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Is Plagiarism In Literature Just Sampling? 449

Posted by kdawson
from the everyone-does-it dept.
ardent99 writes "According to the NY Times today, Helene Hegemann's first book has been moving up the best-seller list in Germany and is a finalist for a major book prize. While originally this was notable because Hegemann is only 17 and this is her first book, and so earned praise as a prodigy, what's interesting now about this story is that she has been caught plagiarizing many passages in the book. Amazingly, she has not denied it, but instead claims there is nothing wrong with it. She claims that she is part of a new generation that has grown up with mixing and sampling in all media, including music and art, and this is legitimate in modern culture. Have we entered a new era where plagiarism is not just tolerated, but seen as normal? Is this the ultimate in cynicism, or is it simply a brash attempt to get away with something now that she's been caught? Is her claim to legitimacy compromised by the fact that she only admitted it after it was discovered by someone else? And finally, if 'sampling' is not acceptable in literature, is this reason to rethink the legitimacy of musical sampling?"
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Is Plagiarism In Literature Just Sampling?

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  • No. (Score:5, Informative)

    by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:57PM (#31120142) Homepage Journal
    The difference between bands like Girl Talk who sample music to create new pieces, and someone copying someone else's words into a paper they're writing, is that Girl Talk doesn't claim to have made the samples. One of the aspects of why plagiarism is seen as wrong is because you're taking credit for someone else's work. When you're sampling music, you're crediting them.
    • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:00PM (#31120194) Homepage

      That is a very good point. Sampling would be taking a short section of text and putting using in quotes, or otherwise acknowledging in your work that you are using something that someone else wrote.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by oever (233119)

        If you write a novel where you sample from many other books, quoting prominently would be distracting. I'd be ok with a list of sources in the back that points out which snippets came from where. In an electronic version of the book, the reader could configure how to display text fragments that were sampled.

        I'm all for creative use of earlier works. Copyright law should not be an artificial obstacle that limits the texts an artist can write. Like in music, sampling significant pieces of text might require m

        • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by dj961 (660026) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:42PM (#31120978) Journal
          Non-fiction readers would disagree on quoting being distracting. Lifting an entire page is hardly sampling. It outright theft.
      • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Rogue Haggis Landing (1230830) on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:28PM (#31121614)

        That is a very good point. Sampling would be taking a short section of text and putting using in quotes, or otherwise acknowledging in your work that you are using something that someone else wrote.

        I don't think that there always has to to be a citation. I can think of a couple of situations in which it wouldn't be necessary, at least not morally (I won't touch legal issues).

        There's no need to credit a "sample" is brief and of something sufficiently well-known to the intended audience. This is extremely common in poetry and has been since antiquity. For example, if I begin my poem about a romance between two pine borer beetles with the line "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood", I don't need to mention Robert Frost because everyone likely to read it sees what I'm doing. Obviously the line between obvious and not-obvious is a fuzzy one and depends on the audience, but it's a good general guideline.

        I also think that a work that is very obviously built of "samples" needn't expressly say what is what. I'm thinking here of The Adventures of Mao on the Long March [wikipedia.org] by Frederic Tuten, which consists in part of passages lifted directly from a wide variety of sources (it's the first place I'd ever seen Nathaniel Hawthorne on the art of sculpture used to discuss Mao). I don't remember if Tuten credits his "samples" or not, so it might be a bad example, but in a work like that, which is clearly and expressly made up in large part of words not originally written by the author, part of the game is in trying to figure out who originally wrote what, and what part is pastiche or parody instead of quotation.

        The key is that in neither of the above cases is the author trying to pass of someone else's work as his own. Hegemann pretty clearly was, and now is just making stuff up to try and get away with it.

    • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by EvilIdler (21087) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:02PM (#31120238)

      People usually add some music/lyrics of their own over sampled sounds, too. Does the book have layered text on top of each page? ;)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

        People usually add some music/lyrics of their own over sampled sounds, too. Does the book have layered text on top of each page? ;)

        The book certainly is certainly telling a new story so yes, metaphorically every page is layered with original creative work on top of the 'sampled' text.

    • Re:No. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by LostCluster (625375) * on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:03PM (#31120248)

      If you sample music to make your own song, you'd better credit properly and pay or else the original songwriter will end up owning your song. The Verve's Bittersweet Symphony is a classic example of that. The music behind the band is a remix of The Rolling Stone's "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and since they didn't license and credit that, The Stones now get 100% of the royalty payments for that song.

