Which is Worse -- Sharing With Attribution, Or Plagiarism Without?

from the spot-the-thief dept

At the end of last year we wrote about the case of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, former Federal Minister of Defense in Germany, who lost both his post and his doctorate when it turned out that he had plagiarized portions of his doctoral thesis. Now the journal Science is reporting another possible case:

German Education and Research Minister Annette Schavan is facing allegations that she plagiarized parts of her dissertation, published in 1980. A Web site, called schavanplag (in German) has listed 56 incidents in which the anonymous accuser says Schavan copied phrasing from improperly cited sources.
That on its own might not be so remarkable, were it not for the fact that there have been at least two other recent cases of plagiarism by German politicians -- Silvana Koch-Mehrin in June last year, and Jorgo Chatzimarkakis a month later.

Now, I don't know what exactly the positions of all those German politicians were on unauthorised sharing of files online, but I somehow doubt that any of them approved of it. And yet they seem not to have had any qualms about copying other people's work and passing it off as their own.

Beyond the double standards involved, there's another important point to be made here, I think. Plagiarism is about denying creators attribution that is rightly theirs. When people share files online, by contrast, there is no attempt to pass them off as their own work -- the attribution is always preserved, because otherwise people wouldn't know what they were downloading.

That's probably why online sharing can sometimes increase the sales of the works involved: it's a way of signalling that you enjoy something -- and a personal recommendation is perhaps the most powerful form of marketing around. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is a conscious attempt to boost your own reputation by depriving others of the recognition they are due, with all that this implies for lost rewards.

So which is worse? And which one should German politicians be most concerned about?

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Filed Under: annette schavan, germany, karl-theodor zu guttenberg, plagiarism, schavanplag

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2012 @ 4:25am


    Borrowing other people's stuff has been the backbone of human development since the beginning of the species' existance. Nothing is simply created inside a bubble, and everyone has used other people's work and ideas in their own work. Everything should be more out in the open, but because it will lead to proper development continuing. The key cause of a stagnant global economy is when innovation is stifled due to intellectual property laws, which by their nature go against human nature.

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