there’s a zillion people writing about the same stuff these days

… and we need to factor that into our worries about plagiarism.


While I appreciate the concern of the eagle-eyed tipster who pointed this out to me — do I think funny and talented writer Jeb Lund plagiarized a goofy joke I told in the comments on Deadspin five months later? I do not! Of course not. I think it’s a funny joke that two different people who thought of the same reference came up with separately. I’m damn sure I’m not the first to use that reference to call someone old. I may not even have been the first to make that joke about Wade and the Heat. How could I be sure of such a thing? There’s millions and millions of people watching the same sports, following the same news, and accessing the same media. And as this example demonstrates, a lot of us have been marinating in the same pop culture for a long time. Similar thinking is inevitable.

It’s an odd time to think about plagiarism. On the one hand, it’s proving remarkably difficult to get accountability for people like Fareed Zakaria who have demonstrated repeated, unambiguous acts of plagiarism. On the other hand, there’s also a lot of misplaced suspicion, in my opinion, particularly given that economic incentives compel writers to all write about the same stuff. I’ve had writer friends grumble about one piece or another looking too much like theirs, and I’m not quite sure what to say; they’re aggregating the same video or essay that emerged from the same events as everybody else. Sometimes, people accuse others of patchwriting when all I’m seeing is a different summary of the same material. Stand up comics are even worse. It seems like every day there’s a new joke stealing scandal. If it’s repeated and consistent, then for sure, that’s a problem. But if it’s one or two times? There’s 10,000 of you guys! Of course people think up the same jokes. We have to be able to simultaneously call out the egregious, repeated cases like Zakaria or Benny Johnson and be careful in our accusations about specific incidents. It’s not always easy, and accusations of plagiarism will always have an element of uncertainty to them. Adults just have to use their discrimination and make adult judgments. Luckily, people like Zakaria and Johnson make it easy for us.

Anyway, Lund’s piece is funny and correct, so check it out.