Thursday, June 03, 2010

Anatomy of an academic plagiarism case: Kinavey in Pittsburgh

Mary Niederberger of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette gives a summary of matters in the plagiarism case against Terry Kinavey, the suspended West Jefferson Hills superintendent-->

In addition to accusing Mrs. Kinavey of acting inappropriately regarding the hiring of Mrs. Breisinger, the district charged Mrs. Kinavey with plagiarism. The district statement of charges contends that Mrs. Kinavey signed her name to the work of others in letters to parents, students and staff and a column she submitted for the district newsletter.

In addition, last week Ms. Vernallis presented excerpts from a graduation speech that Mrs. Kinavey gave that included verbatim passages from speeches given by Katie Couric and Oprah Winfrey.

Mrs. Kinavey's initial defense to the plagiarism charges was that she had permission to use the materials she used in the letters because they were contained in letters she received at conferences sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

As IPBiz has noted many times before, plagiarism and copyright infringement are two different things. You can plagiarize Shakespeare, but that plagiarism is NOT a copyright infringement. Copying without attribution, with or without permission, is plagiarism.

The article also contained the following text:

Mrs. Kinavey eventually conceded during her testimony that she "made a mistake" in signing her name to letters that others had written. But she and her attorney, Ernest DeHaas, argued that did not constitute plagiarism because none of the ideas in the letters or the graduation speech were original ideas and they were not copyrighted.

"I feel I didn't do anything wrong. I was trying to do something inspirational for the kids," Mrs. Kinavey said of her graduation speech.

IPBiz notes that copyright relates to the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. That the idea was not original is irrelevant. Also, post-1975 (likely applicable to Couric and Winfree writings), copyright inheres once the work is fixed in tangible medium, so copyright inhered (even though registration may not have been effected). Of course, none of the arguments about copyright is a defense to plagiarism. Kinavey does appear to have copied without attribution, and that's plagiarism. Case closed.

As a separate matter copying from Katie Couric, herself a demonstrated plagiarist, indicates intellectual vacuousness, and might suggest alternative grounds to remove Kinavey.

The first part of the Niederberger piece did not portray Kinavey in a favorable light:

During the last day of testimony -- a tedious session last Thursday [29 May 2010] that lasted for more than eight hours -- Mrs. Kinavey repeatedly tried to avoid answering questions from the district's attorney, Stacey Vernallis.

Her standard response to most inquiries was: "I did nothing wrong. I followed the policies and procedures of the district."

As in the Glenn Poshard matter, the plagiarism business likely arose as after-dressing to the matter which really bothered people, which was in the Kinavey case was the Denise Breisinger matter.

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