Self-Plagiarism and Self-Pleasure

After the flap over Jonah Lehrer’s humiliation and firing from the New Yorker for making up Bob Dylan quotes and lying about it, I worry that one really foolish idea will take hold and perhaps even give trial lawyers the scent of money.

Since critics started digging into Lehrer’s work after charges of self-plagiarism surfaced, and since he did eventually get dragged down to disgrace, people may assume that there’s merit to the idea of self-plagiarism.

There isn’t. It’s a ridiculously stupid concept whose relationship to logic and grammar makes exactly as much sense as describing marital sex as self-pleasure.

Or, to use a less vulgar metaphor, self-plagiarism is like self-stealing — a logical fallacy. You see, it takes two to plagiarize: one to come up with the words in the first place; the other to steal those words and pass them off, without attribution, as his own.

If you create words in one context and then put them to a different purpose there might, conceivably, be copyright infringement involved. Or the double-dipping might offend an editor and cost you future income.

Yet copyright infringement and double dipping are not plagiarism. Any pretense that they are the same amounts to defining plagiarism down, and you can quote me on that.

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