Daily Archives: September 6, 2010

Plagiarism; what happens if we don’t pay attention to attribution

I wanted to point to a post that appeared on IPKat on Friday (thanks Francesca for the link).  Their article was entitled “Plagiarism: do we know what it means, do we know why we need it?

This is an important topic, and I for one wasn’t aware that it was surrounded by legal ambiguity.  IPKat quote Wikipedia’s definition of plagiarism:

“Plagiarism is not the same as copyright infringement. While both terms may apply to a particular act, they are different concepts. Copyright infringement is a violation of the rights of a copyright holder, when material protected by copyright is used without consent. On the other hand, the moral concept of plagiarism is concerned with the unearned increment to the plagiarizing author’s reputation that is achieved through false claims of authorship.”

The article then goes on to explore the issue in terms of the ‘offence’ being an issue of both morality and possible infringement of copyright.  Indeed if more attention is paid to attribution plagiarism can be avoided.  As the post says:

“Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources”

One of the comments caught my attention, a James Wagner commented:

“Protecting the moral rights and copyright of the author will not protect against plagiarism where the original author is a willing participant”

By willing participant he might mean signing away IP rights in an employment contract.  This could indeed be a scenario where legality and morality conflict.  To what extent is an employer morally obliged to credit an employee for created materials when legally they need not?  (By this I mean ethically rather than referring to moral rights.)  This is particularly important in a research environment but it could be argued that attribution assists innovation in many other areas too.  I recently watched a TED talk entitled “Sweat the small stuff” where the speaker, Rory Sutherland argues that “many flashy, expensive fixes are just obscuring better, simpler answers” and one could imagine how an environment of attribution might help bring some of these details into the light of day.

In the less ambiguous context of academia, Sebastian Derwisch sent me a link to a humorous video from the University of Bergen about plagiarism.  I notice IP Kat also linked to this video in their post update (they never miss a trick!).  It is a very funny clip, and also very effective in getting the message across!