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In search of the elusive loop of plagiarism

OK, here’s a research project for you.

From this recent blog comment, I learned about Mustapha Marrouchi, a professor of literature who has plagiarized from various writers, including the noted academic entertainer Slavoj Zizek. Amusing, given that Zizek himself has been caught plagiarizing. Zizek copied from Stanley Hornbeck. Did Hornbeck plagiarize from anyone else? Probably not. But if he did, we could continue the chain.

Here’s another example: crime writer Quentin Rowan plagiarizes from various other writers. Did any of them copy?

Or, an even simpler case: Bruno Frey, who has a loop going back to himself.

So here’s the question: Does anyone know of any plagiarism loops (of length longer than 0, i.e., Frey doesn’t count), where A copies from B, B copies from C, C copies from D, . . ., Z copies from A?

At first this seems like a paradox, like those time travel stories where someone goes back and kills his grandmother before his mother was born. But it’s not; such a chain of plagiarism is theoretically possible. But does it every actually happen?


  1. Jonathan (another one) says:

    In legal briefs and computer code this happens all the time: A writes an argument (or subroutine). This argument is included in another brief or set of briefs (or programs). Eventually, when making the argument again, A cites the later briefs 9or incorporates the later set of subroutines including the one they used). The key here is that the intellectual understanding doesn’t involve attribution, so that plagiarism is part of the accepted milieu.

    In academia, this seems unlikely, except in the case where A, on completing the chain, doesn’t recognize the plagiarized section as his own original work.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Some famous finance prof mentioned the habit of big Japanese corporations to own each others stock. He got one of his students to figure out who actually owns them. If Corp A owned stock in Corp B and C, each of which owned stock in each other and in Corp A, it becomes a nontrivial exercise to figure out who actually owns Corp A. Corp A may be 50% owned by B, but A owns 50% of B, so in effect A has a 75% stake in itself and so on.

    After much work, the student reported back that many of the corps just owned themselves.

  3. Sean Mackinnon says:

    Not quite exactly what you’re looking for, but circular citation does come up on wikipedia sometimes as a way of generating false knowledge:

  4. John Mashey says:

    It’s tricky to be sure, because in some cases where it looks like A copied from B and vice-versa, it may actually be that they both copied from some hidden antecedent.
    Sometimes the presence of odd wording or errors raises the probability of a direct copy.

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