The sincerest form of flattery?

A recent Insider Higher Ed article demonstrates why it isn’t only scientists who need to understand copyright and intellectual property issues. Read the whole article at: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/08/01/essay_on_experience_of_having_a_book_pirated

Eric Jager explains that while Googling his book in a quiet five minutes, he found that it had been translated, published and sold without his permission (or any royalties being paid) in Croatia. He admits that the money wasn’t really the issue (partly because it wasn’t very much, and partly because he was a little bit flattered), but he does recognise that ensuring he receives the cash and recognition that he deserves is important for “authors’ rights in general”.

However, he then goes on to describe another case in which his work was (in his view) plagiarised but where he decided that the best course of action was to take no action at all. His decision in this case was partly tactical in that he believed he might draw more attention to the plagiarised work by causing a fuss, and that the sales of his own book might suffer as a result. There were also some potential cultural sensitivities to negotiate – but is it right to allow plagiarism to go undetected? Perhaps the fact that, unlike Jager’s book, the plagiarised book was not a scholarly work but a novel, and therefore posed little real threat to Jager’s academic reputation or discipline made a difference. Or maybe it was simply his decision to take (since he owns the copyright on his words).

The fact that pressing the matter was likely to be detrimental to the success of his book may mean that ignoring the plagiarism really was the best course of action. But what message does this convey about plagiarism? Is it really only an issue if the plagiarist stands to gain more than the original author? Or should the original author not worry too much about the ‘moral’ aspect of plagiarism? If copyright is intended to ‘protect’ the original author, doesn’t it make sense for him/her to only enforce it when it is in his/her best interests to do so?

Any thoughts?

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