If you think it's easy to write compelling boilerplate, just try.
It's not what we paid for. No New York Times subscriber should have to pay in excess of $600 a year for rewritten Bloomberg News copy.
It's not theft—it's something worse. Lots of people hate plagiarism because they consider it theft. I'm not really a member of that party, even if I've used the words theft, stealing, crime, and the like in my plagiarism columns. There is no crime called "plagiarism." If somebody publishes an entire paragraph of mine without credit, you can't really say that he's stolen it from Slate. My words can still be found at the same old URL, and the local sheriff can't charge the perpetrator with felony theft even if he thinks the perp nicked my piece. (However, a word-thief can be served with a civil complaint alleging copyright infringement, or if the pilfering is grand enough a U.S. attorney may decide to charge him with the felony of willful copyright infringement.) *
The reason plagiarism is worse than theft is because the only real remedies for it are shame and ostracism, both of which have proved very poor deterrents. Most plagiarists find a way back into the business, as Trudy Lieberman reported in the Columbia Journalism Review.
It's vampiric. Before anybody points the plagiarism gun at me, please allow me to credit my Slate colleague David Plotz with that witty formulation. "The plagiarist is, in a minor way, the cop who frames innocents, the doctor who kills his patients. The plagiarist violates the essential rule of his trade. He steals the lifeblood of a colleague," Plotz observed.
To put it in the modern vernacular, plagiarism sucks.
Go ahead, torment me with e-mail about the "anxiety of influence" at email@example.com. And by the way, thanks again to all my Slate buddies who fed me their best ideas. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)
Track my errors: Here's a hand-built RSS feed that will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For e-mail notification of errors in this specific column, type the word Suck in the subject head of an e-mail message and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction, March 10, 2008: The original version of this article erred in referring to a perp being "charged with a civil complaint." No one can be charged with a complaint, only served. It also mistakenly stated that all copyright infringement cases are civil cases. Willful copyright infringement is a criminal offense. The copy has been corrected. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)