Resource: Richard Posner’s The Little Book of Plagiarism


For this post, I want to introduce you all to a great resource for addressing plagiarism in your classrooms—The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard Posner (Pantheon, 2007).  Posner is a legal scholar who currently teaches at the University of Chicago Law School.  A highly regarded figure in his field, Posner is often introduced as the most cited legal scholar of the twentieth century (cited in Wikipedia, source Shapiro, Fred. “The Most Cited Legal Scholars.” Journal of Legal Studies 29/1 (2000): 409-426. This book is a book for you, the teacher. It covers the nature of plagiarism, the history of plagiarism, and many famous cases of plagiarism before delving into a legal and political discussion about the issue.

Perhaps, the most important notion put forward by Posner for educators is his argument that plagiarism is an “embarrassing and second rate offense.” Posner dismisses plagiarism as a legal issue, declaring that though good art need not be totally original (he gives examples from the work of Shakespeare and Manet), rather plagiarism is a destruction of creativity and originality that has the insidious undertone of fraud and deception. Rather than taking the plagiarist to court, the act should be dealt with through public shaming. While public shaming an individual in school is not okay, educators can apply Posner’s argument by publicly shaming the very act of plagiarism. This is important because educating ourselves, our students, and our administrators about the cancerous effect of plagiarism on education is a must. Posner himself argues that schools MUST utilize plagiarism detector software. Not to do so is to be “naïve.” Instead, schools should consider all students suspect, even the good ones. Because, the truth is that the temptation to plagiarize is too great for many students to avoid it. Software like turnitin eliminates the temptation. Schools who utilize these tools are helping the world enter into what Posner refers to as “the twilight of plagiarism

This book is short, but it is not a quick read. Rather, it is a great book for a teacher wanting to focus on plagiarism for professional development or a book to read over your summer break that will help you be a better teacher. The book is worth the time and effort.

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