Techdirt Reading List: The Little Book Of Plagiarism

from the plagiarize-this dept

We're back again with another in our weekly reading list posts of books we think our community will find interesting and thought provoking. Once again, buying the book via the Amazon links in this story also helps support Techdirt.
Earlier this week, we wrote about an important (and useful) First Amendment ruling by 7th Circuit appeals court judge Richard Posner. Posner is one of the most well known judges around today, in part because of his prolific writing on many different subjects -- not all of which are directly about the law (though many are). One of his books that I quite enjoy is the short book he published back in 2007 called The Little Book of Plagiarism. It's a quick read at only 128 pages, but a worthwhile look into the history of plagiarism, and whether or not it's that big of a deal.

Plagiarism is one of those interesting things where people have wildly different reactions to it -- with some insisting it must be illegal (it's generally not, as there's no law against "plagiarism," though it may violate copyright law in some cases). However, some creative folks have finally begun to recognize that plagiarism can actually be a key element of being creative. Writers Malcolm Gladwell and Jonathan Lethem both wrote long articles more or less defending plagiarism -- with Lethem's article entirely plagiarized from other sources.

That's not to say that all plagiarism is excusable. Passing off another's work as your own is quite reasonably frowned upon in most instances, but what all of these -- including Posner's book -- suggest, is that it's the kind of infraction that doesn't need a legal response, but rather social shaming is actually quite effective at dealing with plagiarists and undermining their own credibility. Posner's book is not a defense of plagiarism by any means. It notes how unethical it can be and the problems associated with plagiarism, but does a nice job putting it into perspective, and noting that the context matters very much. And while there are times when it is clearly not acceptable to plagiarize, there are others where it's clearly a reasonable creative endeavor.

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  • identicon
    Zem, 3 Dec 2015 @ 1:20pm

    I was just going to cut and past an insightful and witty comment from "That Anonymous Coward" and pass it off as my own. Alas I am too lazy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nina Paley (profile), 3 Dec 2015 @ 2:14pm

    "social shaming is actually quite effective at dealing with plagiarists and undermining their own credibility."

    We made a Minute Meme about this very subject a few years ago! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPtH2KPuQbs

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2015 @ 2:32pm

      "Social Justice" has lost it's cachet.

      Calling for the heads or the shaming of those that fall afoul of your own standards has reached it's logical endpoint, hasn't it? It's boring, like an animated musical.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mike Masnick (profile), 3 Dec 2015 @ 3:12pm

        Re: "Social Justice" has lost it's cachet.

        I don't think it has anything to do with "social justice." Not sure how this is relevant. "Social shaming" has nothing to do with "social justice."

        As for the idea of "shaming" people -- the idea that it's gone out of style is pretty ridiculous, no? Pretty much everyone, no matter what their viewpoint/political persuasion/whatever makes use of social shaming at some point or another.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John David Galt (profile), 3 Dec 2015 @ 2:39pm

    Plagiarism does violate the law, even in the US:

    It's a form of fraud, actionable by both the consumer and the real author, even if the material is not under copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lawrence Ebert, 3 Dec 2015 @ 5:01pm

      Re: Plagiarism does violate the law, even in the US:

      As to non-attribution (or false attribution) of material in the public domain (not under copyright), this is NOT actionable under federal IP laws. Refer to the Supreme Court decision in Dastar.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      cpt kangarooski, 3 Dec 2015 @ 7:39pm

      Re: Plagiarism does violate the law, even in the US:

      It's a form of fraud, actionable by both the consumer and the real author, even if the material is not under copyright.

      Maybe in some circumstances, but certainly not as a bright line rule.

      To prove fraud, you generally have to show, with specificity:
      1) A representation of fact;
      2) That the representation is false;
      3) That the party making the representation knows it is false or at least is ignorant of its truth;
      4) That the victim is unaware of the falsity of the representation;
      5) That the representation is material;
      6) That the victim had a right to rely on the representation being true;
      7) That the victim actually relied on the representation being true;
      8) That the party making the representation intended that the victim should rely on the representation in a reasonably likely manner; and
      9) That the victim suffers an injury actually and proximately caused by the representation.

