The Esteemed Guild of Plagiarists

I was reading about this recent scandal in the world of pen-and-paper adventures https://www.polygon.com/2019/5/8/18537481/elder-scrolls-plagiarism-elsweyr-dungeons-and-dragons The short version is video game company Bethesda released material as part of a promotion for The Elder Scrolls Online. Unfortunately, said material was clearly a find-replace job on previous published Dungeons and Dragons adventure. The examples in this article https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2019/05/bethesdas-latest-elder-scrolls-adventure-taken-down-amid-cries-of-plagiarism/ show how clumsy the plagiarism was.

Put another way, the plagiarism was not just wrong morally but also an offence against the fine arts of intellectual property theft. I can’t help imagine some more experienced plagiarist shaking their heads and wondering what was wrong with people these days. Which also made me think of the oft used tropes of Assassin Guilds or Thieves Guilds or societies of pickpockets or burglars etc. The idea being that these people may be murderers or thieves and utterly lacking in decent morals but somehow still have professional standards.

So why not a secret order of plagiarists? A society dedicated to maintaining tight professional standards of plagiarism. A guild that would have taken the unfortunate involved in the example above and maybe pointed out to them that if they really, really had to steal something maybe steal something a lot more obscure and while they are at it maybe move a few sentences around or at the very least get the plagiarised text to a point were it at least looked liked somebody made an effort.

Of course the problem with such a guild lies in the very nature of the crime. The finest, most skilled practitioners of the fine art of plagiarism could take a text and using their highly trained skills generate a text that even a dedicated scholar of the original would not be able to spot that the new text was plagiarised from the first. Having reached such a level of skill at plagiarism, these elite plagiarists would have actually transcended the very nature of their crime. Their theft would no longer be theft and their art would, by definition, no longer be plagiarism — for once plagiarism is done so well that it is undetectable then it is no longer plagiarism. It is a offence that vanishes when it is done sufficiently well.

12 thoughts on “The Esteemed Guild of Plagiarists

  1. A very Borgesian analysis.
    The slacktivist blog made the same point about the people in Trump’s orbit who are famous fixers: if they were that good, would they be actually famous?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Why would any fixer who actually wanted to keep a low profile work for an unthinking loudmouth like Trump? He’s got a documented habit of throwing people under the bus if he even thinks they’ve dissed him somehow.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the idea of an organized guild of plagiarists. It would need rules, of course – a constitution, a code of conduct, dispute resolution procedures and so forth. I wonder if there’s a good thieves’ guild around somewhere, whose documentation we could borrow for research purposes…?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I used to see this every now and then when I was following photography blogs and forums on a regular basis. Somebody on a forum would flaunt their great gallery, and eventually other photographers would notice that a significant portion of their images came from one or more relatively well known pros. And of course they’d be for sale, too.

    This was right before reverse image search began appearing, so it was a little harder to catch.

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    1. Consumer Reports’ now defunct blog Consumerist reported multiple cases of large businesses poaching the online designs from small individual artists, needleworkers, photographers, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One common version of that is ‘running a contest’. Get hundreds of amateur designers to create logos or designs for you, pay the winner a prize. Not only is the prize usually less than what a professional would have charged, the company gets to select itself from dozens of possibilities rather than having to discuss potential changes. They also, based on the rules for the contest, almost certainly get dozens of ‘backup’ designs from the non-winners who didn’t have to be paid anything.

        And that assumes they even pay out the prize. It’s not unheard of for a contest to take a mostly-good enough design from a contestant, modify it so it’s not that design exactly, then say the winner is the person who did the changes (without publicizing that they’re awarding their own people) and so the prize money never leaves the company.

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  4. You are a bad, bad meat robot, and now I almost feel morally obliged to take this nugget of comedy gold and spin it into thin flakes or snow, driven by the fickle storms of Saturnian moons.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. And who made me a great success,
    And brought me wealth and fame?
    Nikolai Ivanovich
    Lobachevsky is his name!
    AY! Nikol- I am never forget ze day I first meet za great Lobachevsky.
    In one word he tell me secret of success in mathematics.
    “PLAGIARIZE!
    Let no one else’s work EVADE your eyes!
    Remember why ze Good Lord MADE your eyes,
    So just PLAGIARIZE, PLAGIARIZE, PLAGIARIZE –
    Only be sure, of course, always to call it, please,
    Research.”

    And ever since I meet zis man, my life is not ze same!

    – Tom Lehrer, “Lobachevsky”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. @KMP —

      Ahem. You left out a line and very slightly misquoted a coupla others —

      Let no one else’s work EVADE your eyes!
      Remember why ze Good Lord MADE your eyes,
      –>So don’t shade your eyes,
      Just PLAGIARIZE, PLAGIARIZE, PLAGIARIZE –
      Only be sure, always to call it, please,
      Research.”

      I was corrupted at a very young age by my dad’s Lehrer albums. I had — and still pretty much have — every lyric memorized. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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