Why Can’t I Plagiarize Myself?

twinsYesterday I got spammed by someone trying to sell me software to help me keep from plagiarizing myself. Huh? What’s the big deal? Why can’t I plagiarize myself? Who’s going to sue me if I do so — me?

Coincidentally, I’ve been planning to write a facetious post about plagiarizing myself, thinking to be clever — I mean, really. Self-plagiarism? Is there such a thing? I did a bit of research, and it turns out there is an epidemic of self-plagiarism going on. Successful authors who combine bits and pieces from different articles or previous books into one supposedly new article without citing the original sources. Fiction writers who copy and paste descriptions of characters and places from one novel to the next. Academics who use sections of old papers for new ones. (Called double-dipping.) Researchers who recycle old research into new documents. (Called salami-slicing.) Bloggers who repurpose old posts.

If someone is paying for new articles or new books, either as an editor or a reader, and they get recycled hash, there is a matter of ethics involved. But blogging? Who even cares?

A couple of times I have recycled old posts, and that’s what my facetious confession was supposed to be about — going back to some of my early posts that got a few views when they were first published and none since, updating or adding to them, and posting them as new. Why should my old writings go to waste? I wrote some good pieces that no one read. Why should I have to let such treasures get lost in the depths of the blogging garbage dump? They were my words. I should be able to dig them out and recycle them if I wish.

Sometimes I cut and paste a paragraph or so from a previous post to maintain consistency from post to post, especially if I’m writing about how I felt back then. I’d trust my blog posts more than I’d trust my memory. Is that self-plagiarism?

Occasionally, I’ve sent other bloggers an old post to use as a guest post (they knew it was an old post — in some cases they chose the article themselves). Is that self-plagiarism, too?

In my novels, I have been very careful not to reuse any part of one book in another (except in the case of Light Bringer where I paid homage to More Deaths Than One by letting Bob Stark appear briefly). Readers pick up echoes in books — if writers repeat themselves within a novel, readers sense the echo even if they are not consciously aware of it. And readers can pick up echoes from one novel to the next, which is why I don’t like series — too often, the writers recycle bits from one book to the next and the echoes are deafening.

But blogging? Does anyone really care? There are a handful of people who have read almost all 1111 of my posts, but most people who have stopped by read only a few. So who, besides me, would ever even notice if I repeat a section of a previous post for consistency’s sake or rework one of my first bloggeries?

Still, now that I’m aware of the problem, if ever I rewrite an old post, I will either link to it or mention that it’s a revision. You never know — someday I could get litigious and decide to sue myself, and I couldn’t afford the lawyers since I’d have to foot the bills for both sides of the case.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+