BREAKING NEWS! . . . No law on plagiarism, it’s not triable issue . . .

No law on plagiarism, it’s not triable issue . . .

All laws in fact works of plagiarism.

Plagiarism often may be all about “shaming” someone publicly without regard for the defamation laws. Anything can happen in court if push comes to shove and someone sues for defamation.

Of course, in defamation cases, the court first asks whether the right of reply was provided. If there was right of reply, apologies and handshakes would suffice in out of court settlement.

Plagiarism may be an ethical issue.

It’s not easy to come up with a Code of Ethics on plagiarism unless a presiding body emulates the universities on the phenomenon.

Universities use the term “similarity of content” to vet students assignments and thesis. If “similarity of content” exceeds 30 per cent, marks are deducted. Students can Appeal. If successful, they can re-do Assignments to reduce “similarity of content”.

Universities use computer programmes to detect “similarity of content”.

Generally, being no writers, students freely compile and copypaste material available on the internet, edit them down to get the required length as per the guidelines, source the Assignment, and attribute it to subject matter experts, complete with References. Students may not be able to rewrite such material. Their focus would be on avoiding “similarity of content”.

In university, I never did the above. I preferred to do my own writing based on reading the Modules, textbooks, other material and connecting the dots.

If a PhD student cannot explain his or own thesis statement before the University Panel, which may include foreign subject matter experts, no PhD would be awarded. The candidate may be blacklisted.

Rewriting material or crediting source does not mean that there was no plagiarism. It’s still plagiarism.

Again, the media belabours in the delusion that there’s no plagiarism if they restructure, re-angle and rewrite material which first appeared in another publication and credits the source “just to keep on the safe side”.

Columnists who compile known facts, and pass that off as Opinion, are plagiarists.

If a writer recycles his or her own material, it also falls under plagiarism.

Fareed Zakaria of CNN and the Washington Post, for example, was routinely accused of plagiarism. Eventually, nothing came out of the complaints although he was suspended for a spell.

He’s back on air, pontificating sanctimoniously on this and that after urging listeners to read his Washington Post column for the week.

There’s no law on plagiarism. It’s not a triable issue.

No court in the world will consider complaints on plagiarism.

It’s not the work of the court to compare material and material and decide whether there was any plagiarism.

In fact, all laws themselves are works of plagiarism. When the parliamentary draftsman drafts laws, he or she isn’t going to restructure, re-angle and rewrite the laws copypasted and compiled from various sources. Those sources themselves may have plagiarised the law from other sources.

When some people alleges plagiarism, they may mean copyright infringement and/or infringement/violation of trade marks, registrations or patent rights.

There’s copyright law in M’sia. Complainants can lodge a report with the Copyright Forum, a Tribunal. The High Court is the Court of Appeal for Tribunals. Tribunals are not courts of law but courts of equity, good conscience and social justice.

Complainants at the Copyright Forum would have to prove that their work was copyrighted based on “originality of thought”.

Writers who connect the dots can claim “originality of thought”.

There are writers who attribute their work to “divine inspiration”. The concept of divine inspiration probably arises with writers who go through an extraordinary number of drafts. Ernest Hemingway, for example, rewrote each paragraph nine times.

V. S. Naipaul, another example, wrote only 250 words a day and took two years to complete a book. He probably worked on the 250 words for 16 hours a day, taking time off to have meals, a sxit, shower and what else.

Anyone going through his work would wonder . . . “How could anyone write like this?”

Time Magazine, in a cover piece on Naipaul, hailed him as “the greatest living writer in the English language”.

Lawyers who find the spirit of the law, in looking for the law and pointing it out, may be able to claim “originality of thought” if the court declares it as “novel development in law”.

Law, ultimately, remains the power of language.

Author: fernzthegreat

Joe Fernandez holds a honours degree in management, majoring in economics, and has opted from academia in law to being a jurist. He was trained professionally on the job as a journalist. He's a longtime Borneo watcher, keen on the history and legal aspects of Malaya's presence in Sabah and Sarawak. He teaches the English language privately and has emerged as a subject matter expert in public examination techniques.

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