      • Re:No. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:17PM (#31120518)

        Actually, the Verve did license that sample but lost in court anyway (the owner of the original recording thought they used "too much" of the sample, and the court agreed. I still find it to be incredible BS, the string loop isn't that long. Their real complaint was that the song became a hit and the lawyers smelled money). So the real lesson is "music industry people will screw you"

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by StikyPad (445176)

          Actually, the Verve did license that sample [in Bittersweet Symphony,] but lost in court anyway

          Fortunately, nothing of value was lost.

      • by Fnkmaster (89084)

        Actually, they did have a license - but there was litigation on the matter because they apparently sampled "too much" of the source track, and now the Rolling Stones get all the royalties from that track. So it's not a good example, as it's more a question of whether their use of the sample was so extensive as to not make it an original work at all.

      • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

        by reverseengineer (580922) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:26PM (#31120696)
        In the United States, since 1991, the date of Grand Upright Music, Ltd v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., [wikipedia.org] music samples need to be cleared by the copyright holder. That's what seems to be the real distinction here- you cannot consider literary plagarism to be analogous to music sampling because in fact legal music sampling is nothing like plagarism- works are cited, permission is requested and granted and often a considerable sum of money or share of future earnings takes place.
      • by Xtravar (725372)

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVuh1Ymve2I [youtube.com]
        I had to look this up. The song is actually "The Last Time"

      • by Z00L00K (682162)

        Just compare I Want A New Drug [youtube.com] and Ghostbusters [youtube.com] and then look into the legal processes around that.

    • My high school did a lot of the same things, but that's not to say that sometimes the overhead that goes into documenting things "properly" can sometimes approach the effort it took to create a new work. In science and non-fiction, this might be necessary as it goes to show how a work fits into the "greater knowledge" of a field and thus the "greater knowledge" of humanity (or something >_ ), however, in creative works I don't know if this really is as important. I think what constitutes plagiarism in
      • in creative works I don't know if this really is as important.

        Legally, if you specifically take text directly from one source, and transplant it to your work, you need to obtain permission or supply a bibliography no matter the "genre." If you're paraphrasing, then unless it's substantial (amount changes per jurisdiction), you don't need to do anything (though if non-fiction, citing sources is just best practices).

    • Agreed with OP + Not to the mention the fact that often (but not always) samples are used in a starting point and end up completely unrecognisable / different-sounding in the final product (NIN songs are a good example of this, they sample literally tons of things and are normally distorted to the point where they're not even anything like the original material)

    • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by crimsonshdw (1070988) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:18PM (#31120532)
      We have sampling in literature already. It's called citation and quotation. Helene Hegemann took someone else's work and presented it as her own, which I find disingenuous. Had she come out when she released the book and said she "collaged" works for the book that would have been one thing. That concept would have made for an interesting critique on a different media for "mash-ups". I do not personally view what she did as mixing and expanding upon an idea in the same concept of a mashup because she lacked the openness to express what her intention was. pwnies really sums up my opinion, with an excellent point of reference (Girl Talk).
    • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by davecb (6526) * <davec-b@rogers.com> on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:22PM (#31120624) Homepage Journal

      Indeed: in writing, one commonly samples other people's work using a moderately well-known process called "quoting". I'm mildly surprised she hasn't heard of it.

      In quoting, one marks the material quoted with either in-line or block quotes, and lists the source, usually at the bottom of the page in something called a "footnote" (;-))

      --dave

      • Re:No. (Score:5, Funny)

        by Arthur Grumbine (1086397) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:46PM (#31121044) Journal

        Indeed: in writing, one commonly samples other people's work using a moderately well-known process called "quoting". I'm mildly surprised she hasn't heard of it.

        In quoting, one marks the material quoted with either in-line or block quotes, and lists the source, usually at the bottom of the page in something called a "footnote" (;-))

        --dave

        [citation needed]

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Red Flayer (890720)

        ndeed: in writing, one commonly samples other people's work using a moderately well-known process called "quoting". I'm mildly surprised she hasn't heard of it.

        In quoting, one marks the material quoted with either in-line or block quotes, and lists the source, usually at the bottom of the page in something called a "footnote" (;-))

        --dave[1]

        Yeah, right. Like anyone who is well-versed with today's media culture would ever bother with that. Whatever...

        [1] davecb (6256), www.slashdot.org, post #311206

    • Let is remember also that information is non-rivalrous, thank god no one can copyright all frequencies of sound, light, etc.

      Everything in the end is just remixed bits of the natural world which no one created.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      And even when you are sampling music it usually makes you realize that the original was better.

      But when writing a book, sampling has occurred before, but then usually mostly in the form of short quotes from other sources. To pick large sections of a story is another issue, but it's nothing new.

