Self Plagiarism

The topic came up vis-a-vis Donald Trump Jr.'s speech that came close to verbatim quoting of F. H. Buckley's essay from The American Conservative. So what is "self plagiarism," and is it important?

I contend that, while plagiarism is a matter of not giving credit where credit is due, and thus a real ethical offense, "self plagiarism" is almost entirely a product of intellectual property law. The problem is that when Publisher B publishes your words that were already published and copyrighted by Publisher A, Publisher B risks legal sanction.

In that obeying the law is a good thing in general, as is avoiding getting those we transact with into unnecessary trouble, we should want to avoid self plagiarism if there is any possibility of legal problems. But in the case of Trump and Buckley, The American Conservative seemed thrilled to be getting this publicity: editor Dan McCarthy was busy tweeting stories about the kerfuffle. Buckley, in fact, didn't even use the exact same words, but instead rewrote them a bit. And Trump didn't mind, and The American Conservative didn't mind, so... tempest in a teapot.

1 comment:

  1. "The problem is that when Publisher B publishes your words that were already published and copyrighted by Publisher A, Publisher B risks legal sanction."

    I would say the bigger problem is that, if Publisher B thinks they're getting original work and you actually give them something already written for Publisher A (who might well be a competitor, in some sense) then you're essentially defrauding Publisher B.

    I guess one could try to make an argument that Trump's audience had some expectation of original words, rather than something already written for The American Conservative, but that seems like a pretty weak argument to me.

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