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Intent needed to establish plagiarism

(Article published in the Nov 17, 2010 issue of Manila Standard Today)   

           In its per curiam decision in the case entitled “In the matter of the charges of plagiarism, etc. against Associate Justice Mariano C. Del Castillo” docketed as A.M. No. 10-7-17-SC and promulgated on 12 October 2010, the Supreme Court in no uncertain terms made it clear that the existence of intent to deceive is essential in determining whether an act can be characterized as plagiarism considered as a form of fraud.

 Evaluating the assertion of the petitioners therein that intent is not material in committing plagiarism, the Court observed that “petitioners’ theory ignores the fact that plagiarism is essentially a form of fraud where intent to deceive is inherent.”  As support, the Court thus invoked the 8th edition of Black’s Law Dictionary wherein plagiarism is presented as the “deliberate and knowing presentation of another person's original ideas or creative expressions as one's own.” “Thus,” the Court summarized its findings, “plagiarism presupposes intent and a deliberate, conscious effort to steal another’s work and pass it off as one’s own.”

 In its order of 19 October 2010, the Court again resorted to Black and began by defining it as “the act of appropriating the literary composition of another, or parts or passages of his writings, or the ideas or language of the same, and passing them off as the product of one’s own mind.”  In addition, the Court, after expressing concern over certain remarks, quoted therein which were made by the 37 UP law professors in their 09 August statement entitled “Restoring Integrity: A Statement by the Faculty of the University of the Philippines College of Law on the Allegations of Plagiarism and Misrepresentation in the Supreme Court”, directed to them to show cause, within ten (10) days [later extended, upon respondents’ motion, up to Nov. 22) from receipt of a copy of the Resolution, why they should not be disciplined as members of the Bar for violation of certain Canons of the Code of Professional Responsibility to which they were subject. 


 It was understandable for the UP community to have reacted adversely, maintaining on 27 October that its members “strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to exonerate Justice Mariano del Castillo from charges of plagiarism based on the lack of malice or negligence on his part” Their view is that “The lack of malice or intent does not excuse the act of plagiarism.”

          The UP position was in no time aped by other educational organizations.  The Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) took out a half-page ad on 09 November publishing its “In Defense of Honesty and Integrity.”  CEAP made the claim that “Virtually all academic institutions view it [plagiarism] view it not only as a serious offense but also as a threat to intellectual creativity and advancement.”  The Coordinating Council of Private Education Associations (COCOPEA) on the lower half of the same page alleged that “as educators, we are alarmed by the Supreme Court ruling that plagiarism cannot be committed without ‘malicious intent’.” 

          I find natural the academicians’ statement of their feelings on plagiarism when committed within the hallowed walls of the schools.  Plagiarism ranks among the capital sins that ought not be perpetuated in their sanctuary. 

          What I find strange, though, is their silence, obviously deliberate, on the cheating by one of their colleagues. UP Law Dean Marvic Leonen, the Supreme Court observed, submitted “through his letter dated August 10, 2010, during the pendency of G.R. No. 162230, Vinuya v. Executive Secretary and of the investigation before the Committee on Ethics and Ethical Standards, for the consideration of the Court En Banc, a dummy which is not a true and faithful reproduction of the purported statement, entitled “Restoring Integrity:  A Statement by the Faculty of the University of the Philippines College of Law on the Allegations of Plagiarism and Misrepresentation in the Supreme Court.” (Underline mine).  Why, are CEAP and COCOPEA so silent about that?

          More than strange is CEAP’s and CCOPEA’s apparent ignorance of the book of Marilyn Randall entitled “Pragmatic Plagiarism”.  Had they been as the wide reader as they are by society expected to be, they would have come across Isabel Alexander’s essay “Inspiration or infringement: the plagiarist in court” contained in “Copyright and Piracy: An Indisciplinary Critique” published by Cambridge University Press. She reports that Randall therein asserts that “Identifying plagiarism entails ascribing to an agent a series of guilty or fraudulent intentions, the necessity to show intent, in order to establish guilt, or at least degrees of it, is by far the most important criteria for establishing plagiarism.”

          Alexander continues saying “Intention is relevant not just in the sense that the copy is deliberate, but also in terms of a further intention, sometimes referred to in the criminal law as an ulterior intent to claim the credit by passing the work off as one’s own.”

          It is thus by no means a unanimous and universal belief, contrary to what CEAP and COCOPEA would have us accept, that “malicious intent” need not be proven to establish the offense of plagiarism.  Some people with better credentials than CEAP or COCOPEA purely and simply do not agree with the said organizations’ self-righteous press statements.  Intellectual honesty demands they recognize the view different from theirs.