      And one striking section is when you read The Last Castle [amazon.com] by Jack Vance, and then Kirlian Quest [amazon.com] by Piers Anthony. They do share a section that is very similar in plot and performance. (I leave it up to the reader to f

    • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by pz (113803) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:36PM (#31120866) Journal

      The difference between bands like Girl Talk who sample music to create new pieces, and someone copying someone else's words into a paper they're writing, is that Girl Talk doesn't claim to have made the samples. One of the aspects of why plagiarism is seen as wrong is because you're taking credit for someone else's work. When you're sampling music, you're crediting them.

      Agreed. Often, sampled sounds are clearly recognizable as they are intended to bring an association from the original material: take something everyone knows, twist it, shuffle with other sounds, and make something new. The artists are not trying to hide the origin of their samples, but paying homage to them. Indeed, there is a long-standing history of one artist performing works by another, adding their own touch to the music. Furthermore, when that happens and the second artist makes money at it (sometimes even when they don't), they have to pay royalties to the first artist.

      Unattributed lifting without manipulation is not the same. Didn't we just have an article earlier today about cheating in CS classes at Stanford? It's not just illegal, it's unethical.

    • That is a very good point. Sampling would be taking a short section of text and putting using in quotes, or otherwise acknowledging in your work that you are using something that someone else wrote.

      If you sample music to make your own song, you'd better credit properly and pay or else the original songwriter will end up owning your song. The Verve's Bittersweet Symphony is a classic example of that. The music behind the band is a remix of The Rolling Stone's "You Can't Always Get What You Want" and since
    • by migla (1099771)

      Sampling could also mean that you distort the sample enough to give it you own twist.

      I didn't rtfa either, but you shan't just claim you said what someone else actually said. On the other hand. I might splurge around the words "we were put on this earth to fart around and don't let anyone tell you any different" (without the quotes, and in fact I don't know if that's a direct quote) and, expecting the in-the-know to get the reference. I foresee these discussions being messier in the near future.

  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 12, 2010 @04:58PM (#31120178)

     

    • Please tell me I'm not the only one seeing a blank post concerning the parent.

    • by iamhassi (659463)
      Yes, this is a new generation where it's ok to copy someone's work and sell it as your own and not credit the creator or give them any of the proceeds. How is this not fair? I think someone should receive my paycheck too and take credit for the work I did.

      /sarcasm

      obviously she's a child who has never worked before. scary part is she believes her entire generation thinks this is acceptable. No doubt she believes pirating is fine. Wonder if she'd mind if we all stole her book?
  • In my years at high school in the late 90s, they showed all of the forms of documentation standards to properly credit research. With services like TurnItIn.com all the rage in academia the risk of being labeled a cheater for using a sentence that has already been written by somebody else has gone way up. This is a case where the "child prodigy" is just somebody who hasn't learned the rules of the world yet.

    • Correction: With businesses like TurnItIn.com all the rage in academia the risk of being labelled a cheater at all approaches 100%.

      Turnitin and its ilk are businesses first and foremost. As long as plagiarism rates remain high business is good, and since they control the reported amount of plagiarism and there is no possible defense against an accusation by their system there will always be a high rate of plagiarism.

  • It seems that today we are exposed to a lot more sources of information and ideas and the amount of raw "data" per source is both smaller than it used to be (blogs, twitter, irc, podcasts, etc.) while at the same time larger ("Hey, this snippet of text from $AUTHOR was pretty good, I wonder what I can find about him on Google/Wikipedia...").

    If you were writing a book back in say, 1950, you would have to base it a lot more on your own experiences in the "physical"/"real" world while today you would probably

  • Whee (Score:5, Funny)

    by mewsenews (251487) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:01PM (#31120212) Homepage

    Hello, kdawson.

    Have we entered a new era where plagiarism is not just tolerated, but seen as normal?

    No.

    Is this the ultimate in cynicism, or is it simply a brash attempt to get away with something now that she's been caught?

    Who cares?

    Is her claim to legitimacy compromised by the fact that she only admitted it after it was discovered by someone else?

    Yes.

    And finally, if 'sampling' is not acceptable in literature, is this reason to rethink the legitimacy of musical sampling?

    No.

    I might read the article next time.

    • Yep.. Report to Oprah and cry... your story has wound up in "A Million Little Pieces".
    • by Stargoat (658863)

      This makes me wish I had mod points.

    • On that last question, I disagree strongly. Books or music, there is a line between fair use and plagiarism. "Sampling" in popular music has definitely gone over that line.

