Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The value of psychic income?

Jack Shafer, in writing about the Kendra Marr plagiarism matter, noted:

As I’ve written before, plagiarism doesn’t offend me because it exploits the previous hard work of some enterprising writer—even though it does. When you attribute passages to another writer, you’re likewise exploiting their work. But at least they receive psychic income from the citation. The quoted writer is enriched by the fact that their work has been acknowledged, that somebody might go back and read their work, and that their reputation is likely to rise because of the credit thrown their way.


The plagiarist defrauds readers by leading them to believe that he has come by the facts of his story first-hand–that he vouches for the accuracy of the facts and interpretations under his byline. But this is not the case. Generally, the plagiarist doesn’t know whether the copy he’s lifted has gotten the story right because he hasn’t really investigated the topic. (If he had, he could write the story himself.) In such cases he must attribute the material he borrows so that at the very least the reader can hold somebody accountable for the facts in a story.

Copying without attribution is bad. If the copied material is not strongly associated with its original source, readers of the copied material are going to be mislead about source. But, to first order, the readers value more the accuracy of the information than the source of the information.

In the world of patents, society as a whole needs a patent system to give incentive to inventors to disclose publicly information. The value to society is in the information itself, not who it came from. In the old days, there was a quid pro quo: information was made public ONLY if the inventor got a patent. That is no longer true. The work of the inventor is disclosed publicly, whether or not an issued patent is given. Psychic income probably does not enter into the calculus. The idea is out there. If no patent issues, the work may be freely copied, without attribution. In the world of copyright, the Dastar case shows not only may the work be copied but also it may be attributed to someone else. In the world of IT, many companies tell employees NOT to read patents and the like, so they are not tainted by the work of others.


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