Professor Starr admirably recognizes that plagiarism is bad journalism, bad morality, and bad news for reader, writer and victim alike. He astutely underscores our mutual moral aversion to the practice of claiming someone else's ideas for one's own. We differ, importantly, on its parallel to legality, its utilitarian exceptions and especially on its inevitability. We must be oh, so careful not to create a culture conducive to moral wrong in the name of pragmatism.
More crucially, we cannot underestimate the power for creativity, which would rob us all in no small part of something essential to humanness. Plagiarism stands in tension with creativity, and wherever it exists, strikes a blow against the fundamentally human. Creativity is difficult; it is precious, and well worth protecting. But it is not reserved only for a handful of people living at any one time. Rather, it is a mark of the human spirit recognized by diverse thinkers from Marx to Aristotle and beyond. It can be cultivated or choked. It is not a platitude, but a living, breathing, fragile element at the heart of a fully human life.
We must celebrate creativity, but we must also nurture it. While clearly we can and do draw inspiration from one another in the great conversation of human experience, and sometimes allude to profound expressions to give our speech power, it is not and cannot be the same as the unique voice we bring to bear on it.
The above article was published in Media Ethics, Spring 2006 (17:2),p.20.