New Richard Posner book deals with plagiarism





THE club of people accused of plagiarism gets ever larger. High-profile members include Stephen Ambrose, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Kaavya Viswanathan — of chick-lit notoriety — and now even Ian McEwan, whose best-selling novel “Atonement” has recently been discovered to harbor passages from a World War II memoir by Lucilla Andrews. Plagiarism is apparently so rife these days that it would be extremely satisfying to discover that “The Little Book of Plagiarism,” by Richard A. Posner, has itself been plagiarized.

The watchdogs have been caught before. The section of the University of Oregon handbook that deals with plagiarism, for example, was copied from the Stanford handbook.

Mr. Posner, moreover, is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and a law professor at the University of Chicago who turns out books and articles with annoying frequency and facility. Surely, under deadline pressure, he is tempted every now and then to resort to a little clipping and pasting, especially since he cuts members of his own profession a good deal of slack on the plagiarism issue. In the book he readily acknowledges that judges publish opinions all the time that are in fact written by their clerks, but he excuses the practice on the ground that everyone knows about it and therefore no one is harmed. What he doesn’t consider much is whether a judge who gains a reputation for particularly well-written opinions or for seldom being reversed — or, for that matter, who is freed from his legal chores to do freelance writing — doesn’t benefit in much the same way as a student who persuades one of the smart kids to do his homework for him.

Sadly, however, “The Little Book of Plagiarism” appears to be original. It’s a useful and remarkably concise overview of the subject, and is in almost every respect a typically Posnerian production: smart, lucid, a little self-satisfied and tilting noticeably toward the economic-analysis end of legal theory. ...


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