Reagan and plagiarism

by Henry on August 7, 2014

So I’ve been in the West of Ireland without proper Internet access for several days, and am catching up with umpteen posts in my RSS reader. I was going to write a post about plagiarism anyway, focusing on this weird Gawker story accusing True Detective of plagiarizing Thomas Ligotti. If unacknowledged quotes or references, intended as Easter eggs for people who spot the reference constitute plagiarism, then there are a lot of plagiarizers out there, me included (e.g. I ostentatiously plagiarize Matthew Arnold in this piece, with no acknowledgment whatsoever). But then, a little further down the feed, because a few hours farther back in the past, I saw this New York Times piece doing a class of a ‘he says, she says’ on whether Rick Perlstein’s new book is rife with plagiarism (I should say before writing that Rick is a friend, and that I read an early version of the last book and provided not especially useful comments on it; I didn’t do so for the new one, and indeed don’t yet have a copy (see above under location: West of Ireland and Internet: dearth of access to)).

Dave Weigel has copies of the letters back and forth between Perlstein and the conservative author and “political strategist” who is accusing Perlstein of plagiarizing. Not surprisingly, there doesn’t look to be anything worth talking about in the actual accusation (the bit where the lawyer representing the accuser claims that Perlstein’s willingness to talk with the author about sources is evidence against him, because it resembles how a “hit-and-run driver might return to the scene of his crime or lurk in his victim’s hospital lobby,” is especially remarkable). But the claims provide an interesting example of how the term plagiarism, as it has spread beyond its academic context has become a kind of catch-all accusation for a variety of phenomena (much of the accuser’s ire appears to have been motivated by Perlstein’s decision – which not only seems to me to be defensible, but in accordance with emerging academic practice – to put his footnotes and information about primary sources online rather than including them in the book itself).

The second interesting, but in-retrospect-not-very-surprising aspect of this imbroglio is the sharp rise in the level of conservative hysteria surrounding Perlstein’s books. Perlstein’s first book, Before the Storm received some very favorable reviews from conservatives. Perlstein was writing about a group of conservative activists who had received very little attention, rescuing them from the enormous condescension of posterity. It probably helped that Perlstein was then less well known, and the book looked unlikely to get a lot of popular attention. Nixonland was larger in impact (it sold a lot better, and Obama reportedly read it), and correspondingly received much more hostile attention from conservative reviewers. I expect that the new book, which takes on Reagan, who is obviously far more central to the internal mythology of American conservatism, will provoke reactions verging on gibbering lunacy. The Times article reports that conservative intellectual Sam Tanenhaus (who, as editor of the New York Times Book Review assigned the review of Nixonland to George Will, with entirely predictable results) has a forthcoming attack piece for the Atlantic. As Weigel says “there is great interest in stopping Perlstein’s history from becoming the official look at Reagan’s rise.” Very possibly, some of the negative reviews will score useful points. But given how profoundly conservatives are invested in the mythology of Reagan’s saintliness and wisdom, any good points will likely be embedded in a matrix of deep crazy. These are topics that many conservatives simply can’t think straight about. How they’re going to react to book number four when it comes out … I don’t even want to think about it.

{ 57 comments }

1

Kieran Healy 08.07.14 at 10:34 am

rescuing them from the enormous condescension of posterity

I see what you did there.

2

Scott Martens 08.07.14 at 11:04 am

Traditional plagiarism – outright lazy copying – is growing technically impossible. String matching algorithms are something my guild has gotten pretty good at, and putting every generated word on the Internet makes it just about impossible to escape discovery. So I predict in the future plagiarism will absorb the terminologically different offence of inadequately citing sources.

Reagan obviously isn’t dead enough yet for sober analysis. St. Reagan saved us from the decadent crypto-Marxism that dominated American politics from the end of the Hoover administration to 1980. Nevermind that that myth is not only the diametric oppose of the public record, ridiculous on the face of it, and contradicts other widely held beliefs about America before the 60s.

