Recently, while following that white rabbit known as Research through the wonderland of the internet, I came across an article with a title that stopped me in my tracks: The Ethics of Self-Plagiarism.
Even before I read it, all sorts of questions and thoughts popped into my head. The first was: how the heck can you plagiarize yourself? After all, isn’t plagiarism stealing work from someone else?
Of course, as I read the article, I realized they were talking about academic journals, research papers, etc. rather than novels or even blog posts.
Phew, big sigh of relief.
Okay, not that big. While I’ve reposted several old blog posts, I’ve always done so with a brief explanation and a link to the original article.
Even so, I had trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that you can actually steal your own work. Now, one would hope you’re not deliberately trying to pass off an old work as an entirely new one. Barring that, why would it be an issue to recall bits and pieces of an old work in a new one? Doesn’t most academic work (and creative for that matter) build on what has been done before?
But maybe I’m missing some of the nuances of the issue.
Of course, if you’ve signed away certain rights to the publisher(which, to me, strengthens the idea that authors should be able to keep all rights to their work).
Now, does any of this apply to fiction writers and bloggers? Many of us have pet ideas or areas of expertise we touch on over and over. Perhaps we’re just re-exploring the idea and not lifting any old content directly but I’m sure at least a few of us have unconsciously used the same bits of material again and again because it’s hanging around in our brain like that last party guest who just won’t get the hint to leave.
I know I don’t double-check any of my post for any reused phrases. As I said before, if I’m republishing a whole post, I always reference the original. But maybe there’s other times where I’ve inadvertently used my work again. I’d never stopped to wonder whether this might be unethical in any way. But now I am wondering, just a little.
If you’re curious, here’s a link to the original article I read: The Ethics of Self-Plagiarism. If you want to read the whole article, you’ll have to register for the site though. Note, it’s a site that provides plagiarism checking services, so it’s possible that colors their views on the issue.
Here are a couple of other links with more info:
What do you think? Does self-plagiarism really exist? If so, does it apply to fiction and non-fiction alike? Is there a gray area?
Writing Tools by Pete O’Shea on Flickr, CC BY 2.0