Our friend Dr. Lillian Glass recently won her plagiarism law suit, and was awarded $31,000. It's not polite to steal, and it is illegal. But what if you wrote it and reuse it? Isn't it okay to steal from yourself?
There are situations where reuse is downright criminal. For example, you write a book and the copyright ownership changes hands for one reason or another. You reuse the words you wrote, and you are infringing on someone else's copyright.
This is exactly what happened to writer Mel Gilden, as he explains in a feature he wrote for Omnimystery News: " I was asked by a book packager to write a mystery novel… to be called Surfing Samurai Robots, and so it was. My hero called himself Zoot Marlowe; he was an alien from another planet who came to earth to solve crimes like his hero — guess who… I still get email from fans asking me to write more adventures of Zoot …But I can't. I wrote the Zoot books for a packager I don't own the rights to the books or to any of the characters in them."
In the academic world, self-plagiarism is a real problem. Duplicate publication without attribution is a big no-no. A recent case out of Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada is a perfect example. Reginald Smith, an 80 year old professor, had three papers retracted from the the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences because he had reused work that he’d previously published– and they were co-authored with a colleague. The professor was both self-plagiarizing, and plagiarizing his buddy.
According to IThenticate, "Self-plagiarism can lead to charges of scientific misconduct, firings and fines. For students in an academic atmosphere, self-plagiarism is often treated with the gravity of a standard case of plagiarism, resulting in suspension or expulsion."
It’s certainly true that self-plagiarism is not nearly as cut-and-dry as standard plagiarism; there are a number of ongoing debates about the boundaries of reuse. However, whether from an ethical, academic, or legal standpoint, it makes sense for individuals to always provide attribution whether the work is another author’s or their own.
According to IThenitcate, "Even reusing a sentence or paragraph from your own previous paper can constitute self-plagiarism. Unless a very sophisticated internal system is in use to prevent previous publication, it makes sense to utilize plagiarism software to cross-reference previous work and highlight any instances of duplicate content prior to publication." Of course, IThenticate has the software.
Macleans.CA . “Self-plagiarism debate at Queen’s”. 30 November 2010. Rogers Publishing Limited. http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2010/11/30/self-plagiarism-debate-at-queens/
Wikipedia contributors. “Plagiarism” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 29 November 2010. Web. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism#Self-plagiarism