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    Plagiarism – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. I read an article which sounded familiar. I checked and found that the author had lifted and passed off as his own work whole sections from something I had written. This is against Jewish law, isn’t it?

    plagiarismA. Plagiarism, the theft of another person’s words, transgresses the law of “Do not steal”.

    There is an associated but more complicated issue – the adoption of someone else’s ideas. Jewish law requires that one’s source should be acknowledged: “He who quotes a thing in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world”. This applies even though ideas disseminated by their author are meant to become part of mankind’s cultural heritage.

    The question is whether the author has a legal as well as a moral claim. If the author or their associates expend time, money and material on publishing a work, others must not adversely affect the publication by causing a loss, e.g. by producing a pirated edition.

    In the 16th century when the Maharam of Padua issued an edition of Rambam’s “Mishneh Torah”, Rabbi Moses Isserles forbade the purchase of a rival edition. Opponents of the ban said that it would only hold validity if it were clearly stated to have geographical or personal limitations.

    There is an issue in regard to photocopying. If you buy a book it is yours and in most cases you can copy or even destroy it (though there is a problem if the text contains the Divine Name), but if the book belongs to a library, there are restrictions on copying.

    When I was a Jews’ College student in London, I found that the file copies of the “Jewish Chronicle” had been defaced; the weekly sermon had been cut out, presumably by an aspiring preacher (not me) who had no ideas of his own. I guess the College could have considered legal action against the malefactor if they had caught him.

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