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Archived updates for Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Checking for Plagiarism One Sentence at a Time

LexisNexis has teamed-up with iParadigms to offer "LexisNexis CopyGuard" pattern-matching technology for identifying suspected plagiarism. The service assigns each document a "similarity index" indicating the total percentage of the document containing text originating elsewhere in the Lexis database. It also provides and "Originality Report" that underlines and color codes questionable sentences, with links to the original sources.

But should we be looking for plagiarism sentence by sentence simply because we can?

Musicians know that all great composers steal; documentarian's lament over dissappearing history; and artists are plagued by intellectual property issues. Even technological breakthroughs can be viewed as more of a societal building process than the singular obsessions of lonely geniuses.

According to Stuart P. Green, a professor of law at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, copyright law "protects a primarily economic interest that a copyright holder has in her work ... whereas the rule against plagiarism protects a personal, or moral, interest." But just how far should we go to protect these non-economic interests? When Malcolm Gladwell described the plagiarism of his own work in a November 15 article for The New Yorker, he concluded that "In the worlds of academia and publishing, plagiarism has gone from being bad literary manners to something much closer to a crime. We have somehow decided that copying is never acceptable and the ethics of plagiarism have turned into the narcissism of small differences: because journalism cannot own up to its heavily derivative nature, it must enforce originality on the level of the sentence." Others have even gone so far as to suggest that if the phrase, "To promote the progress," in the U.S. Constitution means prioritizing people's access to writings and discoveries, then the rise of open source production and dissemination of content may now be demonstrating that the incentive justification for intellectual property just isn't true when the means of production and distribution are in the hands of individuals, without the need for significant capital contributions.

Of course, most of us would like to see our work get at least hyperlink, if not outright attribution. In the Talmud, notes Professor Green, "a person who reports something in the name of the one who said it brings redemption into the world." Rabbi, Joseph Telushkin explains the reasoning behind that text this way. "If a person presents as her own an intelligent observation that she learned from another, then it would seem that she did so only to impress everyone with how 'bright' she is. But if she cites the source from whom she learned this information, then it would seem that her motive was to deepen everyone's understanding. And a world in which people share information and insights to advance understanding, and not just to advance themselves, is one well on its way to redemption."

While the I/P Updates news service may not show you a path to salvation, we do try to advance your understanding of news and information affecting intellectual property practitioners. And we make no bones about trying to impress you with what we know, regardless of its source. So remember, it you like this news service, you'll love the way that we practice law.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous JB said...

Thank you very much for the interesting read. I just wanted to let you know that I posted some thoughts on this entry at my site.

You can read them at this link: http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/?p=91

Thank you again for the interesting article!

September 08, 2005 9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^Thanks!!

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April 07, 2009 4:22 AM  

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