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Can you plagiarize yourself?

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It seems that wunderkind writer Jonah Lehrer (who I probably shouldn't call a wunderkind since I'd never heard of him, but then again, when you've got three books under your belt at 30, and one's a best-seller, blog for the New Yorker, and have been published in the NYT, that's ain't nothing) is in trouble for, what most are calling, self-plagiarism.

It's not really plagiarism at all, but rather, he was caught recycling some of his old pieces from one publication and using them in another, which is considered not very nice in the journalistic world (since you're paying someone to write new stuff, not clandestinely quote old stuff and hope no one notices).

And if you look at the example that got the ball rolling, one that Jim Romanesko found, it is pretty bad. He didn't borrow a sentence, he borrowed the first three grafs of the story.  So in essence, it really was the same story written in slightly different words.

To his credit, as Erik Wemple at the Post notes, when called on it, Lehrer did own his mistake, quickly and fully.

I agree with those who say that calling this self-plagiarism is perhaps a bit too strong. Then again, is it true that he didn't steal any content?  The article he wrote for the New Yorker was in fact borrowed from the Wall Street Journal, which one assumes owns the copyright on that piece.  Lehrer may not have self-plagiarized, but he may have in fact plagiarized from the Wall Street Journal, even if the author was himself.

Either way, I know it's tempting to re-use your own stuff.  I've had what I've thought are killer one-liners that don't get picked up by anyone else, and I've wanted to re-use them again (and I just may have).  But being paid to write two different stories (I'm assuming he was paid), and using the same three intro paragraphs, albeit phrased slightly differently, is a clear no-no.

The author of a runaway best-seller should know better.

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