Why is plagiarizing wrong, when our founding fathers did it?

In writing the Constitution, Thomas Jefferson was "influenced" by Thomas Paine and John Locke. When looking at the writings, it is clear that Jefferson copied and pasted... So the people stating that plagiarizing is wrong and against the law, are against the U.S. Constitution and are committing treason? Are we not being patriotic if we plagiarize (Copy and Past)?

4 Answers

  • 9 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. When authoring such a document, as in the making of laws, phrases which have meaning to educate people are often used. The people who wrote the law in Oregon making it legal for 'assisted suicide' did not create the phrase 'assisted suicide'.

    In creating such documents you do not name the people from whose works you borrow such phrases. To have footnotes on the Declaration would not help make it any more of the thing that it is: a complain against the King, and the declaration of a people who proclaim themselves to be free. Jefferson wasn't trying to get an 4.0 on his paper in class; he wasn't trying to make money from it. He was writing a document that America knew would start a war. There's no sense in saying "Locke wrote this" or "that phrase came from the Bible" when you declaring your freedom and starting a war.

    If you wrote a letter to the Editor, you could do the same thing, that is, use a well-known phrase--because it is well known and has meaning. It is when you claim a piece of literature as your own, whether a poem, fiction, or non-fiction, you are legally allowed to get away with a certain amount of what is called 'fair use' of well-known phrases.

    However, it's up to your publisher and their attorney's what they will consider 'fair use', because the U.S. Copyright Office has this to say:

    "The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.......The Copyright Office can neither determine if a certain use may be considered fair nor advise on possible copyright violations. If there is any doubt, it is advisable to consult an attorney."


    Fair use "provides for the legal, non-licensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use

    Without fair use, we could not say things in a public setting that are still under copyright, talking 'culture' would be prohibited . For example, if I said on TV, "Girls were girls and men were men, those were the days," I could be sued by the producers of All In the Family.

  • Will
    Lv 7
    9 years ago

    You are missing out on understanding some of the requirements of plagiarism. First off, you have to take someone else's work and claim it as your own. No one actually claimed authorship of the language in the Constitution. They just said "Here is this proposal to replace the Articles of Confederation."

    Second, what we know of as plagiarism was not only popular up through the 18th Century, but encouraged. It was felt that interpreting the works of the masters would avoid "unnecessary invention."

    And third, since nothing in committing plagiarism gives 'aid and comfort' to our enemies, there is no way in Hades that it could be construed as treason.

    If you go find a good constitutional law class, it will put to rest some of these fantasies of yours.

  • 5 years ago

    It was the Declaration of Independence. However, Jefferson did plagiarize the document. He literally restated Locke, Lee, and Paine.

  • 9 years ago

    Two wrongs don't make a right.

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