Coulter a Plagiarist?
TPMmuckraker is running an article called “Complete” List of Coulter Plagiarism Allegations. I bring this point up because the question of plagarism seems to come up fairly often of late not just because of this instance of the allegation.
For example, professors must keep an eye out for it, recent articles note apparent plagiarism by a young Harvard author, millions of dollars and another law suit is at hand over The DaVinci Code, and one article found that educators had reduced assigning term papers because of the time required to police the copying. As for this specific question, Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put it well:
To me personally, some of the examples/accusations seem strained — simply similar statements of the same basic facts. And sometimes there are only so many ways to describe one set of facts. In other cases the similarities of the wording strike me as hard to see as a coincidence. Especially when there seem to be multiple instances of similarities in the same column coming from the same source.
In any case, we’re not making judgments one way or another. But if you’re interested in this story. Here’s the evidence. Make your own judgment.
So what is plagiarism? Of course obvious cuts and pastes qualify but there may be something more at work when students and others are in that “strained” zone. In short, could it be that Internet behaviors and uses have fostered belief that authorship is less about originality and more about gathering collective information, sorting it, and then recasting it?
On a related note, in its June 10, 2006 issue The Economist ran an article entitled “Sounds Good?” That article noted the growth of music intelligence software. The software purports to reveal the relationship between songs and can determine based on that information whether the song will be a hit or not. The article also pointed out that an attorney at Brown Raysman thinks the software can be used in plagiarism suits to show that a song was copied. Yet, the concept behind the software “spectral deconvolution” seems to show that, “Songs conform to a limited number mathematical equations” at least so says Mike McCreedy, a purveyor of music intelligence services.
If music intelligence can predict what will be a hit, reveal that “a number of hit songs by U2 have a close kinship to some of Beethoven’s compositions,” and is correct that despite what we hear songs are really only variations on a limited number of mathematical equations, the Brown Raysman lawyer is making a mistake. His clients simply dip into the well of limited equations, reconfigure them, and offer them to the world just as arguably all musicians do under this understanding. How his clients are not “guilty” of the same copying is unclear.
So again, what is plagiarism and what isn’t when technology facilitates so much sharing and copying of information? Thoughts?
DISCLOSURE: Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo is a friend of mine from high school.