No Excuse: Non-Attribution Is Also Plagiarism

by Joseph G. Lariosa


CHICAGO (jGLi) – Attorney Hector Villacorta apologized to American Sarah Pope for not attributing to her blog (combination of the terms web and log) a portion of a speech he prepared for his boss, Sen. Vicente Sotto, III, but Mr. Sotto’s chief of staff’s apology left a bad taste in the mouth.

The apology did not carry remorse nor candor when he later justified his wayward action as “too awkward” if Mr. Sotto were to say, “according to this blogger … and would not also make the speech credible.”

If that is so, then, why even bother lifting a passage from Pope’s blog?

Didn’t Villacorta realize that he incriminated, if not compromised, Senator Sotto for feeding him a plagiarized speech that could find its way into history books?

Villacorta said he resorted to lifting Pope’s passage without attribution because “he could not open” the “website of U.S. author Natasha Campbell-McBride.” What an incredible excuse! How can he make a claim that Dr. Campbell-McBride was the original source of Pope’s blog’s when he could not even open Campbell-McBride’s website? Hindi ba iwas pusoy or maliwanag na palusot yan? (An evasive and reckless impulse?)

If Villacorta diligently tried to access Dr. Campbell-McBride’s website only to fail, then, he had every reason to quote Pope’s blog!

Filipinos have a way of saying it: ang naghahangad ng kagitna, san salop ang nawawala (those who long to get half, sometimes lose everything). Because you have right in your fingertips the information you are looking for in Pope’s blog, why not give Pope credit, instead of Campbell-McBride, who was an unknown at that point?

I don’t see anything wrong with giving credit to Pope when Pope’s blog would help Senator Sotto make his case against RH bill.  If a blogger or any writer quoted Shakespeare and another blogger or any writer could not find Shakespeare’s actual quotes after due diligence, anybody can quote the blogger or writer, who quoted Shakespeare.

In this age of information overload, the writer is like a track-and-field relay runner in sports, who hands in the baton to the next just to compete and complete a game and make it to the deadline!


That is why when Senator Sotto did not chastise Villacorta for feeding him plagiarized information, it speaks volume on how low Mr. Sotto regard bloggers and other writers. It also showed how shallow is Villacorta’s knowledge on plagiarism and Philippines and international copyright laws!

Villacorta even issued a sweeping statement that “[p]lagiarism is rampant in the Senate, but some staff members of senators consider it an acceptable practice.” Didn’t Attorney Villacorta just incriminate the entire Senate for violation of the Philippine copyright law enshrined in the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines officially known as Republic Act No. 8293 that was passed into law on June 6, 1997?

Paging the Ombudsman!

For the information of Villacorta, the law is in the books. It is partly based on United States copyright law and the principles of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. While I agree with the recommendation of Sen. Edgardo Angara that senators should hire “the best speech speechwriters” so Senators Sotto and Pia Cayetano and others will not be “castigated for lifting statements or passages in their keynote speeches from the works of other writers without any proper attribution,” I suggest that that these speechwriters should also be ethical and should be able to guard against plagiarized works.


Just ask Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was quoted by the Philippine Star as saying that “[p]lagiarism is actionable under Philippine laws. It may give rise to a criminal action under the Intellectual Property Code, which imposes imprisonment and fines as penalties for infringement of any right secured by provisions of the said code. Civil action may also be pursued under the Civil Code against those who violate the code.”

As to Villacorta’s claim that, “copying (old bills) is a common practice. … Re-filing is an accepted practice. It is called copying. … [e]ven the [U.S.] Constitution was “plagiarized” from the U.S. charter. … All the amendments of the [U.S. Constitution] became our Bill of Rights. But do they call us a plagiaristic country? No, because the law is based on precedent.”

A ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court [Wheaton v. Peters, 9 Pet. 591, 8 L.Ed. 1055; Gray v. Russel, 1 Story, 11 Fed. Cas. No. 5, 728.] should elucidate Mr. Villacorta that Filipino legislators are not a stupid bunch of plagiarists. According to this ruling, “any publication of the U.S. Government, or any reprint, in whole or in part” is not covered by copyright protection. Government publication may be a copy of the U.S. Constitution and the pending bills.


Even the Philippine copyright law’s Sec. 176 says that there is no copyright protection on “any work of the Government of the Philippines” but “specifies that prior approval of the government agency or office wherein the work is created is necessary for exploitation of government works for profit.”

The fact that senators and congressmen and their staff are paid salaries by the government to research and file bills in Congress, their works become part of the public domain and could not be covered by the mantle of copyright protection whether their bills became a law or not.

Ronald B. Standler, author of Plagiarism in Colleges in U.S.A., says when using another person’s words, to avoid plagiarism one must always do both of the following:

1.  provide a citation, either in the text or in a footnote, and

2.  either enclose their words inside quotation marks or put their words in a block of indented, single-spaced text or “indicia of a quotation.”

Standler said “plagiarism is the act of quoting material without including the indicia of a quotation. Intent of plagiarist is irrelevant. The act of quoting material without including the indicia of a quotation is sufficient to convict someone of plagiarism. It is no defense for the plagiarist to say ‘I forgot.’ or ‘It is only a rough draft.’ or ‘I did not know it was plagiarism.'”

If Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Sotto are serious in filing an anti-plagiarism law, I suggest they just amend the existing Republic Act No. 8293 by penalizing those, who omit the mention of authors, like Pope, when their blog or work are reprinted.

Under the old school of journalism, editors are given latitude to use the bylines of reporters and photographers or contributors and/or their outlets in their works. But nowadays, online news stories not only carry the bylines and email addresses of reporters, contributors and photographers but also the taglines of editors so the subject of the article or work can easily access the reporter, photographer, contributor, editor or outlet to extend his gratitude for a well-written piece or well-taken photo or issue a clarification for a misquotation. (

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