Plagiarisms: Past and Present

(plagiarize comes from Latin plagium which meant "kidnapping")

Plagiarism, its origins, history, definitions, and practices

The Latin noun plaga referred to a hunting net or snare which was used for capturing game. The netting of such animals was termed plagium. By extension, this word was also used for the crime of kidnapping children or freemen and selling them as slaves, the kidnapper being called a plagiarius.

It is believed that the poet Martial, who died about A.D. 103, was using plagiarius to refer to "a literary thief or plagiarist".

The Latin plagiarius became plagiary in seventeenth-century English and was used for "kidnapper" (a sense now obsolete), "plagiarist", and "plagiarism".

The noun plagiarism itself was formed from plagiary and was used to denote "the practice of stealing the ideas or words of others and passing them off as one's own". The verb plagiarize was also formed from plagiary, being first used early in the eighteenth century.

—This information comes from two sources:
Webster's Word Histories, Merriam-Webster Inc., Publishers,
Springfield, Massachusetts, 1989;
The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, Robert K. Barnhart, Editor,
The H.W. Wilson Company, 1988.

"Plagiarism is the passing off of another person's work as one's own, whether deliberate or accidental. Accidental plagiarism is usually the result of poor citation or referencing or of poor preparation or a misunderstanding of plagiarism. Deliberate plagiarism is an attempt to claim another person's work as one's own."

"There is some difference of opinion over how much credit must be given in non-academic settings, such as when preparing a newspaper article or historical account. Generally, reference is made to original source material as much as possible, and writers avoid taking credit for others' work. The use of facts in non-academic settings, rather than works of creative expression, does not usually constitute plagiarism."

—From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia;

Legal definitions and applications of plagiarism, plagiarius, and plagium

Plagiarism is defined by law to be "the act of appropriating the literary composition of another, or parts or passages of his writings, or the ideas or language of the same, and passing them off as the product of one's own mind. If the material is protected by copyright, such act may constitute an offense of copyright infringement."

"To be liable for plagiarism it is not necessary to exactly duplicate another's literary work, it being sufficient if unfair use of such work is made by lifting of substantial portion thereof, but even an exact conuterpart of another's work does not constitute plagiarism if such counterpart was arrived at independently."

Plagiarius: "Latin, in the civil law, a kidnapper."

Plagium, Latin, in the civil law, kidnapping. The offense of enticing away and stealing men, children, and slaves. The persuading a slave to escape from his master, or the concealing or harboring him without the knowledge of his master."

—From Blacks's Law Dictionary ® by Henry Campbell Black, M.A.;
6th Ed. West Publishing Co., St. Paul, Minn.,USA; 1990.

Harvard student accused of plagiarizing novel, news coverage: last week of April through first week of May, 2006

"Student’s Novel Faces Plagiarism Controversy Book by Kaavya Viswanathan ’08 contains similarities to earlier author’s works" from the The Harvard Crimson by David Zhou: "A recently-published novel by Harvard undergraduate Kaavya Viswanathan ’08, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, contains several passages that are strikingly similar to two books by Megan F. McCafferty; the 2001 novel Sloppy Firsts and the 2003 novel Second Helpings.

"Little, Brown signed Viswanathan to a two-book, $500,000 contract while she was in high school. This is the first book that the Harvard sophomore has produced for the publisher under that deal, and it reached 32nd on the New York Times’ hardcover fiction bestseller."

"Plagiarism claims bring career to a full stop" by Harry Mount in New York, News Telegraph: "A Harvard student who was the toast of American publishing when she was signed up to write her debut novel at the age of 17 saw her contract torn up yesterday after facing a succession of allegations that she had plagiarised the work of other writers."

"Kaavya Viswanathan, now 19, who was born in India and brought up in Scotland, was yesterday accused of plagiarising two writers, including a British novelist, only a week after she was found to have copied from another source."

"The company announced that it would not fulfil the terms of her £270,000 contract, though it did not reveal whether she would have to return her advance."

Alfred P. Doblin, editorial page editor, the Herald News, Passaic County, N.J.: "Kaavya Viswanathan (is) the 19-year-old overachieving New Jerseyan who obtained a book and movie deal on her way to a Harvard education.

Apparently, she more than overachieved, she plagiarized. In journalism there is no victory in a front-page story riddled with errors. There is a lower level in hell for the plagiarist than for the 'fictional' news writer.

Getting it wrong is unacceptable; getting it from someone else is unpardonable. Writers, fiction or journalists, are nothing if they do not have a distinctive voice. A would-be novelist without the creativity to create is nothing but a skilled typist. Language is what separates humans from cable television talk show hosts. It is not to be treated casually."

Ruth Marcus, columnist, in The Washington Post: "The most interesting. and in a way most egregious thing about Harvard University sophomore Viswanathan isn't the plagiarism. It's the packaging. With all this third-party positioning, is it any wonder that a person, especially a teenage person, could forget (or ignore) the fact that some of the writing in her book is not actually hers?"

Margo Hammond, column, in the St. Petersburg Times (Florida): "The term 'plagiarist' used to be the worst label with which a writer could be smacked. Stealing someone else's intellectual property was the cardinal sin of scribes.

Now, while plagiarism might still get you expelled from some schools, in the real world it is not the career-ender it used to be. Did Viswanathan hang her head in shame? No, she went on the Today show and defended herself. She used the weasel word 'borrowing'."

The Hartford Courant (Connecticut), in an editorial: "Sometimes being smart is not enough to prevent a person from being stupid. That may be the most important lesson Harvard sophomore Viswanathan will take away from her Ivy League education.

Viswanathan was privileged to be offered a $500,000 book contract while 17 and just a freshman. Now it seems Viswanathan plagiarized passages from the novels of Megan McCafferty, in some cases lifting sentences nearly verbatim.

Viswanathan no doubt has talent of her own and should have trusted it enough to produce original work. Presumably, she would not get away with lifting passages for her academic papers, however 'unintentional'."

H.D.S. Greenway, columnist, The Boston Globe: "One's thoughts turn to Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore caught in an act of plagiarism whose literary career appears to have been artificially manufactured.

She first made news because, at age 17 with no writing experience, she was given a $500,000 advance for two novels that she would presumably write."

Dinitia Smith, The New York Times, "Harvard Novelist Says Coping Was Unintential": "Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore accused of plagiarizing parts of her recently published chick-lit novel, acknowledged yesterday that she had borrowed language from another writer's books, but called the copying "unintentional and unconscious."

In an e-mail message yesterday afternoon, Ms. Viswanathan, 19, said that in high school she had read the two books she is accused of borrowing from, "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings," and that they "spoke to me in a way few other books did."

"Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, and passages in these books," she said.

"Calling herself a 'huge fan' of Ms. McCafferty's work, Ms. Viswanathan added, 'I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words.' She also apologized to Ms. McCafferty and said that future printings of the novel would be revised to 'eliminate any inappropriate similarities.' "

Associated Pres, Boston, New York: "Rarely has an author succeeded, then failed, so quickly as Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard University sophomore who acknowledged lifting material for her debut novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life."

Just weeks after her book was released with a first printing of 100,000 and a wave of favorable attention, publisher Little, Brown and Company announced that it would be pulled from store shelves and that retailers had been asked to return unsold copies."

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