Thursday, March 29, 2007

An unlikely defense against plagiarism

Kicks off with a great line:
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.
And goes on to make astute points about Google Book Search, whose merits have been hotly debated of late:
But wait, you might ask, don't people accidentally repeat each other's sentences all the time? It seems to me that this should not be unusual. Yet try plugging that last sentence word by word into Google Book Search, and watch what happens.

It: Rejected—too many hits to count
It seems: 11,160,000 matches
It seems to: 3,050,000
It seems to me: 1,580,000
It seems to me that: 844,000
It seems to me that this: 29,700
It seems to me that this should: 237
It seems to me that this should not: 20
It seems to me that this should not be: 9
It seems to me that this should not be unusual: 0

It seems to me that this should not be unusual is itself ... unusual.
Plagiarism is an endless debate with muddy lines of demarcation. Obviously it's not a great idea to copy chunks of text wholesale and pass it off as your own, but it does make me wonder if a lot of dilution will happen to writing in general if it has to be vetted by Google first. That, and who's to say that the technology is foolproof? It's manmade, so therefore it's bound to be flawed. It could either shove writing in a positive direction by increasing knowledge about writers' accountability, or it could simply be an easy excuse to kill something halfway interesting that dares to be inspired by something obscure.

Remember the old saying, "Originality is determined by the obscurity of your sources"? I wonder if this will continue to be the case...

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