I just saw a CNN story about the prevalence of student cheating in schools — at every level from elementary school to graduate school. The story pointed out (and I verified it) that Googling “how to cheat on school tests” brings up more than 300,000 hits, ranging from websites to YouTube videos.
Amazingly, many people find nothing wrong with all this and many of the people creating these web pages and videos, CNN said, make no effort whatsoever to hide their identities.
But what does cheating on tests have to do with writing and writers anyway? I suppose a lot of the way you answer that speaks as much to your sense of ethics and morality as it does to various “how-to” opportunities this whole area opens up. In reality, for DECADES there have been various services offering to sell you lecture-by-lecture class notes at most major universities. And you can easily find writing services on the Internet which will provide everything from outlines and basic research notes to completed essays and term papers for a price.
Are those writing services really so much different than the YouTube video where some guy shows how to substitute math or physics test material on a soda pop bottle label for the soda ingredients? Yes, one of the quick mentions in the CNN piece was a video where some guy shows how to put test material into the label on a soda where the soda ingredients list normally goes. Amazing.
But what are we to do as writers? I don’t think there are any retail franchises out there for companies that sell cheat methods or pirated test materials. (I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t rule it out!) There are, however, unscrupulous writers and editors who will plagiarizer your work to suit their purposes. There are software scripts online that will strip your website content and allow someone else to benefit from your hard work, if you have a website or blog. (Indeed, someone stole material from one of my websites and I’m trying to figure out ways to stop that from happening again. Not this site.)
The “bottom line” on all this for writers? Be honest. Be ethical. Don’t plagiarize. Don’t use other people’s writing — unless you have legitimate permission and follow any restrictions they put on that writing. (Look for a post in the near future about Private Label Rights articles and how such material can be useful for your blog or website.)
Simply put: Do the right thing. Always.