Cribbing Through the Ages

Friday, March 19, 2010


Plagiarism is constantly in the news these days, as it was in 2006 when Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan's How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got A Life was exposed as less than original. But, as we know, claims of literary plagiarism go back centuries. So why do people still get so worked up about it? Mike Pesca reflects on the past, present and future of plagiarism.

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Comments [9]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Ms. Durbach seems to be referring to the idea of Fair Use. If your work is unique enough, even in reproduction, and especially by Fair Use, I believe it will be identified with the creator.

Mr. Miller, thank you for the Leyendecker information. Rockwel always rang false for me, far outside the composition, models and posing.

Mar. 25 2010 05:40 PM
Elaine Durbach from Maplewood, NJ

Like every segment you guys do, the one on plagiarism was fascinating, but then you carried that great piece on memes without mentioning any link. I was yelling at the radio! - That's the part you left out of the plagiarism coverage: the part of communication that is built on shared and repeated segments. It's only plagiarism when the segment is too large, when it crosses the line from building block to building.

Mar. 22 2010 06:22 PM
Ian Miller from Chicago

Mr. Pesca's ends a well considered piece with an aphorism,"you can steal a joke, but you can't steal a career." Norman Rockwell's career and legacy was won on the back of J.C Leyendecker. Rockwell insinuated himself in the mainstream American consciousness by absconding with whole cloth themes and characters from Leyendecker's work. But it also helped that he was handy with a paint brush and a tireless self promoter. When it comes to culture, the "hacks" have a knack for winning.

Mar. 22 2010 01:00 PM
Jason M.

Plagiarism is necessary. Progress implies it. It embraces an author’s phrase, makes use of his expressions, erases a false idea, and replaces it with the right idea.

~Isidore Ducasse, 1870
~Guy Debord, 1967

Mar. 22 2010 11:26 AM
Barry Blitstein from New York City

My professors, whether teaching Marlowe or Shakespeare, assumed the latter's use of the former's best-known lines were meant as tribute and were taken as such by an audience for whom Marlowe was John Ford to Shakespeare's Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood. No one would call a visual reference to Ford plagiarism.

Mar. 21 2010 10:54 AM
bent from brooklyn

Why is Mike Pesca on the radio?

Mar. 21 2010 10:40 AM
Potomacker from Nanjing, PRC

So what exactly was the point of the piece, that the charge of plagiarism is just a literary fashion? Yeah, and so was privateering but we still consider piracy a punishable crime now. Plagiarism is the theft of another's writing or its use without attribution. I provide such a definition because the producer of the piece chose not to do so. Perhaps it's just the style today to provide commentary on a topic without offering any definition.
Hey, Mr. Pesca, are you actually claiming that you, as well as anybody else as hip as you, would not 'get worked up' if somebody used your witty insights and snarky verbosity for private gain? But then again, whoever would want to?

Mar. 21 2010 01:41 AM
Mitch Marks from Chicago, IL

OTOH, no thanks to your proofreaders for allowing "less then" to displace "less than" in the story summary heading this page.

Mar. 21 2010 12:48 AM
Mitch Marks from Chicago, IL

Thank you for pronouncing "short-lived" at 4:03 with a long 'i' sound (as in the noun "life"), just when it came in handy for me to produce as an example that I'm far from alone in this traditional pronunciation.

Mar. 21 2010 12:40 AM

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