3

Roy 08.07.14 at 11:56 am

Putting “footnotes and information about primary sources online rather than including them in the book itself” is a terrible idea. You yourself were just in a remote location, so you must see the problem here. Add the inherently ephemeral nature of the web and you are making any sourcing completely meaningless. It is also an invitation to academic fraud.

4

Niall McAuley 08.07.14 at 12:10 pm

Eh, Roy, if Henry is off in Belmullet with no internet, having the names of the books and articles used as sources will be of no immediate use – he can’t look them up anyhow.

5

James Conran 08.07.14 at 12:18 pm

The very first example (“festooned”, “smut-peddlars”) cited in the letter of complaint actually does seem like a case of minor plagiarism to me. The random sample of the rest of the claims I bothered to read seemed to range from the dubious to the absurd.

6

LFC 08.07.14 at 12:20 pm

Perlstein probably has interesting and useful things to say about Reagan. However, if this post at LGM is an accurate indication, Perlstein’s view of the 1976 Democratic presidential primary campaign (and subsequent gen. election) is wrong. Most liberals in the ’76 campaign did not love Carter, as P. asserts in the interview, but opposed him (w varying degrees of vigor). Fred Harris and Mo Udall were the preferred left-lib. candidates (Harris emphasizing the need to reduce income and wealth inequality). Carter was seen as someone whose positions on issues were deliberately vague and who relied on an aura of integrity and honesty (“I’ll never lie to you”) that was understandably appealing to many after Watergate but was devoid of any policy substance. In certain (not all) ways, Carter arguably turned out to be a better president than his ’76 campaign wd have led one to expect, but that’s a separate issue from the alignments during the campaign, which P., as mentioned, seems to get wrong.

7

Anderson 08.07.14 at 12:59 pm

Agree with James. There are (at least) two kinds of plagiarism. Perlstein cited to the guy, so use of his facts & ideas isn’t plagiarism. But citation or not, don’t use the source’s actual words without quotation marks. A Writing 102 TA would ding RP for that, but he wouldn’t flunk the paper let alone refer him for academic dishonesty.

8

Brad DeLong 08.07.14 at 2:19 pm

Re: “I see what you did there…” Analogizing Barry Goldwater to Joanna Southcott *is* rather clever…

9

dn 08.07.14 at 2:43 pm

I agree with Roy @3 about the notes. Online-only notes suck; there’s no guarantee that they won’t one day disappear, and then you’re stuck.

10

James Conran 08.07.14 at 3:04 pm

@ Anderson

The “smut-peddlars” quote is actually one where Pearlstein didn’t cite Shirley, so it’s worse than citing without quotes (but still “minor oversight” stuff, unless the pattern claimed by Shirley were substantiated).

11

Limericky Dicky 08.07.14 at 3:07 pm

About the notes (see Roy @ 3):
they may disappear, I agree,
one day. Then you’re stuck,
thus online notes suck
because there is no guarantee.

12

Anderson 08.07.14 at 3:19 pm

10: ah, yes, that’s a no-no, but a single instance in such a book is more like an editorial slipup than a Stephen Ambrose disorder.

13

b9n10nt 08.07.14 at 3:37 pm

How about a limited, academic, edition of in-book notes, and a popular edition with on-line notes?

14

LFC 08.07.14 at 3:45 pm

Agree w the pt above about using the words w/o quotation marks. As an isolated slip-up, something that’s committed through carelessness (which relatively few writers are prob. completely immune from), it’s forgivable; but not if done repeatedly.

15

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 08.07.14 at 3:46 pm

My liberal family did not support Jimmy Carter. We were ‘hold your nose and vote for the lesser evil’ in the general elections.

I think Jimmy Carter’s reputation is a lot better now, based on 1) what subsequent U.S. Presidents have done, and 2) what he has done since he was President.

I think the world would be a better place if Reagan had not won in 1980. (Thanks, Ted Koppel!) But of course, we will never know.
~

16

Glen Tomkins 08.07.14 at 3:47 pm

3&9,

I’m pretty much what you would call a late adapter, yet even I switched some years ago to meeting all my look-it-up needs to that newfangled Intertubes thingy. Any and all of my ink and paper books are much more likely to disappear one day than the net archives that preserve even the stuff we later had second thoughts about writing.

