Editor-in-Chief Speaks Against WC Plagiarism

By Brooke Schultz

When I toured Washington College as a senior in high school, I stopped at the stairs in the Casey Academic Center. I was swept up in the brick pathways, the quaintness of the Literary House, the idea of college — but I remember with clarity my tour guide telling my mother and me about the Honor Code; how it was regarded with such seriousness that, in our first week as freshmen, we journeyed to Mount Vernon and recited it. If you’ve forgotten, the website states that the Honor Code “calls for honest academic achievement and the highest standard of social conduct among every member of the WC community.”

Washington College proudly displays its honor code in the Casey Academic Center
Washington College proudly displays its honor code in the Casey Academic Center

It was, perhaps ironically, in the same building where I found that my writing, and the work of others at The Elm, had been taken, stripped of attribution, and reprinted without permission. I noticed the photo first, pausing to assess it as a friend and I left the CAC. Then I scanned the story beside it, which had no byline. I flipped to the next page, finding more of the same. I tried to wait before I reacted.

My friend, a copyeditor for The Elm, scanned the original version and the new version, side-by-side, and told me they were the same, save for the lede, or introduction. I suppose mine wasn’t good enough.

Let’s be clear, this is, at worst, copyright infringement. At best, it’s plagiarism. But, most of all, it’s insulting.

I’ll start with copyright. The content The Elm puts together each week belongs to its content creators, not the College. According to the Student Press Law Center, “the work of student journalists, photographers, and artists — just like any other author — is protected from copyright infringement.” Going further, they write that U.S. Copyright Office “states that the creator’s work is under copyright protection from the moment it is created and ‘fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or a device.’”

Just because The Elm is a student newspaper at WC does not mean that WC owns what we create. A college cannot overrule a law.

WC can, however, ask for permission — writers, photographers, bloggers, cartoonists can give “written permission to use their work via an unlimited usage license, but they can still use the photos for their own portfolio, or any other purpose,” according to SPLC.

When The Elm uses photos or materials from anywhere online, we either have permission, it is labeled for reuse, or it is part of promotional material and therefore can be used, and we always, always, always give credit.

If we set aside the legal jargon for a moment, this is plain plagiarism in the eyes of the College.

In Associate Professor of Business Dr. Michael Harvey’s book, “The Nuts and Bolts Guide to College Writing,” a document downloadable from the College’s website, he states, “You are obligated, as an ethical obligation to other writers and as a defense for yourself, to acknowledge all borrowings you take from other sources.” This includes quoting without a source, publishing another’s idea as your own, and concealing how much of the original work you’ve used.

In the case of my story — certainly no Pulitzer winner, but my work nonetheless — my byline was removed. It is being passed off without citing its source, likewise with the photo taken by Amanda Gabriel that runs beside it. Even though Student Life Editor Abby Wargo was provided a byline on her piece, it does not state that it came from a different publication first.

Look back up to the definition of the Honor Code — it states that it applies to every member of the WC community. Not just students.

Most offensive to me, though, is the blatant disregard for the work we do here. Each week, a 12-page issue of The Elm comes together because of the hours each staff member puts into the content we put out. Yes, sometimes there are typos or we miss a detail or what have you. But I can say with certainty that we work hard on the content we create, and that when some of us are up until early Tuesday morning each week, we do that for The Elm, not for another publication.

This “we” I refer to consists of five section editors who pitch stories, manage a team of writers, edit and create their section in InDesign; a social media editor who manages our online presence and creates and edits content for our blog; a photo editor who attends events, takes photos, and edits the photos of our other photographers; three copyeditors who work late into the night every Monday reading tiny print; two distribution managers who get up early and run the paper through the school and through town each Thursday; a business manager who handles getting and processing advertisements; one web editor who takes all of our content and puts it onto our website; one faculty advisor who — no matter the amount — certainly does not get paid enough for everything she does for us; and around 40 staff writers, photographers, bloggers, and cartoonists who contribute every single week on top of coursework and other responsibilities.

But what makes The Elm what it is, is you, the reader. Whether you are faculty, staff, student, alumni, board member, parent, or any mix of the above, thank you for supporting your student newspaper, for encouraging young journalists, for respecting the students who work tirelessly to bring it to you.

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