Monday, October 31, 2011

Something Borrowed.. and not Returned

In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Something Borrowed,” he questions whether plagiarism can be a reason to ruin a person’s life and reputation.  After writing memoirs for Dorothy Lewis, both Lewis and Gladwell realize they have been plagiarized in Lavery’s Broadway play, “Frozen.”  Because of having contradicting feelings, not knowing whether to feel flattered or angry for having his words as well as Lewis’ life story stolen, Gladwell analyzes different forms of plagiarism.  Gladwell examines plagiarism within music by comparing similar notes on the piano but in different songs, written by different artists and also the same for comparing melodies and tunes in different songs with different artists.  Gladwell then speaks with Lavery regarding how she didn’t understand that she was plagiarizing his article and Lewis’ life stories. She says that she thought the article was “news” with no emotional value attached.  Gladwell realizes that plagiarism shouldn’t ruin someone’s life reputation or life unless it is fully, 100% plagiarized because words are not owned.  He understands that the origins of words get lost and that people reinvent them over time.  So, people cannot claim words as their own property.  In Lavery’s case, she had created a fictional character based off Lewis’ life, but Lewis’ character faces different circumstances than the actual Lewis.  Gladwell claims that this is not plagiarism and that plagiarism should not ruin someone’s life and reputation.
            I never knew that plagiarism is such a broad term.  This article confuses me because, now, I really know if paraphrasing someone else’s idea is still considered plagiarism rather than taking their idea as inspiration and transforming it into my own.  I would still cite where I get information though because that has just been embedded into my memory and I’m pretty sure I would still get in trouble for “academic dishonesty” if I didn’t cite ideas that were created from someone else’s.  But it’s interesting that plagiarism is determined only if the full text is copied rather than a small amount or even most of it is copied.  So, to me, Gladwell’s idea of plagiarism is that as long as the writing/tune/melody/song, anything, is different, it’s not the same.  But I feel really bad for Lavery because her life is ruined now for being considered a plagiarizer and for losing all her credentials as a writer.  But it makes sense why Lewis was so angry since Lavery took her life and then changed it to have her fictional character be in an affair with the psychopath.  With people believing this is based on Lewis’ life, they now also believe she had the affair in reality when she didn’t.  Like my mom ALWAYS says, “copying is the best form of flattery,” but I think there is a fine line between being flattered by someone copying you and being creeped out by someone writing about your life through a fictional story, and then changing it for the worse (because who is insane enough to want to have an affair with a known psychopath?)

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