Ever since the invention of the printing press and other forms of mass reproduction, duplicating the work of another has gone from being a painstaking and time-consuming task to a simple click of a mouse. As society moves towards an electronic-based culture, plagiarism, the act of using another person's words or ideas without giving credit to that person, has become much more prevalent due to the ease with which it can be done. With plagiarism becoming commonplace in colleges and universities, teachers have begun to restrict what can and cannot be submitted to fulfill assignment requirements. As a general rule, a paper that was written by a student for one course may not be handed in again, even by the same student, to satisfy a different course requirement. This is called self-plagiarism, the reuse of one's own work, and is usually not considered an accepted practice in the writing world. However, is self-plagiarism considered a form of stealing according to Jewish law or is it just frowned upon by society.
According to Green, a professor of law, plagiarism is a relatively recent concept which started sometime in the eighteenth century:
It was not, until the Romantic Era of the eighteenth century—when the notion of “authorship” and “originality” emerged as significant cultural values—that the norm of attribution and the taboo of plagiarism came to the fore. As art and literature became viewed as the expression of the unique and autonomous personality of the artist or writer, the crediting of literary sources became an increasingly important concern…it was not until words and ideas could be viewed as “property”—typically, through publication—that “originality” became a significant cultural value, and plagiarism a powerful cultural taboo (176,177).
What Green appears to be saying is that plagiarism is not necessarily illegal; however, society considers the act of passing off another’s ideas as your own to be “a powerful cultural taboo” and should not be allowed for ethical reasons. Similarly, we find that although there are ethical problems that can arise from unauthorized duplication, plagiarism is not inherently illegal according to U.S. law:
The most common vehicle used by owners of material to challenge plagiarism is the Copyright Act. However, the law and plagiarism intersect only imperfectly. Plagiarism is not a legal term, and though an instance of plagiarism might seem to be the quintessential act of wrongful copying, it does not necessarily constitute a violation of copyright law. Copyright protection applies only to original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression. (Mawdsley 261)
However, in Jewish law, there appears to be a general agreement that ordinary plagiarism would indeed be considered stealing. The Pirkei Avot (usually translated as Ethics of the Fathers), a Mishnaic tract, states that, “he who reports something in the name of the one who said it brings redemption into the world.” Although the theory...