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:

Frank Gehry

Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Daniel Libeskind

Military Museum Dresden

Art Museum Denver

Norman Foster vs. Jean Nouvel

Swiss Re Tower, London

Torre Agbar, Barcelona

Of course, all these cases differ from that of Bruno Frey or any traditional case of plagiarism. First of all, architecture always happens out in the open. The problem in Frey’s case was not so much that he published nearly identical articles in different outlets but his failure to openly point to the previous versions. Second, similar to the fashion industry (see Raustiala and Sprigman 2006, PDF), architecture is a field with low intellectual property protection. Third, to a certain degree, and in the words of Alfred Hitchcock, “self-plagiarism is style“. When a city invites an architect such as Frank Gehry to build a museum, his building is probably expected to be recognizable as “a Gehry”.

On the other hand, the tendency to reproduce one’s own previous works can also be a danger creators try to prevent. In an interview, Zaha Hadid was asked how she avoids “the besetting architectural tic of self-plagiarism”. Her response:

“Don’t draw on computer. Don’t draw and then put it onto computer…I have five screens…Different projects…You work on developing, oh, a table while at the same time you’re developing masterplans. It’s like you have different information coming from different directions. Like photography. Out of focus… then you zoom in. I’ll have a sketch–it’ll take a few times before it takes. Sometimes a few years. You see, not every idea can be used right then. But nothing is lost. Nothing.”

This made me think whether I should try out some strategies to avoid my own self-plagiarizing tendencies. Suggestions, anyone?