SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Sotto and a culinary metaphor

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/29 August) – In the continuation of his turno en contra speech on the Reproductive Health Bill today (Wednesday), Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III again defended himself from accusations he had committed plagiarism by using the content of a blog in a previous speech against the same bill. He stressed that he never claimed as his own the expert opinions that he cited in his speech.

Sotto was correct; he mentioned the source of the opinions on the supposed ill-effects of using artificial contraceptives. But he did not say in that speech that the paragraphs containing those opinions were copied verbatim from a blog. He omitted the fact that plagiarism essentially refers to copying and claiming as one’s own a piece of written work or parts thereof.

By not acknowledging the blog as his source, the senator committed what is considered in the writing profession as the biggest mortal sin. He seemed not to see that he had wronged not the expert whose opinions were cited by the blogger but the blogger herself. It was not the opinions about artificial contraceptives that he stole – which he could not do since he is neither a physician nor a scientist – but the exact words used by the blogger in presenting those opinions.

In trying to defend himself from accusations of plagiarism, Sotto presented some definitions of the term. Apparently, however, he failed to realize that the same definitions have only emphasized his lack of understanding of the issue.

He also belabored on the point that blogs are supposedly not covered by copyright laws, hence he could not be held legally liable. This is not simply about laws however. This is above all about decency, this is all about recognizing the effort of a writer who spent time doing serious research regardless of where one stands on the issue of reproductive health rights.

Sotto went further. He said if an individual could not lift someone else’s written work without citing the source, then he or she may not sing a song written by another person.

That was a poor argument. Everybody knows who composes what song, and
anybody who sings it need not announce who wrote it. Literary and
other nonmusical works – journalistic pieces in particular – are a different thing though especially in this era where hundreds, if not millions, of articles pop up in the net every minute. If one does not cite sources for paragraphs or sentences lifted verbatim, the readers will presume that such paragraphs and sentences are original. Again, we are not talking here about the idea but the way an author arranges the words being used to express it.

Sotto can take a cue from chefs who may prepare the same recipe using the same ingredients. Each chef is free to cook the same food and present the final product as his own creation since he or she uses different techniques in preparing it. But it would be another story if a chef grabs what another one has cooked and claims it as his own.

To paraphrase a popular Tagalog adage, “Ang blogger ang naghain, ang senador ang kumain.” (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])