Jan 12, 2007

plagiarism and labor

Long-time reader and all around good guy Josh sends a link to this Slate piece on why we don't like plagiarism. The demands of originality are addressed first. Especially in creative contexts, we like our authors to be original. "Distribution of labor," the plagiarist as slacker, is discussed second.
In fact, labor and plagiarism were entwined from the start. The word derives from the Latin plagiarius, referring to "kidnapper." Around the first century A.D., Roman satirist Martial gave us its modern sense when he wrote an epigram complaining that another man (whom he labeled a "plagiarius") had kidnapped his writings (which he metaphorically labeled his slaves) and was passing them off as his own. What had been a metaphor for a slave-stealer—someone who got labor for free—became a symbolic expression for the theft of words.
The academic sin of plagiarism is only partially described by this framework. From a teacher's perspective, plagiarism destroys the ability to assess a student's work, making meaningless half the labor of teaching.


pfypher said...

At the same time, many of the greats didn't create their works ex nihilo. I have in mind especially Shakespeare, who lifted most, if not all, of his plots from other sources. His genius lies not in the creation of new plotlines out of nothing, but reworking already existing content into a superior form.

Jim Anderson said...

The article mentions Shakespeare (and takes the same appreciative attitude). I love mash-ups, too.