is unfair for the legal researcher to receive the blame for del Castillo negligence. A legal researcher provides information such as literature and other cases that could supplement the points made by del Castillo in his defense. If he puts the blame on the legal researcher then perhaps it is an implication that his legal researcher does everything for him. If he were diligent enough, he would have at least reviewed what his legal researcher did, if he was too busy to write his own ponencia.

The second argument is just pure ignorance on his part. Bill Gates might as well sue the Philippine court for (further) tainting the name of Microsoft. Microsoft Word is a word processor. It is a typewriter with aesthetic functions, so obviously it does not have plagiarism detecting features. Maybe the Supreme Court should invest in something like turnitin which actually does check for plagiarism.

Finally, there’s the issue of not intending to plagiarize. I can’t find a definitive source that is not a dictionary or university pamphlet that presents the dangers of plagiarism, but in general it is the lack of or wrongful attribution of an idea to the original source. When I was still in uni, the concept and consequences of plagiarism were always drilled into our heads. Plagiarism is not citing a source. Plagiarism is citing the source wrongfully. Plagiarism is citing the wrong source. Negligence is never an excuse, just as ignorance is never an excuse when it comes to the law.

Plagiarism is a major issue in intellectual integrity. It can stain your reputation. But now there is a Supreme Court Justice who gets out of the case scot free. This has implications on the intellectual and legal development of society.

Of course the most obvious implication is that on intellectual integrity. In clearing Justice del Castillo, the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates for more (student) appeals with regard to counts of plagiarism, wherein they could state that it was not their intent to plagiarize.

Another implication is that on future cases. One valid source of court decision is precedents. By principle, if a case has the same facts as another, a decision is valid based on the previous case.  Although plagiarism is not a legal concept, in the growing prominence of the knowledge economy could lead  to more cases of this nature. It makes fighting against plagiarism in the future a losing battle.

How does one prove intent? And does the lack of malicious intent remove the fact that the crime has been done? In a more extreme case, you accidentally drive into the wall of someone’s house causing the roof to collapse and heavy damage on the part of the house owner. Even if you did not mean to crash into the house, there is fault. Perhaps you were not focusing or you forgot to refill your brake fluid. It was an accident, but it was from one’s negligence. That is reckless imprudence.

Plagiarism should be taken seriously, especially in the case of Justice del Castillo, as he is in a position that expects moral conduct and integrity. If we allow people like that in such positions, what does that have to say about the society we live in.

At the end of the day, all you really own in the world is your integrity. Once you give that up, you don’t ever get it back.” – Julian Baker, One Tree Hill 8×04

To the Supreme Court, especially to you – Justice del Castillo, David Tennant does not approve.

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