      Sure... certain parts (generally small parts) can be sampled or "borrowed", and still be legitimate. But when you take people like Kid Rock for example, and listen to him outright take someone else's music -- with hardly a single change -- and then add lyrics of his own, that is not Fair Use, that is plagiarism. It is nothing but capit
      • by Qzukk (229616)

        But when you take people like Kid Rock for example, and listen to him outright take someone else's music -- with hardly a single change -- and then add lyrics of his own, that is not Fair Use, that is plagiarism

        Weird Al does it better.

      • How bout Weird Al?

      • So if I write my own song, how do I know whether I have subconsciously plagiarized someone else's song? George Harrison got in trouble for this (see Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music about "My Sweet Lord"), and so did Michael Bolton (see Three Boys Music v. Michael Bolton).
    • Re:Whee (Score:4, Funny)

      by pz (113803) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:41PM (#31120968) Journal

      Hello, kdawson.

      Have we entered a new era where plagiarism is not just tolerated, but seen as normal?

      Note to self: stop reading Slashdot when kdawson is editing because the signal-to-silliness goes to hell.

  • I don't care if it's "a new generation". In the past, "new generations" did not claim they could rob or steal just because they feel like it, either.

    Not that plagiarism or copyright infringement is stealing... I know the difference and why the law treats them differently. But that was the closest thing that came to mind just now.

    This "new generation" needs to wise the f* up and learn the difference between Fair Use and just plain plagiarizing someone else's work. If they don't, everybody else will end
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Nadaka (224565)

      It depends on how you define plagiarism. At the university I attended, making a mistake in the format of your references was considered plagiarism. I wouldn't personally hold anyone to that high if a standard. Did she originally claim complete ownership and provide no references or sources at all? Then yes, by any definition plagiarism and absolutely unquestionable wrong.

      • It's not just that. According to the law, work in education and academics actually does not have to abide by the standards that people outside that world do... Fair Use is actually expanded somewhat for educational purposes.

        But it's not just listing the reference, but also the amount of the work that is "borrowed" that determines infringement. Using whole pages, even with references, might qualify as infringement all by itself. Much depends on the circumstances... but much does not.
        • No, plagiarism is not the same as copyright infringement. They're related, but orthogonal. You can quote any amount of text and not be plagiarizing as long as it's quoted and attributed. Using whole pages might be copyright infringement, and there might be so little of your own work that it's not really a unique paper any more, but you're ok on plagiarism as long as you don't claim it's your own.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Myopic (18616)

        At the university I attended, making a mistake in the format of your references was considered plagiarism.

        Yeah... that's because otherwise people would claim that they just 'made a mistake' and forgot to mention a couple cites. At my college, when there were cheating scandals, we always heard the perp say that, which is crazy because it doesn't make any sense. If you, say, mistakenly put a comma where the citation format requires a semicolon, I hardly think any school would bat an eye; but if you mistakenly

  • Childish (Score:5, Interesting)

    by robmarms (1249924) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:04PM (#31120260)
    Artists who sample should always give the original artist credit... This is a childish attempt to explain, or rather justify, a wrong AFTER the fact.
  • Her generation grew up sampling from other sources -- and I've always felt that was a result of a weak and uncreative person. I wonder where is the line when sampling becomes copying. In any event, I hope that the people being stolen from are being compensated ( but I doubt it ).

    • Have you read Free Culture [wikipedia.org]? It might change your perspective on how "owned" our cultural treasures should be.

      Also this kind of sampling is rather common in literature. I'm not sure how extensive her plagiarism was, but a large proportion of The Waste Land [wikipedia.org] for example is pieced together from other writings..

    • by SkunkPussy (85271)

      Would you also say that if you are building a house, you should construct all the bricks yourself - otherwise you're a poor and unskilled builder?

      If you are a writer, should you invent all the words yourself, otherwise you're a weak writer?

      There are entire genres of music that have sprung up based upon sampling the drum beat out of ONE SONG from 40 years ago (c.f. Amen Break).

      Isaac Newton is said to have made a comment about how he only achieved what he achieved by standing on the shoulders of giants.

  • First off, I'm 27. No clue if I'm therefore a member of her generation or not. But anyway, I do recognize a move towards a slough of progressive distribution models of information. I think the public domain is underrated and I would like to see copyright length dialed down a year or thirty. I don't think it should be completely abolished anytime in the near future.

    I also feel like writers should be rewarded with incentives for their work. If her anything goes usage attitude was applied to me I w
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Expungement of a record wouldn't really be an issue--she hasn't committed a crime. In U.S. copyright parlance, she may have infringed copyright, but that's a civil matter that doesn't entail the creation of a criminal record.

