Plagiarism 101

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There’s a little bit of buzz on a local Facebook theatre network right now about plagiarism – always a dirty word whether in academic or any other circles, really.

What constitutes general or ‘public domain’ knowledge or usage in a writer’s work is sometimes tricky to determine, especially when a genuinely-original phrase starts appearing all over the place as part of the vernacular. Remember the one, ‘inland tsunami’ with reference to the recent Toowoomba disaster? I do, and I recall clearly the first time I heard it – in a media interview with Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson on the day. But did he originate it?  Like anthropologists, linguists love the game of tracking back to origins. As to claiming ownership of language, well this can be taken to stupid lengths when big corporations try to copyright a phrase or a word. However …

There are other times when it is blindingly clear that not just a random collection of words but a specific idea expressed in a phrase has been lifted and used by another as their own – as happened a week or so ago when an extract from one of Greenroom’s posts was taken and used on another site without attribution.  No names, no pack-drill at this stage, but we will be keeping an eye out for any repeats. By the way, we were not the only ones who noticed this bit of pilfering. I know I was robbed because the phrase in question really was created by me to make a particular point in the article. I remember thinking at the time that it was rather clever; obviously the other reviewer did too!  Now, as far as that other reviewer was concerned it would have been so easy to attribute the quote with a hotlink back to our site (a bit of link love) or in some other way, but it didn’t happen. So, what do I concur from that reviewer and that site: bad manners, questionable ethics and plagiarism aka intellectual dishonesty.

Come on fellow theatre writers, play fair! And, if you run a website, appoint an editor and ask your reviewers to sign off on their work as original before publishing. We’re all in this together.

And disclaimers, if required, are a sign of professional practice. That is all.

On criticism …

I’ve been reading a lot lately about professional theatre criticism.  The articles have been by critics themselves, artists who are the subject of said critics’ writings, and audience members. I’ve been greatly moved by a couple of pieces, one from an obituary on the respected and, from what you read, greatly liked API drama critic Michael Kuchwara who died recently, aged 63 after a professional lifetime of play reviewing.  The other was from Mark Mordue, this year’s winner of Australia’s Pascall Prize for critical writing.

It’s an understatement to say that critics aren’t particularly well regarded by those they criticise; they never have been since their inception 200 or so years ago.  Nowadays, however, it’s often for a reason you might not at first appreciate.

Recently I was in conversation with several professional theatre colleagues who were more upset by the lack of  ‘good reviewers’ than by the ignorance, dismissal, or the brickbats that come their way.  As one said to me, ‘As much as I don’t like a bad notice, if it’s from a reviewer I respect, it’s not half as bad as when it’s one from someone who doesn’t have a clue about the theatre, or who uses his or her position to show off.’  Respecting the enemy is perfectly possible, of course, and if we must think of critics in this way, then let them be the best enemies around.

One of Kuchwara’s colleagues said this about him

He was candid about stunners and stinkers he saw, but never gushy or mean. And his affection for the theater and for audiences infused every review.

He could also write well, and he knew his theatre. I like very much the phrase about being candid but never gushy or mean. Coming hot on the heels of that absolute must – knowing how theatre works – these other qualities make up a ‘good reviewer,’ are what garner respect from arts colleagues, and are finally, what constitute the ‘good enemy.’ Continue reading On criticism …

Poll Results: overall, how do you rate the quality of play-reviewing in your locale?

Not a day goes by without someone, somewhere grinding their axe on a theatre production.  This can be in print or more recently, in online criticism. Equally, theatre workers diss the critics, especially when their production has been less than favourably treated.

The issue of the quality of play reviewing is of sufficient interest we would have thought, to garner some commentary.  However, this poll on the quality of theatre criticism wasn’t well responded to in terms of numbers, and we wonder whether or not there is a general malaise or simple disinterest (by this small – but niche – readership at least) about the issue.  It also opens up another poll which we’ll release soon; this one on what makes for a good piece of theatre criticism.  But to the results of this poll …

Clearly the quality of play reviewing varies here in Australia and elsewhere, and the results show this; perhaps this wasn’t a good option to put – seems far too obvious.  No respondent thought the overall standard to be ‘Excellent,’ but a quarter of all respondents thought the quality of play reviewing in their locale to be  ‘Awful.’

One comment: Pandering, uncritical and written as if the “critic” is looking for friends

Here are the results