Copyright, plagiarism and research ethics

Copyright, plagiarism and research ethics play an important role, particularly in the context of UNESCO's World Book and Copyright Day, aiming to promote the best opportunities for reading and publishing. My reflection is based on a chapter from Mainstreaming Ethics in Higher Education - The Teacher: Between Knowledge Transmission and Human Formation Vol. 2, by Obiora Ike,  Justus Mbae, Chidiebere Onyia and Herbert Makinda. This double volume book project is the result of a conference in March 2018 at the Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA) in Kenya, which focused on integrating ethics in higher education.

The second volume, and the chapter I propose to consider more closely, intended to capture the potential for sharing of knowledge, and triggering interdisciplinary collaboration and research across a wide variety of issues ranging from research practice, religion, entrepreneurship, leadership, fundraising and corruption. While some of the chapters focus on the understanding of ethics and its relationship with the various other aspects of life, others concentrate on the methods and strategies of effectively teaching ethics.

My chapter, titled ‘Retribution of plagiarism founded on reason-based actions' explores the ways research practices and the value of integrity may be at risk in limited situations. As an editor and author in applied ethics, I think that responsible answers and proportionate reason-based actions in confronting some of these risks, as is the case with plagiarism, should be considered. A responsible attitude with regard to plagiarism can protect the given virtues necessary for dynamical and effective research processes, which are all ultimately, built on the value of trust.

"Retributive sanction to academic fraud and plagiarism is as proportionate response justified by the will, in terms of general governance of risks, of avoiding that deterrence goes too far, and certainly not wanting that unproportioned measures be the rule. Nor do we want to punish in order to focus on only educating others, without preventing harms/risks and without the wider framework of justice […].The aim of an ethical gift of solidarity or atonement is oriented toward not so much the transformation of persons and institutions, by producing atonement or mercy, but it is based on the aim of reconciliation beyond the objective of the sanction. Reasons for active sanctions are not limited only to intentional and voluntary reasons, as we can be held responsible for unintentionally harming others. Reasons for actions that go beyond the thin limits of our clear intentions should not close the reasons on the retributive component without a chance to operate transformations toward a more genuine academic community, one in which offenders and victims share that degree of trust and respect, upon which communal existence depends. If reasoning and reasons are maximised, instead of dismissed and devaluated, reason-based actions show that it is excluded for serious wrongs to hide away from sanction, which may likely have direct impact and consequences on trust in the research and learning process."
(Op, cite, 158-159pp., our highlight.)

We believe that conceptual efforts for a comprehensive response to research associated ethical risks is well aligned with the aim and scope of World Book and Copyright Day and that, such a reason-based comprehension, of a wide spread phenomenon, could bring light against future research wrongs, and help to not over criminalize in the struggle to control the waves of future research risks.

Dr Ignace Haaz
Publications Manager, Philosopher 

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