      I agree entirely that she should have sought permission from the authors whose work she was cribbing. The article indicates she lifted an entire page from someone's else's work with only minor changes. The authors whose works were use without permission ought to sue, and if Hegeman
    • by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:19PM (#31120554) Homepage Journal

      Well I guess I am not from her Generation but sampling started when I was in my early 20s. If done correctly in music it is like a collage and it is a new piece of art.
      When done wrong it is theft.
      I am thinking of Ice Ice Baby as a good example of done wrong.
      In this books case I would say it is theft from the story "In one case, an entire page was lifted with few changes."
      Dude that isn't sampling that is a cover!

      Or to put another way. Every generation at 17 thinks that the world is a totally different place from the one their parents lived in. By the time we hit 35 we all start to think man it probably really wasn't. And at 40 we all start saying What the hell where we thinking when we where 17. What idiots we where but it sure was fun.
      So no she is just another dumb 17 year old that thinks the rules don't apply anymore because things are so different.

  • It really depends upon which side of the fence you are on and which party stands to make or lose the most amount of money. If you side with RIAA or a Publisher, sampling might be an absolute no-no. If you are the artist and your ideas are being used to create new ones, this could be a form of homage to your talent. A Zen master once said, "Immitation is the sincerest form of flattery." Dave Matthews would most likely encourage this.
    • We're to the point where nearly all four-note combinations are under copyright, and therefore it's hard to write an "original" song without having to pay somebody else for the rights.

       

      • That's just nonsense. The fact that a 4-note sequence is under copyright doesn't necessarily mean that you can't use it legally. There are standards, such as "orginality". a 40note sequence would probably not be judged "original" enough to be covered by the copyright, in the same way that a couple of common chords would not be protected, if someone else wanted to use them.

        But if you were to copy something of much more length, such as a complete rhythm or background, you might be infringing.

        For example
    • There is still a limit as to how far sampling can go, and I have experienced quite a few instances of "sampling" that were very clearly over the legal line.

      Even if 100 artists agree with you, I have no doubt whatever that I could find, with little effort, 1,000 who do not.
  • Nonsense (Score:4, Insightful)

    by symes (835608) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:07PM (#31120342) Journal

    She claims that she is part of a new generation that has grown up with mixing and sampling in all media, including music and art, and this is legitimate in modern culture

    If she said that upfront - before all this blew up... then perhaps she might have a legitimate point. But after the fact is smacks of ignorance, laziness and a protozoan intellect pretending to be great.

    • by sckeener (137243)
      Also it doesn't make sense. In music, sounds are variations on each other with a few power cords tossed into the mix. The supreme court limited it to (I believe 8 seconds.) To compare that to language would be to use a simplified dictionary and then use only derivatives of those words. Any large sections would not be usable because complex thoughts could not be conveyed. Plagiarizing a literary sample should consist of say a sentence, not entire passages.
  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:09PM (#31120372) Homepage

    As someone who is only slightly older than she is. Yes, this is plagiarism. I'm TAing now and if a student handed in something like this we'd fail her. No question. They might even go in front of a disciplinary committee and certainly would if this were not the first time.

    This is also a gross abuse of copyright. I'm not talking about the evil "oh this has been copyrighted for 70s years" copyright, or even using copyright for non-commercial uses. This is classic copyright violation for her own commercial use. That's precisely what sensible copyrights prevent you from copying. And it isn't like these are short enough passages that there's even any real remixing but rather long sections and the like.

    The fact that she didn't acknowledge the sources makes the whole thing all the more egregious and shows that she really probably knew what she was doing was wrong. If not, she was so ignorant that it didn't occur to her that this might be a problem. Either way, it is deeply unimpressive.

    • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:53PM (#31121168) Homepage Journal

      Yes, this is plagiarism. I'm TAing now and if a student handed in something like this we'd fail her. No question.

      Irrelevant. Student honor codes quite rightly require originality (though it's less common that we'd wish), but the world isn't school.

      This is also a gross abuse of copyright. I'm not talking about the evil "oh this has been copyrighted for 70s years" copyright, or even using copyright for non-commercial uses. This is classic copyright violation for her own commercial use.

      That would be the case if the new work was merely exploiting the old, lacking the creativity to make something worthwhile. But that doesn't appear to be the case here. Instead, it appears that the new work is substantially better and more valuable than the old, and also that a key part of the innovative ideas in the new work is related exactly to the mixing of old materials, without permission or apology, to create new value.

      Further, from a purely economic standpoint, it appears that the success of "Axolotl Roadkill" may actually be driving sales of "Strobo". I think you'd better wait to see if the original author -- the only person who has legal standing to sue for infringement -- actually feels damaged. It may well be that his ego is flattered and his wallet is fattened and that he has no objections whatsoever.

