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Is it plagiarism when you reuse your own work?

Yes. And no. So say those commenting on an unapologetic admission by Mike Rosen of The Denver Post that he lifted part of a column about supply-side economics from earlier work written for … no, not The Denver Post, but the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News.

Comments (two) on Poynter’s Romenesko were firmly on the “no” side as of Devil Machine press time:

“You can no more plagiarize yourself then you can visit an unsafe haven.”

“Rewriting yourself is a nonscandal. I do it occasionally, and with links to the original versions, but even if I didn’t, this goes beyond being a victimless crime; in the annals of journalism, this doesn’t count as a crime at all.”

Reaction on Denver’s Westword blog, where the issue first was raised, was more nuanced (not to mention profane). Here’s a sampling:

“He’s stealing money from the DP which is paying him to produce original content.”

“Would the current owner of the Rocky Mountain News archives be interested in Rosen’s ‘borrowing’ of their copyrighted material?”

“Rosen didn’t plagiarize, which makes the headline wrong. A better headline and focus for the story: ‘Mike Rosen Recycles Column: Do Readers Deserve to Know They’re Reading a Rerun?’ That’s the heart of the debate, whether Rosen needed to inform readers and his employer that he was recycling. Unfortunately, it’s lost under a loaded buzzword like plagiarism, and everyone is arguing about that instead of what matters.”

What a robust ethical discussion this situation would prompt in a student newsroom. Should you reuse your own material? Can you plagiarize yourself? If you reuse your own material, what do you owe readers in terms of transparency? What do you owe your former employer, for whom you originally wrote the material (better check out that copyright issue)?

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