      So for example, if I say that I wrote the novel Moby Dick, I put my name on a copy in place of Melville, and sell it to you, it's probably not fraud because it fails on prongs 5, 8, and 9 and probably on 4, and 7.

      Just because something is a lie does not make it fraud.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2015 @ 10:33pm

      Re: Plagiarism does violate the law, even in the US:

      As to non-attribution (or false attribution) of material in the public domain (not under copyright), this is NOT actionable under federal IP laws. Refer to the Supreme Court decision in Dastar.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2015 @ 8:40pm

    Nothing wrong with plagiarism, only be sure always to call it please "research."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DNY (profile), 4 Dec 2015 @ 7:21am

    Plagiarism misunderstood

    The conception of plagiarism as "theft" has contributed mightily to the misconception of copyright and patent infringement as "theft" by way of a misunderstanding of what is, in fact, stolen by a plagiarist. It is not ideas, or even phrases or sentences, that a plagiarist steals, but the credit or honor for having originated those ideas, phrases or sentences. My having an idea or using a phrase or sentence does not deprive anyone else of that idea or use of that phrase or sentence, however, if I falsely pass myself off as the originator of an idea, phrase or sentence, I deprive the actual originator of the honor or credit of having originated it.

    The false notion that an idea, phrase or sentence, as distinct to honor or credit for the same, can be stolen is the root of the reification of patent and copyright monopolies as "intellectual property".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence Ebert, 5 Dec 2015 @ 8:27am

    Copyright infringement vs. plagiarism

    Federal copyright law protects the work of authorship, not the honor of being the author. Once a copyright expires, the work passes into the public domain and anyone is free to copy it, with or without attribution. Falsely asserting authorship of a public domain work is plagiarism, but it is not copyright infringement. See Dastar.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ricky Mauritius, 9 Dec 2015 @ 3:09am

    The Disease of Society

    The problem of plagiarism is still underestimated. People don't pay enough attention to this question of dishonesty. And I'm glad that people who care about intellectual property rights still exist. I'm a student and a future journalist(hope so), so it isn't hard for me to understand the uniqueness of my articles is the key to success. My Creative Writing Teacher, recommended me to use Unplag plagiarism checker with the aim to check for similarity. The worst thing, to my mind, could ever happen to author is becoming someone else's ''twin''.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Mickangelo, 22 Jul 2016 @ 6:12am

      Re: The Disease of Society

      Hm. Perhaps they were practicing William Burroughs-type writing transferred to academia? As a matter of fact, I did that once as a 1st year undergrad., and got 80% - in a Humanities essay, cross-disciplinary, on "Alienation". I was hoping the form of my essay would in some sense exemplify the process I was writing about. It was a quadruple-length essay in the end, so I got a quadruple First-class mark for it! Lots of quotes in it, to, but juxtaposed by me to the greater end of showing what Alienation is, and "how it has affected Art and Literature". So, If you need really original content you can hire professional writers and to be sure for non plagiarism paper. If you are writing an assignment you are likely to be quoting a fair bit of other people's work and Turnitin will register that as a similar, because it is, even though it is not just legitimate but necessary.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Michael Page (profile), 5 Dec 2016 @ 5:47am

    Plagiarism is a rather wide notion; so many people can mix notions and consider customary for modern world types of plagiarism a suitable means of creating something “new”. Most of people are simply not aware of other types of plagiarism apart from copy-paste, like paraphrasing; omission of citation of quotation marks; “mosaic plagiarism”: composing a text from borrowed phrases from someone’s text etc. All of these ways are only a useless effort to present somebody’s work as yours and almost each of them can be detected by plagiarism checkers. In any case, if you make intentional efforts to use one’s work, this action can be considered a literary theft. Each original work is protected by copyright laws and violating intellectual property you commit a crime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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