17

Roy 08.07.14 at 3:51 pm

Niall,

I actually get a lot of work done out of internet access. I make a note of all citations in a commonplace along with my notes and then go over them systematically when I get back to civilization. This is clearly an economy for publishers that will just make citations ever sloppier.

18

Roy 08.07.14 at 3:51 pm

Niall,

I actually get a lot of work done out of internet access. I make a note of all citations in a commonplace along with my notes and then go over them systematically when I get back to civilization. This is clearly an economy for publishers that will just make citations ever sloppier.

19

bianca steele 08.07.14 at 4:14 pm

Newspapers, magazines, and even books can disappear, and most libraries have probably thrown out their microfilm. Most online newspapers only go to 1980 or so. Even normal citations are pretty much useless for ordinary purposes if they’re to a secondary source and you have to track through N levels of citation to get anywhere, or if the footnote lists half a dozen sources with no page numbers. And this may be a misunderstanding of amateur researchers, but one has heard rumors of archives that can only be accessed by means of occult snail-mail ministrations to ensconced archivists.

That said, all of the complaints are odd.

20

Luke 08.07.14 at 4:30 pm

re: online citations. I read Alex Butterworth’s rather jolly The World that Never Was last year, which had online citations. Except it didn’t. The website was down, and apparently never contained the citations.

21

Mercy 08.07.14 at 5:19 pm

Yes but if Glen or a library lose their copy of a book that’s one book lost. A website is a single point of failure (or two, if it’s on the Wayback Machine)

22

Henry 08.07.14 at 5:29 pm

Re: “I see what you did there…” Analogizing Barry Goldwater to Joanna Southcott *is* rather clever…

I’ve done worse. Not only is this plagiarism, but it’s self plagiarism too.

23

bjk 08.07.14 at 5:33 pm

“Historians must write in the grip of an abiding fear. Composing a paragraph one imagines two audiences: the everyreaders, and the three or four people who know more about what you are writing in a particular paragraph than you do, who have read any book you’re inclined to plagiarize, who, for God’s sake, may have written the book you’re inclined to plagiarize . . .

I’m fascinated by what it takes for a historian to drop this fear—the fear of being found out. Think of the books Stephen Ambrose, the more wanton of the two plagiarists, ripped off. Some were popular books of a generation or three ago; some were recent but obscure; some were books written by those once prominent but now consigned to oblivion. For there are after all millions of books, and most of them are irrelevant to us. But to the historian who uses them for sources, how could they be anything but sacred? They are your superego, the very building blocks of your character.

I am a historian. My book is about the 1964 Barry Goldwater election. And the thought of a midnight knock on my door from this guy named John Kessel (who may or may not still be alive), who published a fine academic study in 1968 called The Goldwater Coalition: Republican Strategies in 1964, accusing me of doing him any dishonor, sends chills down my spine.

How could it not—as long as I consider myself a member of a community with responsibilities to one another, and not just a law unto myself? And that is what distinguishes our Goodwins and Ambroses from the normal run of lazy, insecure, stupid, or harried plagiarists—usually students—or from people who intend fraud. I believe Goodwin and Ambrose when they say they acted unintentionally. Their word,”unintentionally,” suggests a habit that has slipped, as if it no longer matters enough to remember. The crime is not fraud; it is instead an unconscious acclimation to arrogance.”

http://hnn.us/article/718

24

Billikin 08.07.14 at 5:36 pm

“Online-only notes suck; there’s no guarantee that they won’t one day disappear, and then you’re stuck.”

Just call up the NSA.

25

LFC 08.07.14 at 6:00 pm

@ Bianca Steele

Newspapers, magazines, and even books can disappear, and most libraries have probably thrown out their microfilm. Most online newspapers only go to 1980 or so.

