Cal. Litig. 2014, Volume 27, Number 1

Plagiarism: Naughty, Knotty

By Benjamin G. Shatz

Officers of a Court erects as its foil the assertion that Beg, Borrow, Steal was itself an "argument" that plagiarism is "generally acceptable." This launching pad is a straw man. Beg, Borrow, Steal presented no "arguments" and most certainly did not in any way advocate, let alone, condone plagiarism. Rather, the article — like similar ethics columns in this series — noted an issue and described how various courts have reacted to it in recent decisions. It discussed various common activities that toe (or arguably cross) the plagiarism line, noting whether they drew sanctions or not. The article made no real normative analysis (i.e., was it right or wrong for sanctions to have been imposed?) nor did it attempt to exhaustively explore the wider issue under California law or otherwise. (Not that there’s much to report; Officers of a Court offers scant citations that do little to further the analysis.)

Had our article provided advice of a questionably ethical nature, we would have expected significant and strenuous outrage. As it was, Mr. Bien’s was the only critical feedback we received. We suspect most readers understood that we never said "plagiarism is ok." To the contrary, our only hortatory admonition was that authors should — of course! — provide crediting citations to sources. Our article proposed no solutions and took no positions, other than to expressly deride plagiarism as "poor practice" and urge practitioners to be careful about it.

To use Mr. Bien’s own phrasing, we "respectfully disagree" with his characterization of our article, which we believe he has misread, confusing positions taken by various courts and commentators with our own advice, which was sparing (and urged full disclosure) to say the least. We, of course, agree with Mr. Bien wholeheartedly that plagiarism is "bad." And we recognize in his article the main premise of our own, which is the current lack of any bright-line rule.

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