Two recent books provide brief and interesting insights into two different aspects of scholarly communication.
Richard Posner, the amazingly prolific federal judge, has recently published “The Little Book of Plagiarism.” As both an academic and a judge, Posner is well placed to comment on the rash of high-profile accusations of plagiarism. His book is a thoughtful attempt to sort out why plagiarism is such an issue and to distinguish those situations in which it is worthy of sanction from those in which it is forgiveable and even desirable. Among other useful discussions is his distinction between plagiarism per se and “creative imitation,” which is something upon which culture depends, and Posner’s use of “detrimental reliance,” a concept from contract law, as a way to highlight why certain instances of plagiarism are especially blameworthy. Apart from its overly sanguine assessment of the TurnItIn software product as heralding the end of plagiarism, this is an interesing and helpful meditation on a vexing contemporary issue.
“Art History and Its Publications in the Electronic Age” is a report issued in September of 2006 that takes an in-depth look at the special problems and potential of scholarly publication in art history, where the need to reproduce high quality images adds layers of copyright uncertainty, permissions expenses and production complexity to the already strained system of academic publishing. Its discussion of copyright issues is a balanced look at the needs of artists as well as those of scholarly authors, and its examination of the publication process should be enlightening to many readers. The concrete recommendations about how libraries and university presses might collaborate to improve the climate for art historical scholarship deserve widespread attention and consideration.
The art history report, incidentally, is available on the Internet under a Creative Commons license at http://cnx.org/content/col10376/1.1, or from Rice University Press’s digital print on demand service. I think this is the first POD book I have ever purchased, and I am very impressed by the speed and quality of Rice’s service.