1) I doubt most libraries have thrown out their microfilm, tho I don’t know for sure.
2) At least the major newspapers have, I believe, digitized their archives back to the 19th century. I know the NYT has, for one. Sometimes only available through a lib w a subscription, I suppose.
3) I’m not sure what any of this has to do w the question of whether it’s a good idea to put endnotes or footnotes online (basically I’m w those who want them *in* the bk most of the time, tho in the case of Perlstein [fat bk aimed at wide audience] I can see why the online option might make sense; I don’t like it, though).

That said, all of the complaints are odd.
Do you mean that all the complaints about online-only source notes are odd? Or do you mean something else?

26

bianca steele 08.07.14 at 6:36 pm

LFC:

My town used to have microfilm of the Boston Globe and some other local papers, maybe the Worcester paper and a suburban paper, but the microfilm room disappeared long ago and so did the readers, and so did the archive of newspapers going back more than a few weeks or months. When I’ve asked a town librarian about an almost-obscure book that’s disappeared from the shelves, I have been told it was probably put in the trash. I don’t know who would buy a roomful of microfilm (much less one set for each town in the state). It was probably also discarded.

I think there used to be a database available through the suburban libraries that took the Boston Globe back more than a few decades, but I don’t see it now. Subscribers can get back issues (when the site works), so maybe you could get access in the library though not from home. When I was in high school, the Philadelphia “regional” libraries had what now seem like crazy numbers of print and filmed journals; I can’t imagine they still do.

Do you mean that all the complaints about online-only source notes are odd? Or do you mean something else?

I mean simply that the NYT cites the Shirley complaint as well as others, and the other complaints about sourcing are equally odd.

27

Shatterface 08.07.14 at 6:37 pm

Intellectual property is theft.

28

Tom Slee 08.07.14 at 6:43 pm

#22 etc: The West of Ireland may not have internet, but it must at least have had candlelight to write by.

29

John Quiggin 08.07.14 at 7:07 pm

In this context, worth remembering that the state is taking liberties, and those liberties used to be ours.

30

John Quiggin 08.07.14 at 7:13 pm

Endnotes are a truly horrible way of providing references, particularly in a book that’s going to be read by the general public. What’s more they mix boring citations with what would be (possibly interesting) footnotes in an academic article: you have to flip to the back to find out which is which.

If the endnote fans really care, I’d suggest they lobby for the online version to be printed out and offered as a separate volume, like the answer key for a textbook. I guess university libraries might want them.

31

b9n10nt 08.07.14 at 8:22 pm

JQ @ 30

You didn’t properly cite my post at 13, plagiarizer!

32

Luke 08.07.14 at 8:59 pm

@30
This. A thousand times this. Do not get me started on endnotes. They seem increasingly common, too. Who is pushing for them — publishers?

33

medrawt 08.07.14 at 9:08 pm

I don’t mind endnotes as long as they’re purely citational; if I’m going to follow up or make note of a reference I’m already breaking the rhythm of reading straight through, so I don’t mind flipping to the back; I tend to read books like this with two bookmarks anyway. I prefer footnotes if there’s going to be extra informational content though. Flipping elsewhere for supplementary commentary is annoying. I’m reading a book right now which I think would be a great candidate for endnotes: a study of the Merovingian dynasty. Every page has multiple footnote-citations, and 3/4 of them, inevitably, cite Gregory of Tours.

34

Henry 08.07.14 at 9:28 pm

#22 etc: The West of Ireland may not have internet, but it must at least have had candlelight to write by.

And sadly, Internet service technicians with the whimsical attitude to prompt customer service of the West Clare Railway circa 1896 or so. If you’re considering subscribing to Permanet.ie, I’d strongly recommend against it.

35

Kevin Marshall 08.07.14 at 9:40 pm

INT. SQUADROOM. McGRATH storms in and throws a stack of photos on RANKIN’s desk.

McGRATH
See it? Here. Here. And here. There’s a pattern, goddamnit!

RANKIN
(not looking up, cigarette hanging out of his mouth)
Goddamn plagiarist.

McGRATH
Sorry?

RANKIN
This guy, he’s plagiarizing the Hudson Strangler.

