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The Little Book of Plagiarism Richard A. Posner Random House/$10.95 It is probably safe to assume controversial jurist Richard Posner didn’t plagiarize “The Little Book of Plagiarism.” Still, for a guy who has posited so many off-the-wall ideas � for example, that black women are heavier than white women because there are fewer single black men, thus diminishing the incentive among black women to stay trim � I am left to wonder whether Posner cribbed his plagiarism book from someone more, well, boring. Perhaps this is simply the unfortunate standard with which Posner must now contend. The prolific Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals judge has such a reputation for the unconventional, burnished by his books, articles, rulings and blog posts, that if he’s not lobbing a Molotov cocktail on every other page, an otherwise eager reader might wind up feeling let down. So it is with the “Little Book of Plagiarism.” Posner does a workmanlike job delineating what distinguishes plagiarism from copyright infringement as a philosophical concept, and where the two might overlap in the legal world. And he makes a mildly intriguing analysis of why our modern definition and standards of plagiarism are shaped by the free market: Shakespeare’s cribbing from classical sources would certainly be considered plagiarism in modern America, Posner argues, due to our easy access to texts, along with the need to be sufficiently individualistic in order to sell books. A literary plagiarist not only harms readers, according to Posner, he also harms competing authors by gobbling pieces of the market with comparatively less exertion. The problem with Posner’s little white book is too much delineation without a cogent, overriding point. It reads like a textbook. Academics publishing articles actually written by students: plagiarism; judges issuing rulings actually written by clerks: not plagiarism. This is not compelling in and of itself. I kept waiting for the blistering conclusion, like, plagiarism should be tolerated because if the marketplace accepts the product, then all is forgiven, and anyway, Shakespeare did it too. Or, plagiarism should be rooted out wherever it appears, be it hip-hop music sampling, haute cuisine or � gasp! � judges’ rulings. Even Posner’s treatment of high-profile plagiarists suffers from a kind of ideological bias that seems too conventional for him. This should be the most fun stuff in any plagiarism discussion, i.e., how smarty-pants intellectuals got brought down a rung or two. Yet the judge spends multiple pages dissecting how Doris Kearns Goodwin’s transgressions were muted because she had a cadre of “liberal” friends like Arthur Schlesinger Jr. to defend her. The accusations against Alan Dershowitz, meanwhile, Posner quickly dismisses. Dershowitz’s plagiarism is cast as less serious, and besides, “Dershowitz’s accusers had ulterior motives.” Posner does have a moment where his screwball brain shines through. One reason for the ambivalence toward plagiarism, he writes, is because the Left dominates intellectual circles in the United States, and the Left is “soft” on uncovering plagiarism. Why? De factor plagiarism recognizes notions of genius and individual creativity, and that makes the leftist “uncomfortable” because it celebrates “inequality.” This is insane, as anyone who has travelled in the smug, ego-driven world of leftist politics can attest. But Posner can be forgiven for spending so much time at the University of Chicago, and ultimately I just wish he had included more observations like this in his book, not less. Dan Levine is an associate editor at The Recorder.

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