Newsweek: Is "cryptomnesia" a valid excuse for plagiarism?

We've been reading a lot just now about that software engineer, Serge Aleynikov, who worked at IDT and Goldman Sachs and now has been arrested by the FBI for stealing intellectual property.

It appears that this type of crime is growing rampant.

This week Newsweek has a fascinating web-exclusive article about cryptomnesia, an excuse some have made for their acts of plagiarism, another related and particularly scurrilous and annoying form of theft.
You didn’t Plagiarize, Your Unconscious Did
Is cryptomnesia—copying the work of others without being aware of it—to blame for journalism's ultimate sin? Um, maybe not.
By Russ Juskalian | Newsweek Web Exclusive

The charge of plagiarism carries a special sort of shame. Take the case of Kaavya Viswanathan, the young writer whose 2006 debut novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, contained so many passages lifted from other books that her writing career was over by her junior year at Harvard. For those whose literary taste is at the opposite end of the spectrum from chick lit, consider Dante: he put the fraudulent in an even deeper circle of hell than the violent.

But could some alleged plagiarists—like Maureen Dowd, Chris Anderson, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and even Viswanathan, who all either deny the charge, or blame their copying on unconscious mistakes—be guilty of psychological sloppiness rather than fraud? Could the real offense be disregard for the mind's subliminal kleptomania? And if it is real, is unconscious copying (or "cryptomnesia" to those who study the phenomenon) preventable? Or, seeing as Nietzsche ripped off a passage of Thus Spoke Zarathustra from something he'd read as a child, and former Beatle George Harrison was found guilty, in court, of unconsciously copying the music for his hit song, "My Sweet Lord"—is cryptomnesia both unavoidable, and the perfect excuse?

"Clearly all of us, referring to journalists, probably appropriate phrases or ideas, on occasion, without realizing it," said Howard Schneider, dean of the School of Journalism at New York's Stony Brook University, and former Newsday editor. But intent and degree count, he said, and journalists should be held to a particularly high standard when it comes to plagiarism...more...

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