Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

Copy Cats: Plagiarism and Precedent

83 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2007  

Jeanne L. Schroeder

Yeshiva University - Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

Date Written: March 12, 2007


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.

Keywords: plagiarism, boilerplate, copying

Suggested Citation

Schroeder, Jeanne L., Copy Cats: Plagiarism and Precedent (March 12, 2007). Cardozo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 185. Available at SSRN: or

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)

Paper statistics

Abstract Views