May 4, 2006

Student’s Novel Faces Plagiarism Controversy

by Nick Montfort · , 10:42 pm

Have you been following this whole Harvard student book plagiarism story? I’m sorry that this young girl, pushed by the needs of a publishing machine and, no doubt, by her own ambition, should have fallen into this trap so early in her career. But the fact is that although she has been manipulated and packaged, what has happened to her has very largely been her own fault. The thing is, it’s not conventions of character and plot that Viswanathan is accused of copying, it’s whole sentences of text.

But published scholarly literature is full of examples of writers using the texts, words and ideas of others to serve their own immediate purposes. I believe it is also necessary at the outset to demonstrate how plundergraphia is distinct from plagiarism and reference, and shares little more than intention with found poetry. I think it’s fair to say that most of us spend hours each day shifting content into different containers. There is no exercise of the intellect which is not, in the final analysis, useless.