Plagiarize, Plagiarize Plagiarize…

There’s a song by an old Comedian named Tom Lehrer called Lobachevsky .  The key message in the song (for those of you who don’t want to listen to it) is “Plagiarize! Let no one else’s work evade your eyes. Remember why the good lord made your eyes so don’t shade your eyes but plagiarize, plagiarize plagiarize! But remember, please, always to call it research.”  Now obviously this is satire, comedy, not meant to be taken as advice on how to actually be an academic, but there are students out there who think that as long as you’re taking from your own work it isn’t plagiarism.  Self-plagiarism is a tricky topic.  It is ok for established researchers to use work they have previously written, often they cite where it came from due to publishing issues, but when we are students we are often told that we can’t re-use parts of our old projects in new ones and we certainly can’t just reproduce our old work and hand it in again.  So then why is it ok in regards to copyright and culture?  ABC’s show “Once Upon a Time” came back from its winter hiatus this week.  Characters like Snow White, Belle, Robin Hood, Pinocchio and Captain Hook were all featured in the latest episode; blatant rip-offs of not only previous Disney (ABC’s corporate owner) movies but of cultural works from the commons.  Now it could be argued that since these are re-imaginings of the original characters, placed in different contexts and dealing with different plot lines and problems, that it is a reworking and not a recycling of character.  We might take Cheré Harden Blair’s point that if we try and untangle the threads of our interconnected culture we will find that every untied knot of cultural influence leads farther and farther back: “an infinite number of other writings, other voices, that literally “know no halt.”” (2009, pg 172).  But what do we take from the success of 2016’s “The Jungle Book” or the upcoming remake of “Beauty and the Beast”?  The story is the same as the originals, the differences are mostly cosmetic (Live action rather than animation).  As these movies continue to get more cultural cachet more and more of them are planned.  Mulan is being discussed now, As are The Lion King, Dumbo and Aladdin.  Are these truly new versions of these old creative offerings or just a mouse taking advantage of another cash cow?



  1. You raised some interesting points regarding plagiarism and an individuals rights to reuse there own work. In response to your question about whether the reproduction of original movies fall into some of the pitfalls and snags of plagiarism, I would have to suggest they do. Although, where did Walt Disney’s 1991 Beauty and the Beast come from? The idea for the movie is said to come from a traditional French fairy tale written by writer Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, entitled La Belle et la Bête or Beauty and the Beast. Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve version has also been rewritten numerous times and in slightly different ways; does this make de Villeneuve a victim of plagiarism perhaps? If so, that would make Disney’s ‘original’ version of Beauty and the Beast one of the culprits of plagiarism, or as you deemed the action, “taking advantage of another cash cow.” I realize that I am not really answering your question, but possibly further blurring the lines surrounding it, mostly because I myself am still grappling with the issues surrounding plagiarism and Foucault’s understanding of “What is an Author” as well. Despite the issues surrounding plagiarism and the new production of Beauty and the Beast, I still plan to go watch the new movie.

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  2. I think in the case of academic self-plagiarism the answer is quite simple. In order to gain credit for your work, you have to put in the time. It is easy to fall into a state of dissatisfaction with the academic community because of this reality, but at the end of the day degrees need to be earned. When you branch outside of this argument everything becomes very muddied very quickly. Creativity is subjective, and in that sense one story, one idea, can be reimagined in many different ways. I don’t know if I would ever say, even in the case of “new” stories, that disney is producing for the right reasons. However, I do want to consider those artist involved in the reimagining. Just because Disney’s massive conglomerate holds the rights, does not mean that real artists were not involved in its creation. It is far to easy to be see Disney as “just another cash cow” than it is to unfold the network of creative individuals that are involved in each production.


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