Anderson. Chris. Plagiarism? You decide (ho hum)

Has best-selling author plagiarised other works for his new book?

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Note: The image (above) is not my work.  I copied and pasted if from the Virginia Quarterly Review without their permission.  Bad? Maybe.  But at least there’s no risk of you thinking it’s my own work.

Has Chris Anderson, editor of Wired and author of ‘The Long Tail’ plagiarised Wikipedia (and other sources) in the writing of his new book?  What if he has?  Who the hell cares anyway? In this era of cut-and-paste mashup where everybody lifts everything and nobody owns nothing…

These people seem to care.

And actually, I do too.  A lot.

For some people the issue of plagiarism is some old-fashioned educational nonsense from the good old, bad old days of dull, authoritarian education.  You know, those musty pre-internet days when children were made to read, write and spell properly if they were to stand any chance of growing up to be well-adjusted adults capable of going to war with each other and despoiling the planet.

By the time I quit lecturing in 2004 at a well-respected University in the West of England, students were not only committing plagiarism for their ‘written’ work (‘pasted’ would be a more accurate term) but they were doing it for their practical graphic design work too.  Yes.  Their practical work.  I remember one revealing after receiving a high 2.1 degree that he had simply borrowed his final year practical work.  His contempt for the system that couldn’t – or wouldn’t – detect his plagiarism was equalled only by the contempt he had for his own lack of motivation and effort.

Judging by his comments in today’s thread and on his own blog, Anderson seems determined to play down the accusations of plagiarism and in so doing, I personally think he further damages his credibility.  Why?  Because this isn’t a failure to properly cite sources.  It isn’t an accidentally-dropped pair of quotation marks either.  It is a conscious act of copying, pasting and editing text into a document and formatting it so that it ends up reading as his own words.

I for one am glad the issue is out in the open and thank Chris Anderson for – unintentionally – raising it.  But is this really an issue of intellectual property and copyright in the digital age?  Could it instead be about plagiarism as a symptom of the decline of critical thinking in our culture?