The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard A. Posner (2007) is a 116-page hardback that measures just 6.5 x 4.75 inches and takes around 2 hours to read. The author is a judge on the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal and a senior lecturer at a Law School. The book has no contents page, and is divided into seven chapters. The final chapter covering just 4 pages sums up what the book is about.
The book is an enjoyable read, with many examples and begins with an author who had a $500,000 advance and a contract for a movie but because of plagiarism the publishers cancelled the contract. The author then cites plagiarism at Harvard and Oregon Universities. The author names many names of those who have plagiarised and gives examples through history. The author makes a distinction between plagiarisms, copyright infringement, fair use and trademarks and fraudulent copying.
The author touches on text books, sources (primary and secondary) law books, ghost writers, academic students, celebrity endorsements, competitive harm and self-plagiarism. The authors notes differences between Europe and the USA in relation to scholarly works which are often published under the name of a noted professor whilst the body of text was written by his or her research students. In the USA, the names of the research students need to be acknowledged, perhaps as co-authors otherwise the stigma of plagiarist could be attached to the professor.
The authors makes some interesting comments about judges and how most of their summarizing of a case is by junior clerks. Other types and examples of plagiarism are mention such as classical music, rap music, art, poetry, new media, classics reworked, appropriation of art and unconscious plagiarism. The stigma of plagiarism is touched on as is the argument of what type of punishment should be merited out.
While this review is not a copy of any other review (and indeed, to guard against any overt plagiarism, I am typing it without notes and straight to submission, without an editing stage), that is not to say that it will not in fact end up being copied by someone, somewhere. Plagiarism reaching epidemic proportions is one of the unintended consequences of the internet and its vast availability - much in forms easily adapated to cut-and-paste functions - makes it both a blessing and a curse.
Posner's book starts with the now infamous case of the Harvard student, who, having secured book and movie deals even prior to her entrance to the prestigious Ivy League school, was publically disgraced when it was revealed that substantial elements of her first novel were taken from novels of similar ilk, sometimes in almost verbatim terms. Posner's book goes on to look at other incidents both past and present (to what extent would Shakespeare be branded a plagiarist?), the philosophical implications (moral and ethical), and some legal and consequential issues. What should be done with plagiarists? Of course, the answer varies, as will the reader's opinion here.
Posner suggests that the internet will also be a saving grace in this -- indeed, I could relate to the issues he brings up as I am a professor who regularly uses the Turnitin.com service, which scans not only the internet but also a database of previously submitted papers. I have found at least one student in each of the last several semesters who has simply lifted an article or paper off the internet and turned it in as his or her own. Posner suggests that instructors who are not on the ball and using some kind of similar safeguard are naive.
I must confess, I'd heard some of what he's written before, but then duplication is acceptable, provided sources are cited, right? The book itself is very small -- I read it in one go, and reminded me somewhat both in style and size of Harry Frankfurt's book, the title of which the filters here don't permit me to mention...
"While this review is not a copy of any other review ..." Honest. In seriousness, I enjoyed this rather minute book. Judge Posner's style is distinct, clear, to the point and clearly constructed. He discusses both the examples of deliberate plagiarism and the very accidental kind which Prof. Dershowitz was wrongly accussed of. So I'd recommend this book for its definition, clearing up the distinction between plagiarism and copyright infringement.