      The fact that she didn't acknowledge the sources makes the whole thing all the more egregious and shows that she really probably knew what she was doing was wrong.

      Perhaps. Or perhaps she was just making her book an example of the mashup culture she was writing about, and recognized that calling attention to it would remove her work from that culture -- because that's not the norm there.

      • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:19PM (#31121506)
        "That would be the case if the new work was merely exploiting the old, lacking the creativity to make something worthwhile. But that doesn't appear to be the case here. Instead, it appears that the new work is substantially better and more valuable than the old, and also that a key part of the innovative ideas in the new work is related exactly to the mixing of old materials, without permission or apology, to create new value."

        First, in regard to your last sentence, you can't do something illegal and then say "it's art" and expect to get away with it. That is a specious argument. Second, that argument -- valid or not -- might have drawn some sympathy if she had simply said up front that she was deliberately doing a mashup. But she didn't. Rather than saying "Here, this is part of what my art is all about", she used it as an excuse after she was caught.

        Mashup (or "mixing") or not, there is a limit to how much you can "borrow" from the art or talent of another, without doing something that is morally and ethically wrong. Simple common sense should tell you that. Otherwise you have some kind of problem recognizing what is ethical.

        "Further, from a purely economic standpoint, it appears that the success of "Axolotl Roadkill" may actually be driving sales of "Strobo". I think you'd better wait to see if the original author -- the only person who has legal standing to sue for infringement -- actually feels damaged. It may well be that his ego is flattered and his wallet is fattened and that he has no objections whatsoever."

        I don't think so. If she didn't have permission in advance, she still did something wrong, even if the original authors (plural... apparently there were more than one plagiarized) later decide that it is okay.

        "Perhaps. Or perhaps she was just making her book an example of the mashup culture she was writing about, and recognized that calling attention to it would remove her work from that culture -- because that's not the norm there."

        See... people keep referring to this "mashup culture" as though that were some kind of valid excuse for infringement or plagiarism. It is not. I realize that these are not the same things, but it also wouldn't be a valid excuse for theft or assault. You can't just sit there and say "my generation grew up doing shitty things to people, so it's okay", unless you want the rest of society to laugh at you... and maybe put you in jail.
  • by drDugan (219551) * on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:09PM (#31120378) Homepage

    Helene Hegemann's first book has been moving up the best-seller list in
    Germany and is a finalist for a major book prize. While originally this
    was notable because Hegemann is only 17 and this is her first book, and
    so earned praise as a prodigy, what's interesting now about this story
    is that she has been caught plagiarizing many passages in the book.
    Amazingly, she has not denied it, but instead claims there is nothing
    wrong with it. She claims that she is part of a new generation that has
    grown up with mixing and sampling in all media [nytimes.com], including music and art,
    and this is legitimate in modern culture. Have we entered a new era where
    plagiarism is not just tolerated, but seen as normal? Is this the
    ultimate in cynicism, or is it simply a brash attempt to get away with
    something now that she's been caught? Is her claim to legitimacy
    compromised by the fact that she only admitted it after it was
    discovered by someone else? And finally, if 'sampling' is not acceptable
    in literature, is this reason to rethink the legitimacy of musical
    sampling?

  • Good grief, (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    nothing is really original anymore. When you have a planet with a population of nearly 7 billion -- it is fairly easy for me to claim that 99.999% of everything written, said, or done today, has been done by someone else in the past: including music.

    Even mathematics is full of stories where there is more than one inventor, who claimed that they developed ideas independently.

    If the offense is blatant copy-infringement, and contributes more than an insignificant impact to the copied works, then let a judge

  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:14PM (#31120456)

    Have we entered a new era where plagiarism is not just tolerated, but seen as normal?

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.

    • by bsDaemon (87307)
      Methinks the lady doth protest too much, however I feel that now may be the winter of her discontent....
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by PPH (736903)

      Have we entered a new era where plagiarism is not just tolerated, but seen as normal?

      It was the best of times, it was the worst of times;

      It was a dark and stormy night.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by jonaskoelker (922170)

        Have we entered a new era where plagiarism is not just tolerated, but seen as normal?

        It was the best of times, it was the worst of times;

        It was a dark and stormy night.

        Burma Shave

  • by GPLDAN (732269) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:15PM (#31120486)
    Deef Pirmasens, the blogger who discovered the passages taken from “Strobo,” said that he could understand a few words or phrases seeping into the work through inspiration, but that he quickly noticed that there were too many for it to be a coincidence. “To take an entire page from an author, as Helene Hegemann admitted to doing, with only slight changes and without asking the author, I consider that illegitimate,” Mr. Pirmasens said.


