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Wikipedia provides an extensive list of plagiarism controversies, with examples ranging from Ciceros speeches against Mark Antony (1st century BCE) to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (see also: “Some Reflexions on Originality, Plagiarism, Intertextuality, and Remix“). What is still missing is a list of self-plagiarism controversies. In academia, the most recent self-plagiarism incident that received substantial attention was the case of the economist Bruno Frey (University of Zurich). The case has been meticulously documented by Olaf Storbeck, International Economics Correspondent with the German business daily Handelsblatt.
Today, I stumbled upon an article in the Austrian weekly profil, dealing with another field of alleged ‘self-plagiarism': architecture. They juxtapose several buildings by famous architects such as Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind or Zaha Hadid. Due to copyright issues I cannot simply provide all the examples below, but with the help of Wikimedia commons I managed to reproduce two examples of alleged ‘self-plagiarism’ and one of mere ‘plagiarism’ presented in the Article:
One famous quote of Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig claims that “[t]here is no art that doesn’t re-use.” In research, this principle is called “standing on the shoulders of giants” and meant to acknowledge that even the most original article largely builds upon previous achievements by numerous predecessors; a fact evidenced by an ever growing number of citations in current journal articles.
But what holds for the most pedantic researcher, namely that it is impossible to accurately give credit to all intellectual influences leading to an article, is even more true for novelists and musicians. In case of the former this regularly leads to heated debates about whether “borrowing” ideas or even passages from other books is mere plagiarism or some form of “intertextuality“. In Europe, for example, the Independent recapitulates at length the recent discussion whether the debut novel by German writer Helene Hegemann was plagiarism or “intertextual mixing“; in the second edition of her novel “Axolotl Roadkill”, Hegemann responded to critics by listing all her sources in an appendix.
Could it be that giving credit becomes more important when obviously building upon others’ works becomes both more common and more explicit? Developed particularly to allow mash-ups and remixing, all the different Creative Commons licenses, for instance, include the “attribution”-clause, which requires to give credit. In the realm of music, hip hop is probably best known for re-using – “sampling” – portions of existing sound recordings in creating new works. And again, giving credit is an essential part of hip hop culture, as was demonstrated by Eminem in his 2003 Grammy Award speech: Read the rest of this entry »