Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I don't think very much of this recent, misguided attempt to peg Barack Obama as some sort of plagiarist. This is not to say that a legitimate critique of his speeches on the grounds that they aren't original isn't possible. But plagiarism is a serious ethical breach that shouldn't be tossed around lightly, and since Obama received nothing short of Deval Patrick's explicit consent to use the phrases he did this whole matter simply doesn't rise to the point of stolen words. Besides, as I've endeavored to show elsewhere, a) this Obama-Patrick stuff was well-noted almost a year ago and precisely nobody had a complaint about it then, and b) Clinton herself is the victim of a far more egregious example of biting, and she doesn't seem to be at all bothered.

Part of my opinion, here, is formed in the crucible of my own experience. I have, in collaboration with others, generated bits of content that ended up being used by many, many people - pretty much the exact same circumstance that arose between Obama and Patrick. In those cases, it's never bothered me to see my words used by others - indeed, that was kind of the point. Conversely, I have been plagiarized - copy boosted, placed elsewhere, with another person signing and taking credit for it. That was infuriating, and I wasted no time exposing the fraudster in the most humiliating way possible. So, there's a vast distance between the two experiences.

It seems to me that in order to accept the premise that Obama "plagiarized" Patrick, you sort of also have to be of the mind that when Keith Olbermann used the phrase "I drink your milkshake" on teevee a few weeks ago, that he was plagiarizing somebody. And, frankly, in order to be of that mind, you sort of have to be an idiot.

[Incidentally, the source origin of "I drink your milkshake" is pretty tricky! Bonus points for anyone who knows the correct source of the phrase. Hint: it's not Upton Sinclair!]

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