Monday, February 27, 2006

Better a Lender Than a Borrower Be

On January 5th I posted Beerbohm: Sundaram v. Epstein, tried contacting Sundaram, and then dropped an email to Mr. Epstein when Sundaram did not respond. While not as big as the Stephen Ambrose plagiarism scandal, the discovery did provide Joseph Epstein with fodder for an article. He published "Plagiary, It's Crawling All Over Me" in the latest issue of The Weekly Standard. (Also, Arts & Letters Daily picked up on the new Epstein article.)

Here is an excerpt:
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what is plagiarism? The least sincere form? A genuine crime? Or merely the work of someone with less-than-complete mastery of quotation marks who is in too great a hurry to come up with words and ideas of his own?

Over many decades of scribbling, I have on a few occasions been told that some writer, even less original than I, had lifted a phrase or an idea of mine without attribution. I generally took this as a mild compliment. Now, though, at long last, someone has plagiarized me, straight out and without doubt. The theft is from an article of mine about Max Beerbohm, the English comic writer, written in the pages of the august journal you are now reading.

The man did it from a great distance--from India, in fact, in a publication calling itself "India's Number One English Hindi news source"; the name of the plagiarist is being withheld to protect the guilty. I learned about it from an email sent to me by a generous reader.


In the realm of plagiarism, my view is, better a lender than a borrower be. (You can quote me on that.) The man who reported the plagiarism to me noted that he wrote to the plagiarist about it but had no response. At first I thought I might write to him myself, remarking that I much enjoyed his piece on Max Beerbohm and wondering where he found that perfectly apposite G.K. Chesterton quotation. Or I could directly accuse him, in my best high moral dudgeon, of stealing my words and then close by writing--no attribution here to Rudyard Kipling, of course--"Gunga Din, I'm a better man than you." Or I could turn the case over, on a contingency basis, to a hungry young Indian lawyer, and watch him fight it out in the courts of Bombay or Calcutta, which is likely to produce a story that would make Bleak House look like Goodnight Moon.
Read the full article by Joseph Epstein at The Weekly Standard (03/06/2006, Volume 011, Issue 24).

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