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Monday, November 27, 2006 11:36 am
“The Literary Equivalent of Suicide by Cop”
Posted by: Keir Graff

More old news. In his Slate article “Dead Plagiarists Society,” Paul Collins discusses intriguing possibilities in the age of Google:

Given the popularity of plagiarism-seeking software services for academics, it may be only a matter of time before some enterprising scholar yokes Google Book Search and plagiarism-detection software together into a massive literary dragnet, scooping out hundreds of years’ worth of plagiarists – giants and forgotten hacks alike – who have all escaped detection until now.

We’ve seen the start of this already, as he wittily notes:

For any plagiarist living in an age of search engines, waving a loaded book in front of reviewers has become the literary equivalent of suicide by cop.

But one of the most intriguing details, for me, was an aside:

There have always been a dizzying array of ways that authors can rip each other off, even in reverse: Literary critic Terry Eagleton has written entertainingly of “anti-plagiarism,” a 19th-century literary wheeze favored by Irish critics, who pounced on poets or novelists for plagiarizing or surreptitiously translating some little-known domestic or foreign work and presenting it under their name. The trick was that the “original” work presented by the prosecuting critic was itself a forgery, written after a new work’s publication to frame an enemy.

Which is interesting, because I was just about to announce to the world that The Da Vinci Code was actually first written about twenty years ago, in German, by me. And so besides being a horrible plagiarist, Dan Brown now owes me a lot of money.



2 Responses to ““The Literary Equivalent of Suicide by Cop””
  1. Likely Stories » Blog Archive » For Those Who Care Where Evocative Expressions Were Stolen Says:

    [...] It’s an amusing aside, and timely. Yesterday’s post on plagiarism had me thinking about the difference between homage and appropriation, always a hard one to sort out. Almost everyone agrees that stealing another author’s words is wrong. But what about lifting them in order to pay tribute? We live in a sound-bite society, where movie catchphrases become the equivalent of a secret handshake, where dropping a quoted phrase into conversation lets us know whether we’re among friends or strangers. Yet we also live in a society willing to employ litigation in order to determine to whom credit (and cash) for that catchphrase is due. [...]

  2. Likely Stories » Blog Archive » Atoning for Appropriation Says:

    [...] I recently wrote about plagiarism, then about the fuzzy line between homage and appropriation, two topics that seem to be in the air lately. Over at Slate, Jack Shafer weighs in on Ian McEwan’s appropriation of several passages from Lucilla Andrews’ No Time for Romance (1977) for his best-selling Atonement (2001). [...]

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