Another beautiful rainy day. I'm listening to Fountain, a piano solo by Maurice Ravel. Simply perfect for posting a new book review. Hopefully you will enjoy reading thoughtful commentary on an interesting book while listening to wistful, reflective music. A gray sky would make it all perfect. (You in the north may disagree but cool weather is so delightfully refreshing here in Texas.)
The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard A. Posner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is brief, interesting and quickly read. Posner is a judge in the United States Second Court of Appeals and a lecturer at the University of Chicago law school. In this book he defines plagiarism, explains the difference between it and copyright infringement and when it is actually a crime.
He lists some famous examples of modern plagiarists plus a history of plagiarists in the past. He discusses why plagiarism is a crime, why should it be a crime and why some plagiarists should be more severely punished than others. Also, he points to times in the past when plagiarism was not considered much of a crime, or a crime at all, and why.
He also cites a few famous authors who, because of famous and influential friends, did not suffer career losses, even though they were exposed as blatant and prolific plagiarists.
I felt his writing could have been clearer at times ("Should plagiarism be a crime or a tort? It should not be.") Excuse me, but that was an "either or" question and if "tort" means the same thing as "crime" than you should have inserted a comma after crime or in some way made it clear that you were using a synonym and not asking a question that demands a choice.
That is one of a number of obtuse expressions of which Posner is guilty.
Also, I disagree with his attitude that the only reason plagiarism is wrong is because it puts the plagiarist in commercial competition with the original author. How about stealing from the author is morally wrong? You deserve to be discredited and punished for that.
He includes quotes from some people who do not believe there is anything wrong with plagiarism because of their egalitarian philosophies:
"Notions of genius, of individual creativity, and of authorial celebrity, which inform the condemnation of plagiarism, make the leftist uncomfortable because they seem to celebrate inequality and 'possessive individualism' (that is, capitalism)."
He writes of another self-described "liberatory pedagogy" believes that students "should not be punished for 'patchwriting'.
Overall the book is worth reading, especially if you are an aspiring writer (like me:) )
View all my reviews
Posner sounds rather incompetent... i wonder if the plagiarism laws apply to scores...(music)
This is a very insightful post.
On the surface this book sounds unusual, but the topic sounds so interesting and useful.
I agree, plagiarism is morally wrong. I suspect that a lot of people do not feel that way however.
Hi Mudpuddle. Actually plagiarism in music is pretty huge. There's quite a few musicians suing other musicians for stealing musical melodies and such. There's even a sight that allows you to judge how much of a song was stolen by another musician.
Interestingly, this was not always true. It was common among classical composers to "borrow" ideas from each other. This was accepted as a common practice. There's a lot of music where Beethoven took the melody line from Haydn and put in a symphony. The same is true for many Romantic composers taking ideas from Beethoven and Mozart.
H Brian. The book had a lot of interesting case studies and some mention of a few famous authors who it turns out took information from other books.
of course, now that you mention it, i was aware of that; it just didn't connect somehow... tx for the explanation,though
you probably don't want to hear this: that bass continuo tema continues to bug me... now i think maybe it's from one of those english folk song composers...
Sorry Mudpuddle. Actually I'm laughing because I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who suffers from this. I wonder if there's diagnosis for those of us who cannot knock fragments of melody out of our minds. And the next question is: is there a cure? I'm thinking not, unless you count discovering the song the melody belongs to. Take care!
tx for the kind response; usually, i forget about these fragments after a while, but some last a long time; like one concerto for diverse instruments by Vivaldi i used to listen to a lot when i was in high school: i still often play it in my head... boy that sounds weird, but what can i say...
Hi Mudpuddle. Something I enjoy doing is thinking of music in my head. Not a fragment because that's frustrating, but I can often play larger segments of classical music in my head and I enjoy that.
However, I hate it when I get a piece of commercial or pop song in my head. ARRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!!! And it won't go away. (e.g. "Hey there Miss Big Booty....")
that's a very grim situation; i've had that happen also and the only cure i know is to listen to something completely different for a while, like the "academic overture" or a bunch of Rossini... his overtures are so addictive - if i hear or think of one it wipes everything else out of my head for a while
Mudpuddle: You're absolutely right. I have been listening to the Beethoven channelon my computer and they just finished playing Shostakovich's Piano Trio no 2. The perfect cure for driving inane tunes out of the head.
Sharon: you're a lot more familiar with modern/recent music than i am... i'm limited pretty much to the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries... well, except for some things Scriabin, the synesthete...
Interesting topic and review of this little book. There sometimes seems to be a fine line between being inspired by a work (often with music) or committing downright plagiarism. As they say, there are only so many stories in the world but many different ways to tell them. Hopefully each version turns out entirely unique!
Marcia: You are so right. I think there's a fine line somewhere. Interestingly, the author is a judge and he points out that in law practice you have to constantly set precedents which involve using other people's work. Not only is it legal it's required.
Hi Mudpuddle. I love Scriabin also. Twentieth century music (the first half) is about my favorite. It's what I mostly perform because of the instruments I play with. But I love it all!
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