McGRATH
…what? No. No, you’re missing the point. The Hudson Strangler’s back—

RANKIN
Not the same guy. Can’t be. It’s a plagiarist.

McGRATH
That’s not what that means.

RANKIN
(puts out his cigarette, sighs deeply and makes eye contact)
Yes it is. Look, McGrath, I know you got some hero complex over these dead bodies, but I’m tellin’ ya, you’re barking up the wrong tree. The real crime here is plagiarism. I need you to dig through this sickos letters to the newspaper and do a google search. Any turn of phrase or key concept that’s lifted from another’s writings, we use it to nail this son of a bitch in court.

McGRATH
Boy, God IS dead, isn’t he?

RANKIN
You f***in’ plagiarist!

RANKIN tackles and cuffs McGRATH

McGRATH
(being carried away by uniformed cops)
I was just quoting Nietszche!

RANKIN
Yeah, yeah, tell it to twitter, f***-face.

END SCENE

36

Daniel Nexon 08.07.14 at 10:30 pm

@15, to borrow from a PhD student at Georgetown, the world would have been a better place if Ford had won in 1976, the GOP had gotten “credit” for the economic problems of the Carter years, and a liberal (e.g., Kennedy) had won in a landslide in 1980.

37

geo 08.07.14 at 11:01 pm

Henry @22: Not only is this plagiarism, but it’s self plagiarism too

No, it is not. To put quotes around phrases that ought to have passed into the cultural patrimony (“the glass of fashion and the mold of form”; “ripeness is all”; “once more unto the breach”; “of such is the Kingdom of Heaven”; etc., etc.) is not merely unnecessary, it’s an offense against public literacy, a form of dumbing-down. If someone protests: “That phrase is from Shakespeare/the Bible! You didn’t make it up yourself! Why didn’t you put it in quotes?”, the proper response is to look embarrassed for the other person and say “But I was sure you’d recognize it. All literate people do, and they generally find it annoying to have unnecessary quotation marks clutter the text.” This will no doubt encourage the protester to go back and read more of Shakespeare and the Bible.

In the present case: not everyone knows who authored “the enormous condescension of posterity” (I didn’t), but everyone should have heard or read it by now and know it’s a part of literary history. As you must know, Henry, half of Irish conversation consists of plays on words and comic variations on well-known phrases. Without the assumption of a common linguistic heritage, this delightful appurtenance of civilization would disappear. If the literal-minded, overzealous plagiarism hunters get their way, it surely will.

38

Jonathan Gilligan 08.08.14 at 12:04 am

On online endnotes perhaps one day disappearing: In scientific publications, especially the sexy tabloid ones, it is increasingly common to put the juicy results in the dead tree edition and all the tedious details that show how you got those results in an online-only supplement.

If the online stuff vanishes one day, the scholarly world will lose a lot more than citations.

But this will just be a temporary problem: with the kindlization of literature, everyone will buy the e-vesion of Perlstein’s book and it will cost no extra to include the citations all nicely hyperlinked. Then, when the citations vanish into the ether, so will the text that either did or did not use them properly.

39

LFC 08.08.14 at 12:12 am

Daniel Nexon:
to borrow from a PhD student at Georgetown, the world would have been a better place if Ford had won in 1976, the GOP had gotten “credit” for the economic problems of the Carter years, and a liberal (e.g., Kennedy) had won in a landslide in 1980.

On the world and U.S. for. policy front, wd have missed Carter’s human rts push, but human rts were rising anyway as a focus of concern. Not sure whether there wd have been a Camp David accord; of course one can debate whether that wd have been bad or not. But yes, I’d have taken two terms of Ted Kennedy instead of two terms of Reagan, any day.

40

Bloix 08.08.14 at 12:12 am

The Language Log blog had a post a couple of months ago on what it called “patchwriting” – the stringing together of paraphrased text from sources. In comments, I argued that in historical writing (as opposed to literary writing), so long as the sources are properly footnoted, this is not only acceptable but a virtually universal practice. But there were several commenters who contended that “patchwriting” is plagiarism, even when the sources are credited.

