Can Plagiarism Add Value?

from the perhaps-not... dept

A bunch of folks have sent in the story in Cracked, entitled 5 Great Men Who Built Their Careers on Plagiarism, showing how Stephen Ambrose, T.S. Eliot, Martin Luther King Jr., Richard Owen and H.G. Wells all appear to have plagiarized certain major works. As we’ve discussed in the past, while straight-up plagiarism can hurt someone’s reputation in pretty serious ways, we have a bit more trouble condemning “plagiarism” where someone took something and turned it into something different. Jonathan Bailey, a staunch fighter against any type of plagiarism and copyright infringement, has written about the Cracked article, where he notes that the five men listed in the article would have a lot more trouble getting away with the same sort of plagiarism today, suggesting that’s a good thing. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true. In at least some of the cases of plagiarism listed in the original article, these guys took something someone else had done, but made it more impressive and did a better job getting the world to experience something wonderful. Would the world be better off without some of the works by these five men, even if they didn’t necessarily originate from them? I’m not so sure… That’s not to say that appropriating the works of others and pretending it’s your own is okay. The reputation hit you’re likely to take for doing that is pretty severe and not worth it. But I have a hard time believing that the actual final effect on the rest of the world is that bad.

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Comments on “Can Plagiarism Add Value?”

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Danny says:

Re: Re:

Most people think attribution and ownership is more important than societal benefits.


Record labels more concerned with who owns and controls the music than making sure the fans get to hear it. I thought the original purpose of record labels was to distribute music to the fans…

Tech companies depending on patents instead of innovation/invention to beat out opponents.

Speaking of Martin Luther King Jr. can you imagine if the Civil Rights Movement was just getting underway today and the owners of the work (Ghandi’s words? Not sure the site is blocked at work) is that he plagirzed came to him at a rally to silence him because of copyright infringment?

Tgeigs says:


“Speaking of Martin Luther King Jr. can you imagine if the Civil Rights Movement was just getting underway today and the owners of the work (Ghandi’s words? Not sure the site is blocked at work) is that he plagirzed came to him at a rally to silence him because of copyright infringment?”

Or better yet, would a cut of all reperations revenue that resulted go to India?

sk (profile) says:

going overboard?

These days it seems like having 1 line or a paragraph that is even substantially similar to anything someone else has written, regardless of difference in context, in what are probably the trillions of pages of written work produced by man so far, will gets the label of plagiarism.

While the cases cited hear clearly have some degree of validity, I bet if anyone was interested they could come up with a paragraph about some generically named guy catching a cab, vomiting, talking, or some other relatively mundane activity and find general paraphrases of it in a huge number of books and written works that happen to have a character with the same name. OMG… who was the original, you plagiarists? This seems like it’d especially be the case with arch-typical minor characters who represent a lot of stereotypes.

Weird Harold (user link) says:

Welcome to the wired world, where more people are aware of the words, it is easy enough to search google for the words, and as a result, plagiarism is caught more often.

I don’t think it is always increased enforcement, just increased awareness of the infringements that lead to legal action.

MLK’s speech might have taken weeks to circle the globe in his day. Now it would be live worldwide on CNN.

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: Re:

Or people just have really, really similiar ideas and beliefs or the same ideas and beliefs and talk about them in the same language, resulting in what looks like plagiarism.

Imagine if Christians were right and Jesus came back today, but decided to climb another big hill and talk for awhile (Sermon on the Mount) instead of kicking off the Apocalypse.

Would someone be able to reprint his speech without specific permission or could they only use a snippet?

Would the AP sue everyone who used the same info and/or snippet of speech?

How would Jesus, the man who inspired the Bible, feel about copyright?

Just saying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Plagiarism

On the other hand, who cares what the pastor or priest of your local church does?

On the other hand, if a famous author, say Stephen King, plagiarized the works of another author, while his career might not be over, it would certainly take a major hit. Indeed, the internet and media would roast him alive.

Felix Pleșoianu (user link) says:

Someone hasn’t read James Boyle’s The Public Domain, or at least they skipped Chapter 6. For the curious, it’s the story of Ray Charles’ song I Got a Woman: where it comes from (it’s not original…) and what was built on it. How the music on this chain of inheritance would never have existed without the borrowing, and how the overly strict copyright laws of today make it virtually impossible to create another masterpiece like it.

It’s an amazing read. There’s nothing like knowing the facts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Dictionary

I do not believe that anyone thinks that artistic creation happens in a vacuum.

Mundane example: Stephen King’s “Silver Bullet” or “Salem’s Lot.” Stories of werewolves and vampires have been around a long time, and were clearly King’s inspiration. Did he plagiarize anyone? Not that I know. Could you accuse him of plariarism? I do not see how. Werewolves are a concept, not a form of expression. “Silver Bullet” was a concrete expression. I think there is a huge gap between inspiration and plagiarism, until you start copying what someone else did.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Dictionary

How to Recognize Plagiarism

Definition of Plagiarism

The Indiana University Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct (2005) indicates that students may be disciplined for several different kinds of academic misconduct. These include cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, interference, and violation of course rules.

In particular the code states:

3. Plagiarism.

Plagiarism is defined as presenting someone else’s work, including the work of other students, as one’s own. Any ideas or materials taken from another source for either written or oral use must be fully acknowledged, unless the information is common knowledge. What is considered “common knowledge” may differ from course to course.

a. A student must not adopt or reproduce ideas, opinions, theories, formulas, graphics, or pictures of another person without acknowledgment.

b. A student must give credit to the originality of others and acknowledge an indebtedness whenever:

1. Directly quoting another person’s actual words, whether oral or written;

2. Using another person’s ideas, opinions, or theories;

3. Paraphrasing the words, ideas, opinions, or theories of others, whether oral or written;

4. Borrowing facts, statistics, or illustrative material; or

5. Offering materials assembled or collected by others in the form of projects or collections without acknowledgment.

(quoted from Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct, Part II, Student Responsibilities, Academic Misconduct, By action of the University Faculty Council (April 12, 2005) and the Trustees of Indiana University (June 24, 2005).)

ITooCanUseGoogle says:

You Plagarists

I just spent twenty minutes with a perl script and Google and found 12 and counting instances of plagarism in the comment strings for this post.

As has been mentioned here many times before, creative works build on the works of others. Even Solomon (of the Bible) knew this a very long time ago:
(Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 NIV) What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. {10} Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.

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