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Here we'll explore the nexus of legal rulings, Capitol Hill policy-making, technical standards development, and technological innovation that creates -- and will recreate -- the networked world as we know it. Among the topics we'll touch on: intellectual property conflicts, technical architecture and innovation, the evolution of copyright, private vs. public interests in Net policy-making, lobbying and the law, and more.

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April 2, 2008

People Unclear on the Concept?

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Neat-o-rama blog reported that students in UT San Antonio were told to come up with a "code of academic integrity in order to combat plagiarism". Apparently they then copied a chunk of their code from BYU.

Now on the surface this is a ha-ha funny story about kids who copy when they shouldn't. But the people I think don't get it here are the teachers and Neat-o-rama (though in fairness the blogs' commenters seem to get the point better than the blog itself). Why shouldn't the students copy an existing code from a university that is respected and has presumably tested and refined its code over some period of time? What's the value in inventing something new when there are good examples around?

By analogy I suspect you wouldn't find many differences in the criminal codes of the various US states pertaining, say, to burglary. The established terms and definitions are shared; the understanding of the crime is shared. The specific wording may vary here and there, but if I was going to set up a 51st state it would seem logical for me to look at and probably copy criiminal codes that have (you should pardon the term) been debugged by others.

In terms of inventive arts I don't think there are a whole lot of innovations one ought to make in putting together a code of conduct. Clarity, forthrightness, simplicity and other metrics related to the understandability of the result seem to me to count for a whole lot more than how the particular words are arranged.

It's true that one of the important parts of an educational writing exercise - as well as in the real world - is learning to acknowledge one's sources properly. And I'd bet the students didn't do that here, but whose fault is it for not teaching them that?

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use


COMMENTS

1. Mathias Klang on April 3, 2008 3:23 AM writes...

"And I'd bet the students didn't do that here, but whose fault is it for not teaching them that?"

Maybe they would have been able to understand how to acknowledge if they had actually read the text they took and claimed as their own?

Permalink to Comment

2. Joe on April 9, 2008 2:58 AM writes...

You're exactly right about the copying of laws. I worked at the Nevada legislature last year and a bunch of their state codes are just grabbed from California. It's quite common for smaller states to borrow wide ranges of law from larger states. (I'm sure it does happen in criminal code but it's even more common in the really dry stuff like professional licensing or real estate law).

And, as you point out, that only makes sense--why re-invent the wheel? To fetishize originality at the expense of good public policy in government would be rightly considered foolish and vain; I don't see why it would be different in this case.

Permalink to Comment

3. drwex on April 9, 2008 9:45 PM writes...

I like that phrase "fetishize originality at the expens of good public policy". Thank you for sharing your experience!

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