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=12963

41

drkrick 08.08.14 at 12:17 am

@35 – I have my doubts about Kennedy in 1980. In the primary campaign as lived, Roger Mudd managed to stump him on 60 Minutes with the softball “Why do you want to be President?” – the answer was “All of them, Katie” bad. In an open contest to oppose a non-incumbent GOP candidate, it’s hard to imagine that no other Democrat could have beaten that.

42

LFC 08.08.14 at 12:26 am

@ Bianca Steele
I agree that the shift in local and other libraries away from print and microfilm to online databases is troubling in some ways, and certainly can make it hard for the ordinary person who wants to track down, say, a Globe article from e.g. the 50s or 60s or 70s and doesn’t have easy access to the right database (assuming it exists) b.c the lib. doesn’t subscribe. Btw, Nicholson Baker, as I recall, wrote a book deploring the loss or reduction of print archives of newspapers.

43

John Quiggin 08.08.14 at 12:33 am

@b9n10nt It was the fault of my research assistant, who drafts my comments for me, and omitted to cite you. That’s a sackable offence.

44

John Quiggin 08.08.14 at 12:42 am

The Boston Globe archives are online but not free, except to subscribers.

https://secure.pqarchiver.com/boston/advancedsearch.html

So
(1) A win for subscribers, who previously had to search through microfilms at the library
(2) A win for Massachusetts library patrons, if their library subscribes (same as 1)
(2) A win for people outside Massachusetts, who can now get access easily and fairly cheaply, if they want it, which was previously impossible in most places.

The losers are people in Massachusetts, whose library dumped the microfilm but did not replace it with a subscription, and for whom the cost of a subscription outweighs the convenience of online access. Such people must exist, I guess, but I wouldn’t have thought there could be many of them

45

bianca steele 08.08.14 at 1:10 am

The Globe online archive isn’t even complete–I tore out a recipe from the Sunday magazine fifteen years ago and later misplaced it. I couldn’t find it, even using the author’s name, in standard search engines, on the web site, or in the library’s database. I found my paper copy again a few months later so I know I had the details right.

46

John Quiggin 08.08.14 at 2:04 am

@bianca But you surely would have had problems at least as bad if you had tried to find it in a microfilm archive.

A bigger problem than the inevitable omissions from archives is that Google is increasingly excluding older results from its searches, presumably because they are of zero marketing value. I’m finding Google less and less useful every year.

47

Thornton Hall 08.08.14 at 2:34 am

You gotta wonder about a crime that fascinates only journalists and academics. Nonetheless, I might go see a production of #35 if Colbert played the part of Rankin.

48

Anderson 08.08.14 at 2:36 am

Quiggin, while you’re here: very much appreciated your op-ed on WW1 & Australia.

49

John Quiggin 08.08.14 at 4:31 am

@48 Thanks for that. Appreciated.

50

Henry 08.08.14 at 10:07 am

Geo – indeed (I was joking). And for an Irish writer on these topics.

“Characters should be interchangeable as between one book and another. The entire corpus of existing literature should be regarded as a limbo from which discerning authors could draw their characters as required, creating only when they failed to find a suitable existing puppet. The modern novel should be largely a work of reference. Most authors spend their time saying what has been said before – usually said much better. A wealth of references to existing works would acquaint the reader instantaneously with the nature of each character, would obviate tiresome explanations and would effectively preclude mountebanks, upstarts, thimbleriggers and persons of inferior education from an understanding of contemporary literature. Conclusion of explanation. That is all my bum, said Brinsley.”

51

Lynne 08.08.14 at 12:22 pm

geo,

“In the present case: not everyone knows who authored “the enormous condescension of posterity” (I didn’t), but everyone should have heard or read it by now and know it’s a part of literary history. As you must know, Henry, half of Irish conversation consists of plays on words and comic variations on well-known phrases. Without the assumption of a common linguistic heritage, this delightful appurtenance of civilization would disappear. If the literal-minded, overzealous plagiarism hunters get their way, it surely will.”

