Copy Cats: Plagiarism and Precedent
Jeanne L. Schroeder
Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law
March 12, 2007
Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 185
Spring 2006 experienced two very different understandings of copying. First, Daavya Viswanathan, a Harvard College student who had enjoyed a certain fame for landing a half-million dollar publishing deal while still in high school, was revealed to have copied significant language from another novel. This sparked an intense, if short-lived, media blitz. As a result, her publisher withdrew the book from circulation and canceled the contract. At approximately the same time, the Michigan Law Review published a symposium issue on the use of "boilerplate" - standard language or precedents copied from other sources - in contracts. Although the participants raised numerous interesting issues, none of them questioned the propriety of copying per se. Those writing about the Viswanathan kerfuffle presumed that it proved that copying language penned by another is morally reprehensible. Nevertheless, the Michigan symposium proved that lawyers copy all the time. That plagiarism is "wrongful" is a truism - the word is a pejorative. What we need to ask is why only some forms of copying are tarred with the epithet "plagiarism", while others are completely respectable.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 83
Keywords: plagiarism, boilerplate, copying
Date posted: March 16, 2007
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