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November 26, 2004

The Ethics of Plagiarism

Sure, we can see how copying a research paper off the Interweb is a no-no, and signing another's book with your name is right out, as well.

But where DO we get ideas from? At least some of it is prior experience and previously-heard ideas.

In early Hellenistic culture, it was nearly a crime to build on other's ideas in your own work and still sign your name. Pseudonymity (signing someone else's name to your own creative work, especially if it built on ideas from the past) was the only honorable way to produce any writings.

Now look at us: a turn of phrase that sounds a little too much like someone else's can be a literary death sentence.

Should a charge of plagiarism, especially surrounding one sentence or snippet of conversation, ruin your life? When did we decide that any use of anyone else's ideas ever was a moral wrong? Where are the lines now, and where should they be?

That is the thrust of this fascinating New Yorker article.

Posted by Dan at November 26, 2004 09:50 AM

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