I’m torn here. I had not heard that phrase, and thought how great it was. If I had run into it again without attribution I probably would have thought Henry was being plagiarized.

But the rest of the paragraph resonates with me, too….

The thing is, different audiences will have different shared literature. The Bible and Shakespeare are a common heritage, I agree. But my husband and I recently discovered that I didn’t recognize a quote by Pascal that he used without attributing it (I’m afraid I complimented him on it) whereas when I used “hope is the thing with feathers”, assuming he’d get the reference, he did not.

I wonder if people are more likely to think it’s okay to use these gems without attribution if they are someone else’s.

52

CJColucci 08.08.14 at 3:00 pm

drkrick:

Going on memory here, which is always a risk and exponentially greater as I age, but I recall a 1980 Doonesbury strip in which Kennedy is bobbling a Roger Mudd-like question and the interviewer says: “A verb, Senator. We need a verb.”
I think I’ve used that, substituting for “Senator,” once or twice since without attribution, so I’m putting the world on notice here that I have now attributed it if I use it again.

53

geo 08.08.14 at 4:40 pm

Henry @50: Sorry, I should have noticed your tongue in your cheek. Priceless quote! From Joyce?

Kevin Marshall @35: Awesome. Did you just dash that off, or did you steal it from somewhere? (Not that it matters!)

54

Ogden Wernstrom 08.08.14 at 4:45 pm

This, from geo 08.07.14 at 11:01 pm:

As you must know, Henry, half of Irish conversation consists of plays on words and comic variations on well-known phrases. Without the assumption of a common linguistic heritage, this delightful appurtenance of civilization would disappear. If the literal-minded, overzealous plagiarism hunters get their way, it surely will.

…reminded me that The Game’s Afoot(1) to establish perpetual copyright. I do not suppose that could reasonably be made retroactive, since so much that is written does rely upon phrases previously turned and aphorisms already coined. But reasonability may not be important when there is Big Money(2) to lobby for an unjust cause.

Would I have to pay somebody every time I called George W. Bush A Connecticut Yankee(3)? When I’m trying to make a point about race, can I use a scene from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer(4) without cost? When I use a line from The Three Musketeers(5), will there arise such a clatter [Twas The Night Before Christmas(6)] about my ability to put those words in that order?

This movement to extract perpetual rents is not new; early in the Twentieth Century(7), Samuel Clemens addressed Congress about a proposed expansion of copyright…not that it did much good. The rentiers continue to work toward turning the US into their Treasure Island(8).

I apologize for writing something so Crazy for [all of] You(9).

(1) Ken Ludwig, licensing by Samuel French, Inc.
(2) PopCap Games, licensing available on GSN.com .
(3) Herbert Fields, licensing unknown.
(4) Ken Ludwig, licensing by MTI.
(5) Ken Ludwig, licensing by Samuel French, Inc.
(6) Ken Ludwig, licensing by Samuel French, Inc.
(7) Ken Ludwig, licensing by Samuel French, Inc.
(8) Ken Ludwig, licensing by Samuel French, Inc.
(9) Ken Ludwig, licensing by Tams-Witmark.

55

In the sky 08.08.14 at 5:24 pm

Henry @50: Sorry, I should have noticed your tongue in your cheek. Priceless quote! From Joyce?

I’m willing to bet a pint of plain, without being certain, that Joyce is not your only man for that quote.

56

Bloix 08.08.14 at 10:03 pm

#40 – and on cue, Language Log puts up a post with a detailed analysis of the alleged patchwriting “plagiarism” – with a bonus of an example of Shirley doing it himself.

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=13914#more-13914

It’s pretty clear that Perlstein did paraphrase Shirley, and some of the examples are uncomfortably similar. But in my humble opinion – as I said on Language Log before the Perlstein matter arose, so I’m not tailoring my position to fit my politics – this is not plagiarism.

57

Henry 08.10.14 at 11:31 am

Geo, as In the Sky hints, it’s from Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds, so not Joyce, though he was a fan of the book.

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