Charles Isherwood writes a funny but serious piece on the P word which makes the point that judging whether something is plagiarism is not so simple (NY Times link here
). Unlike the comments on my post of 11/26 where I deliberately conflated plagiarism and copyright violation, I would agree with Isherwood that what matters is what the writer or artist or thinker does with the material he appropriates, whether legally mis- or not. Does it provide interesting, amusing, instructive, or useful material for the reader? A work has to be judged whole, not for some piece that might have roots (or even branches) elsewhere.
In the end, it comes down to the reaction of the observer. Like pornography, another p-word, one knows plagiarism when one sees it. Is it art? Does it offend? But then, not everyone can agree on that. Legal definitions don't meet the needs of the case. Otherwise we are forever condemned to be in the hands of lawyers.
If we didn't have copyright then authors could more freely admit that they may sometimes reproduce phrases or even passages from other authors' works.
There's nothing morally wrong with such incorporation, it is simply prohibited by copyright.
If we make it legal for authors to declare even potential copying, then copyright won't oblige them to pretend the impossible achievement of 100% originality - and consequently commit themselves to plagiarism as and when copying is discovered.
Let's abolish copyright and enable authors to declare that their books are not 100% original and may incorporate snippets from other authors (credited where appropriate/extensive).
The offense is not in an author using another's work, but in claiming another's work as their own.
For a more probing discussion of this subject, go to http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20061204/203658.shtml
It has several references to prior posts as well.
Yup, I noticed that. I would have commented there too, but at least two commenters there appear to recognise that plagiarism is a moral issue concerning truth, and casts no aspersions regarding the legitimacy of copying per se.
Copying is not necessary for plagiarism. John Untidy can switch his exam paper with that of Jo Tidy. No copying involved, but plagiarism has occurred if John forges the names. A plagiarism and a misattribution. He is not only presenting another's work as his own, he is also presenting his work as that of another.
That copying is so often involved in plagiarism is often mischievously used to misdirect people into concluding that it is the copying that is wrong.
Similarly, use of the word 'right' in copyright is often mischievously used to misdirect people into concluding that the suspension of the public's liberty to copy published works is the human right of the author - rather than a limited privilege.