As I write this, another minor discussion about people plagiarizing material and passing it off as their own has emerged. Now deliberate plagiarism is unethical. But can plagiarism happen accidentally? I believe so. Indeed, I have written on this subject before.
For example, I often use an illustration in my talks to do with the meanings of the names of the first ten patriarchs. The truth is that this illustration is not original. I got it from another creationist – Andy McIntosh. In fact, I understand that he got it from another creationist called David Rosevear. When I used the illustration in my book, No Time for Itching Ears, I credited its use. But in my talks, I often forget. Is this plagiarism? Possibly – though if you ask me, I will come clean. The truth is that I use a lot of illustrations from a lot of different people. I try to credit them all, but there isn't always either time or memory. If I say “Billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth”, I will almost always preface it by saying “as my friend Ken Ham says…” (Now I am guilty of name-dropping!) but I suspect I haven't said that 100% of the time. In about 30% of those uses I attempt to say the words in an Australian accent!
A few weeks ago, I preached a sermon on end times, using a lot of illustrations about Europe from the veteran British preacher David Hathaway. In my notes, I even had his name printed in bold. But, as I was driving home, I realized with horror that I had never mentioned Mr Hathaway's name in the sermon. People listening will have thought they were my ideas, or my research – though several slides that I showed clearly included the website propheticvision.org.uk. But that isn't really good enough – I messed up on that one, and if anyone is upset by it from that church, I sincerely apologize. I am well aware that the research was David Hathaway's, and the illustrations were also his.
However, what I did not do was use his anecdotes. My anecdotes were my own. If I use someone else's anecdote, I will say “this is what happened to so and so…” I never pretend myself into someone else's life. But I have heard another speaker not only use my ideas, but also my anecdotes!
Actually, I don't mind other people using my ideas. And I don't mind not being credited. If my ideas have become so deeply rooted in another speaker's thought processes, that they just state them, then I am flattered and honored, because those ideas really have become their ideas. I think the line has to be drawn at using someone else's anecdotes and life as if they were their own. It is also possible to know the quality of the other speaker. Do they use ideas researched from a variety of sources? Or do they, in contrast, have a reputation from having no original ideas at all, and putting in no research of their own?
I can't lay down the law on this one. But it is probably the person's overall reputation over a period of time that determines whether or not we still respect their work.