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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

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Date posted: March 16, 2007  

Suggested Citation

Schroeder, Jeanne L., Copy Cats: Plagiarism and Precedent (March 12, 2007). Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 185. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=970365 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.970365

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Jeanne L. Schroeder (Contact Author)
Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law ( email )
55 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10003
United States
212-790-0211 (Phone)
212-790-0205 (Fax)

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