I’ll take a phrase “Plagiarism is a species of intellectual fraud that an author claims is original but has been copied from another source without permission or acknowledgment, thus deceiving and harming the reader.” Never mind the source. In the best tradition of true plagiarism, no attribution is forthcoming. Here I go: Plagiarism is a fraud. In its most blatant form, plagiarism is nothing less than a theft of intellectual property. Have I plagiarized the original? Actually, no. Although I lifted an idea from the source (plagiarism is theft), I hardly used the source verbatim. No copy-pasting here.
My bad. Let me try again. The original: Plagiarism is apparently so rife these days that it would not be surprising to discover that “The Little Book of Plagiarism,” by Richard A. Posner, has itself been plagiarized. Plagiarized version: These days, plagiarism is so rife that I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Little Book of Plagiarism,” by Richard A. Posner, has been plagiarized from some obscure blog buried in the backwaters of internet and show up on page 834,756 of Google search results.”
That’s better. Fresh and original, isn’t it? This time around, I used some of the verbiage of the source on top of copy-pasted original, which may or may not be plagiarized itself — one never knows unless one checks.
Creating this example, I march in step with the greats (and not-so-greats): Shakespeare stole the plot of Romeo and Juliet, Manet’s Olympia is a reworking of Titian’s Venus d’Urbino, Kaavya Viswanathan novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life is lifted from Megan McCafferty, and numerous excerpts from Cassie Edwards’ novels generously borrowed from magazines and nonfiction books.
So? Writers of any genre, academics, bloggers, politicians, students and almost anyone who uses and publishes words — nearly everyone who writes, lectures and/or speaks — plagiarize sometimes. Those who don’t plagiarize like to have fun parsing published sentences, mining for word thieves. It’s easy — there is a software to do it, such as turnitin, widely used to detect heavy borrowing in student papers.
Is plagiarism a crime? Many authors who found themselves victims of thievery say a resounding yes.
Not so fast, says Richard A. Posner, a judge on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, expert on intellectual property, author of The Little Book of Plagiarism, mentioned above. Posner’s assessment of plagiarism is that it is an “embarrassingly second-rate” offense, “its practitioners… pathetic,” and that plagiarism should remain an ethical rather than a legal offense, punished by public shaming. He dismisses the idea that good art must be totally original. Plagiarism? Wrong term, he says, although not in the same words, but I am done plagiarizing. Creative imitation is a more appropriate name for the phenomenon in question, says Posner.
Years ago, Ian McEwan was harshly criticized for filching details from another book in his 2002 bestseller Atonement. Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow, Against the Day) has defended McEwan in a letter to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, saying that if the writers of historical fiction were not present at the events described in their novels, they “must turn to those who were.” Richard A. Posner would’ve agreed — all power to creative imitation.
And now, a recent case in point. In August of this year, a Utah author, Rachel Ann Nunes of Orem, filed a federal lawsuit claiming that a Layton teacher, Tiffanie Rushton, cut and pasted large sections from an electronic copy of her book, plagiarizing her Christian romance novel, adding graphic sex scenes, and then passed it off as her own.
Nunes’ book Love to the Highest Bidder, published in 1998, came out as a slightly revised e-book, A Bid for Love, recently, is about two art dealers, one from New York and the other from California, who meet while competing for an Indian Buddha statue and fall in love.
Rushton’s manuscript, The Auction Deal, is about an art dealer who goes to Beverly Hills to bid on a rare sculpture and meets a successful gallery owner from Chicago. A true fit of creative imagination.
Here is an example from the case:
Nunes, the “source”, a sample line from chapter one: “For six years, he had put up with her overt stares and innuendos because she was not only his boss and sole owner of the gallery but also his friend.”
Rushton (writing under the pen name Sam Taylor Mullens), from chapter one: “For ten years, I’d tolerated her overt stares and innuendos because she was part owner of our gallery and always seemed to find opportunities with new clients that helped the gallery that I could not.”
Use your creative imagination, change names of characters and places (use replace all), infuse lots of graphic sex, then some more sex (it makes readers’ skirts fly up) and voila! — her book is your book. The niche Christian story Nunes wrote is recast into a sizzling book by Ms. Rushton with mass appeal (good Christians might read it under the blankets).
The case, Nunes hopes, would expose plagiarism as a plague of online self-publishing. It is unknown to what degree Ms. Nunes’ decision to pursue this matter was influenced by Ms. Rushton’s bizarre behavior — an unprecedented barrage of cyber-bulling. Speak of ethical rather than a legal offense! If interested in further details of this incident, read UTAH SCHOOL TEACHER CHARGED WITH PLAGIARISM, CYBER-BULLYING.