As an organization devoted to individual freedom, we must also be devoted to personal accomplishment that enhances freedom.  Today's lesson, then, is plagiarism. Plagiarism for Fun, Fame and Profit

As an organization devoted to individual freedom, we must also be devoted to personal accomplishment that enhances freedom.  Today's lesson, then, is plagiarism.

As the most recent cases involving Kaavya Viswanathan, the 19-year-old college sophomore phenom, and William H. Swanson, the CEO of Raytheon, amply demonstrate, many people do plagiarism incorrectly and are thus caught and humiliated.  Mr. Swanson's mistakes are costing him some big bucks, because his company is not amused.

Being a writer is, like, really cool, but one cannot be a writer unless one writes, which is, like, really hard and lonely.  Plagiarism is far easier, if you learn only a few simple rules so as not to be caught and humiliated.

Do not attend or teach at Harvard.  For reasons we continue to research, the school is a magnet for plagiarists and is now well known as such by the authorities.  Anyone associated with Harvard who attempts to write anything at all for publication is going to be scrutinized.  The Harvard Crimson has some reporters who have actually learned how to do that kind of hard work and make their mothers proud. 

Go to or teach at MIT instead.  The expectation of writing emanating from MIT is so low that no one at all reads it.  Ten years from now, when the world blows up because someone puts goat cheese in the tank of a hydrogen-powered car, it will be remembered that an MIT graduate student wrote that could happen in 2001, but not even her engineering professor read it.  Most plagiarists at MIT do it for love of the craft, because there is little money in novels with sexless machines as central characters.

Do not plagiarize the work of living writers.  They tend to become quite surly when they learn that someone got a half-million-dollar advance for stealing work for which they were paid bupkus.  Many living writers are married to or have relatives who are lawyers.  You know what lawyers do.  Lawyers are encouraged to write briefs that depend on the published work of others, thus transforming plagiarism into something called precedent, worth $500 an hour even when they are only dutifully listing citations.

The public domain work of dead white men is an exceptionally fertile field for wannabe plagiarists.  Because such work is considered politically incorrect, although generally of exceptional quality, it is rarely read anymore, and thus you are unlikely to be caught.  If you are, you will not be sued, so this is a twofer on the old benefit/risk scale.  In addition, musty old libraries have learned reviews of the original so you will actually be able to understand what you have pirated.

The entire oeuvre of Shakespeare is a veritable treasure trove for plagiarists, so special that stealing from it is called creativity, not plagiarism, from which numerous fortunes have been and are yet to be made.  To the best of our knowledge, no one has yet "written" The Merchant of Minnesota, The Merry Wives of Weehawken or Antony and Keisha.

Steal obscure foreign language work of authors who have never been (and never will be) translated into English.  There are some really fine Mocovi, Dadibi and Ega novels for the taking and it is exceptionally easy to substitute New York for Northern Argentina, Papua New Guinea and the Ivory Coast.  Do be careful of cultural differences, because you are not allowed to have 13 concubines outside of Manhattan and men who don't wear pants are accepted only in Buffalo.  Even New Yorkers do not eat yak tongue, but Central Park will substitute nicely for jungle scenes.  Converting anatomical references can be daunting, so the foreign language route can be a bit taxing for beginners.

Plagiarizing the work of those who most likely plagiarized theirs from someone else, while considered somewhat tacky, can be productive.  In this category, look carefully at politicians.  U.S. Senator Joe Biden, for example, has a lot of material out there, but be reminded that most publishers like some sentences to begin with words other than "I." 

Because of a writing rule developed solely for television and movies, plagiarism becomes a form named "ripped from the headlines," which is remarkably lucrative.  You also get to join a union and spend time in rehab, where you will meet many fascinating subjects for future writing.

Not everyone is suited for the wonderful career of plagiarism, so you may wish to consider one of its most fascinating offshoots:  collaborating with dead authors, such as Robert Ludlum and Lawrence Sanders.  We're not exactly sure how that works, but the dead guy's estate probably gets most of the money, seeing as how he wrote his own stuff which made him legitimately famous.

Even masters of plagiarism do sometimes get caught.  You must be ready for such an unfortunate and bothersome contingency.  Immediately declare yourself a victim.  Sexual abuse, drug addiction and racism are still really hot as excuses.  If you can pull off all three together, we can almost guarantee you a six-figure book contract for that story, and there is an amazing wealth of previously published work to get it from.

May 4, 2006
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