Defending vs. Denying Plagiarism

Pretty site of the day: Network Simplicity
Though it resembles the bold, simple lines of CSS, this site is made with tables, for a 2002 look with a 1997 back-end. I found this one while investigating OpenSSH on Cygwin.

It’s been a while since I blogged about plagiarism, so I’ll summarize what I’ve said in the past. At first, I was mystified by the uproar against plagiarism because I don’t read fanfic for its originality. In fact, fanfic that was based in other authors’ playgrounds disturbed me, while rewriting television shows seemed perfectly innocuous.

Plagiarism is a moral issue, not a legal one, so the great debate always looks like a crusade. All the anti-plagiarists seize the moral high ground, but the pro-plagiarists can be divided into two camps, those who defend plagiarism, and those who deny it. That is to say, there are those who embrace their inner plagiarists, and there are those who try to weasel out of the charges.

The proper moral defense of plagiarism places it in a storytelling tradition in which originality has little, or even negative, value. Historically, originality hasn’t counted for much but today it does, making this
a radical defense. It simultaneously places all the plagiarized texts, from modern copyrighted novels to scripts of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in the same communal, incestuous storytelling tradition. As R. J. pointed out, the original authors may not care for this extreme form of textual poaching, and readers of a non-communal persuasion (which is to say, almost all of us) will feel defrauded by authors who pass off others’ work as their own.

It takes a radical to adopt a radical stance on fanfic. Most pro-plagiarists maintain their positions by denying that any plagiarism happened, rather than defending plagiarism as a new moral good. They pussyfoot around with the definition of the word or they claim that an author’s note mentioning the victim de-plagiarizes direct, unmarked quotation of non-canon source materials. They pretend to believe that all of fanfic is plagiaristic, in order to excuse their plagiarism as just more fanfic writing.

Plagiarism is a moral offense, not a copyright violation, and can be defended only with moral arguments - that is, an explanation of why it is good and right for the plagiarist to incorporate someone else’s work seamlessly into their own. Arguments that it wasn’t quite plagiarism or that everybody does it will not do. That’s just denial of what is plain and clear to the average reader, and you know what they say about denial…

It’s not just a river in Egypt anymore.

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