    Entire pages verbatim? She is the Vanilla Ice of literature sampling then.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kill-1 (36256)

      AFAIK, she didn't copy whole pages verbatim. In the box at the bottom of
      this page [faz.net], you can find a comparison of the original and her text (in German, of course).

  • As stated in the article, the whole controversy is also generating sales for the lesser-known "Strobo" book that was allegedly plagiarized. That can't be a bad thing.

    http://www.amazon.de/Axolotl-Roadkill-Helene-Hegemann/dp/3550087926/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1266012743&sr=8-1 [amazon.de]

    Still waiting for copyright enforcement advocates to realize that copyright infringement isn't always a bad thing.

    • by mr_matticus (928346) on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:49PM (#31121098)

      Still waiting for copyright enforcement advocates to realize that copyright infringement isn't always a bad thing.

      Nothing that is against the law or otherwise a violation of a property right is always a "bad thing".

      No form of stealing is always bad. Trespassing isn't always bad. Neither is copyright infringement. Neither is outright theft. But in each instance, you impinge on someone's inherent and exclusive rights (otherwise known at law as "property"), and the adult thing to do is to face the consequences of that action and pay the price.

      Take trespassing, for example. Unless you're stomping on some prized and rare flowers, it causes no harm to anyone and permanently deprives the owner of the land of nothing. And yet, it remains unlawful because the owner of the land has the sole right to authorize admission onto it, whether it would be reasonable to deny entry or not, or whether he charges for admission at a reasonable rate or not. If you trespass, you are liable for damages should the owner wish to pursue them.

      Now maybe you were injured and had a reasonable justification to trespass in order to get timely medical assistance. That's something that can be considered in the weighing of damages, but it doesn't change the fact that what you did was unlawful. It doesn't have to be reasonable, and the trespass might have been economically efficient or otherwise better than the alternative.

      Taking food without paying when you're about to starve isn't a bad thing. But then turning and claiming you did nothing wrong is. You did what you had to do, and that will be considered in sentencing. You'll pay for the food that you took (restoring the tangible), and you will pay for the injury you caused to the food's owner by taking it without permission.

      With copyright infringement, you pay for the injury, your depriving the owner of his exclusive property rights. That can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars (less than damages for trespassing) to many thousands, depending on the seriousness of your violation and the value of the work. Yes, there should be a cap on damages for private citizens infringing without commercial gain, but no, there should be no exception for arguing that your breach of law was a net positive. It often is with property crimes and impingement.

      The law protects the rights of owners to maintain the freedom to make determinations on the use of their property. When an owner decides to sell some of those property rights, he has the right to determine at what price and under what conditions to do so, constrained only by other laws limiting his choice.

      People are never required to do what's best with what they own. They're free to be as stupid, generous, savvy, greedy, or unreasonable as they wish, within the confines of the law.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by xigxag (167441)

      That's like saying that if a thug violently raped a woman, and impregnated her, and then their offspring grew up to be a great author, that it sorta makes rape ok.

      Anyway, what I find surprising about this story is that Axolotl Roadkill's publisher's have continued to print/distribute the book after knowing that it violates copyright.

  • by tomhudson (43916) < ... <nosduh.arabrab>> on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:17PM (#31120524) Journal

    Hey you! Stop "sampling" my work. I own the rights to ALL those words, and all the remixes, you thieves!

    signed: Daniel Webster

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087)
      Funny but 1) Daniel Webster is long dead and not under copyright (the author has taken material from living people whose books are still available for sale) 2) Webster compiled information about how words were used. He'd have no copyright of the words. It isn't actually obviously clear if even his dictionary would have been copyrightable under modern copyright laws. See for example Feist v. Rural Telephone - (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_Publications_v._Rural_Telephone_Service [wikipedia.org] or for those who wan
  • Art has always built on ideas and elements from the work of previous artists. Mozart's first four piano concertos are arrangements of piano solo movements written by other composers. Liszt arranged Beethoven's symphonies for piano solo and two pianos. Most of Shakespeare's plots and characters are not original. Rachmaninov wrote a famous "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini". Beethoven's "Wellington" Symphony incorporates "God save the King". The cover art to Terry Pratchett's book "Night Watch" adapts Re

  • If it's not there, you plagiarized.
  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Friday February 12, 2010 @05:45PM (#31121032) Homepage Journal

    Referring to the German Amazon page about the book, the Times article said 'Under the heading “Customers who bought this item also bought” was “Strobo” by Airen'. I think that raises some interesting questions. Artistic questions aside, can you argue that plagiarism damages the author of the plagiarized work if it increases sales?

