A few weeks back, I was a victim of plagiarism. Someone had borrowed the central idea and some passages- verbatim- from my blogpost of July 2007 and had managed to get his article published in The Hindu. I shot off a letter in anger to the newspaper. The ‘author’ denied the charges and claimed that he had, in fact, written it first in 2004, re-hashed it in 2008 in his blog and re-hashed it yet again for the article in The Hindu. By this time, I got fed up of the whole thing and left the liar to battle it out with his conscience.
In this opinion piece in the NYT, Stanley Fish explains how the concept of originality- on which rests the concept of plagiarism- is getting to be outdated or, rather, no longer understood or cared about. So much so, when a student is pulled up for plagiarizing his doctoral thesis, what he/she is punished for is “breach of disciplinary decorum, not a breach of the moral universe”.
In recent years there have been a number of assaults on the notion of originality, issuing from fields as diverse as literary theory, history, cultural studies, philosophy, anthropology, Internet studies. Single authorship, we have been told, is a recent invention of a bourgeois culture obsessed with individualism, individual rights and the myth of progress. All texts are palimpsests of earlier texts; there’s been nothing new under the sun since Plato and Aristotle and they weren’t new either; everything belongs to everybody.....
….Arguments like these (which I am reporting, not endorsing) have been so successful in academic circles that the very word “originality” often appears in quotation marks, and it has seemed to many that there is a direct path from this line of reasoning to the conclusion that plagiarism is an incoherent, even impossible, concept and that a writer or artist accused of plagiarism is being faulted for doing something that cannot be avoided. R.M. Howard makes the point succinctly “If there is no originality and no literary property, there is no basis for the notion of plagiarism”.
So, if you are sure you can escape legal action, go ahead and plagiarise. There are no moral issues to worry about. No pangs of conscience to contend with.