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Book Review: “The Little Book of Plagiarism”

The Little Book of Plagiarism lives up to its name nicely. At about 115 pages of text in a book barely six inches tall, it is definitely a “little” book. However, the book is also jam-packed with some of the most interesting and thought-provoking discussion about plagiarism published in many years.

Written by Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals , the book largely stays away from the legal implications of plagiarism and, instead, focuses more on the philosophical and ethical issues surrounding it.

However, that shift in focus likely saves the work as a book, making it an entertaining literary work for anyone interested in authorship, plagiarism and copyright issues rather than a dull dissertation about copyright law.

Topics Covered

Though it may be a “little book” it manages to cover a great deal of ground in its very limited space: The topics include:

  • Recent plagiarism scandals including Kaavya Viswanatha and Jason Blair
  • Defining plagiarism and how that definition has evolved over history
  • The difference between the writer and the author
  • The distinction between plagiarism and copyright infringement
  • How plagiarism is punished, how it should be punished and why

While some potentially useful topics are not covered in any depth, such as the different views on plagiarism in non-Western countries, the book serves nicely as a walking tour of the philosophical issues of plagiarism, starting at a familiar point, the Kaavya scandal, and ending with sounds but still thought-provoking conclusions.

Anyone who is interested in these topics, no matter the reason will be very interested in flipping through the pages of Posner’s book.

Points of Contention

Though the book is, by in large, as agreeable as it is interesting, there are a few points that I, personally, disagree with.

First, toward the end of the book, Posner hypothesizes that we are entering the “twilight” of plagiarism. That the digitalization of works makes it too easy to discover such copying and will discourage such fraud. To that effect, Posner seems especially fond of Turnitin, the anti-plagiarism tool that colleges and universities use, as an example of defeating plagiarism.

However, it’s pretty clear to most bloggers and Webmasters that plagiarism is, if anything, on the rise. Though new tools might make it easier to handle and cope with. The introduction of mass plagiarism tools, such as site scrapers, will likely negate any gains anti-plagiarism technology makes.

Second, despite hitting the nail on the head in calling plagiarism a “fraud” and noting that few plagiarists are ever reformed, that he considers plagiarism a “second rate” offense. Granted, plagiarism can not compete with criminal acts such as murder, robbery and rape, it is a blatant lie to the public with the intent of furthering their standard while injuring the victim, limiting that person’s ability to benefit from their work.

While there are worse crimes and plagiarism itself has a hierarchy of offenses, it seems callous to simply write off plagiarism so quickly. Perhaps it was a misspeak or a sign of how the legal profession has altered his view, he discusses the legal profession and plagiarism extensively in his book, but it came across as distant.

However, my biggest complaint with the book isn’t anything to do with what he said, but how much. The sheer size and breadth of the book means that no one topic gets a very exhaustive review. With each topic Posner visits, he gets in just deep enough to say something interesting and thoughtful before stepping out. It makes the book a breeze to read, but somewhat unsatisfying when the last page is done.

Conclusions

The book is definitely light reading, both in terms of length and writing style. The whole book will probably take, at the most, a couple of hours to get through.

Still, the conversation and discussion contained in the book is very valuable and it is automatically a must-read for anyone interested in authorship and plagiarism matters.

At ten dollars, the book is expensive for its small size, but it is still well worth the price. Like a good meal at a fancy restaurant, it may not be an all-you-can-eat buffet, but it won’t leave you too hungry.

It is easily one of the best books I have read on the subject and well worth it for anyone else with a fascination for all things plagiarism.

Note: I do NOT add referral information to my Amazon links. I earn no money from purchases bought via the link above.

 

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