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 @ 6:32am

    Re: Hypocrisy of politicians?

    More like hypocrisy of Techdirt on this one.

    Sorry for being critical here, I really love Techdirt but this article is misguiding.

    First, the author has no basis to claim the politicians who are involved are against file-sharing. Or if he does have such a basis (although he does admit he doesn't know what their positions on the issue are), he doesn't provide us with any evidence.
    I know the German government has been cracking down hard on piracy in the last few years, with censoring websites, imposing heavy fines on infringers and holding people accountable for how others use their wifi networks. But that doesn't mean the 3 members of that government who have committed plagiarism are automatically against file-sharing. If anything, they're more likely to approve or at least tolerate it than to condemn it. Assuming they condemn it because of what the government does is ridiculous.

    Second, those 3 politicians do not represent the entirety of the German government. Just because 3 people committed plagiarism doesn't mean the entire government approves of it.
    And in fact, these people lost their positions as a result of the plagiarism they committed, not to mention their degrees. If anything this shows that Germany cracks down equally hard on piracy and plagiarism. I really don't see any hypocrisy here.

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