    There are two common theories for why we have copyright. I think the more correct one (at least for US copyright law -- yes, I realize that these events are playing out in Germany, under German law) is that copyright exists in order to promote creativity, and on that basis it's very hard to argue that "mashup" works that actually do create something new and interesting by combining pieces of older stuff don't satisfy that goal just as well as purely original works. And in this case, no one appears to be arguing that this young woman is simply riding the coattails of Airen.

    The other theory is the economic one: that copyright exists so that authors get paid. Although we'd need to see real numbers to know for sure, the fact that sales of "Axolotl Roadkill" seems to be driving increased sales of "Strobo" seems to indicate that this usage of text from Strobo satisfies that version of copyright rationale as well. It'll be interesting to see what Airen says about the use of his work. Does he feel ripped off, or flattered?

    • by oldhack (1037484) on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:19PM (#31121504)

      She didn't fess up until she got busted, didn't she? And that's the only reason why the other book is being bought, ain't it?

      Was she saying she planned to get busted all along? The lying twit.

    • by Tacvek (948259) on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:56PM (#31121992) Journal

      The simple fact is that plagiarism does not exist. Only in the academic world does the concept exist. In the real world, plagiarism itself is perfectly legal, and at worst is a moral/ethical failing.

      Copyright infringement is what matters in the real world, and is orthogonal to plagarism. For example, it is not actually plagiarism to publish somebody else's work in its entiretly as the majority of a new work, as long as the original atuhor is credited. (One may still be failed in a class for doing so, as the assignment would quite likely fail the requirements, but that is a separate issue). But it very well may be copyright infringement to do so. On the other extreme, it is plagiarism to use somebody else's arguments, even if you completely rewrote them. However that would not be copyright infringement, since copyright only covers the expressions of ideas, not the ideas themselves.

      Perhaps definitions would help show this: Plagiarism is "using somebody else's ideas without acknowledging the source.
      Copyright infringement is "using somebody else's expression of an idea without permission and in excess of the fair use or equivalent exceptions".

      Now this book in questions sounds like it has plagiarism if the source of borrowed ideas was not mentioned on an acknowledgments page or similar location. It might also be copyright infringement, regardless of any crediting, since specific expressions of ideas were re-used without permission. Only the latter is actually a problem. Crediting the idea sources would be nice, but the law does not require it.

  • by iOdin (1741304) on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:04PM (#31121324)
    In terms of research literature, this happens too. In fact, it may be even worse if you think about it. I publish at least 3-4 papers each year in various different conferences and maybe a Journal or two. Go figure... even if it is my work, if I am not careful, then I may be liable for "self-plagiarism", from which they can retract publications and even my doctoral degree if the University deems it a serious offense. And we are not talking here about copy-paste to a whole paper section, even taking a sentence or two from one of your previous publications is debatable. I personally think this policy is ridiculous as it forces me to reword everything, even the obvious, no matter how much overlap there may be between the current paper and one I just sent in through the pipeline a month ago.
  • Open source remix? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ash-Fox (726320) on Friday February 12, 2010 @06:05PM (#31121334)

    So, when is someone going to make the freely downloadable opensource remix of her book then?

  • by gig (78408) on Friday February 12, 2010 @07:33PM (#31122490)

    Even if you sample in music, the sampling is just accompaniment, backing tracks. In other words, the DJ samples, the MC does not.

    Further, you don't pretend you didn't sample, you give credit where it's due. You often pay the original artist, especially if the sampling is very prominent.

    This young lady is not only guilty of plagiarism, but also of misunderstanding sampling. It's not plagiarism.

    The literary version of sampling would be to write a new, unplagiarized book using existing characters and settings from another book. Like a Star Wars themed novel. In that case you use Star Wars as backing for a new work.

    The tragedy of this is the manuscript should have been considered a first draft and rewritten in one voice, even by a ghostwriter. Publishing the same exact phrases is not required in order to be unoriginal.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Legion303 (97901)

      "Further, you don't pretend you didn't sample, you give credit where it's due."

      Unless you're Timbaland, then you act like a little bitch and claim it was sampling AFTER you get busted. Which almost puts him in the same league as Vanilla Ice, who I don't think ever admitted to stealing Bowie's riff.

      But I agree, sampling done right (giving credit where credit is due) is fine. Anything less is plagiarism.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Friday February 12, 2010 @09:43PM (#31123650)

    I hope she makes lots of money . . . and every last dime of it goes to the people she stole from.
    What a jerk.

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