Saturday, May 03, 2008

Plagarism or paraphrase?

I'm curious... is this so close as to be considered plagarism? Or is it legitimate paraphrase?

The Man in the Iron Mask (French: L'Homme au Masque de Fer) (died November 1703) was a prisoner who was held in a number of jails, including the Bastille and the Chateau d'If, during the reign of Louis XIV of France. The identity of this man has been thoroughly discussed, mainly because no one ever saw his face which was hidden by a mask of black velvet cloth. Later retellings of the story have claimed that it was an iron mask. ...

The first surviving records of the masked prisoner are from July 1, 1669, when Louis XIV's minister the Marquis de Louvois sent a prisoner to the care of BĂ©nigne Dauvergne de Saint-Mars, governor of the prison of Pignerol, then part of France.

The List Universe:
The Man in the Iron Mask (died November 1703) was a prisoner held in a number of Jails (including the Bastille) during the reign of King Louis XIV of France. The true identity of the man is unknown because no one ever saw his face which was hidden by a black velvet mask. Fictional retellings of the story refer to the mask as an “Iron” mask. The first records that mention the prisoner are from 1669 when Louis XIV’s minister placed the prisoner in the care of the governor of the prison of Pignerol.

According to Louvois' letter, the man's name was Eustache Dauger. Louvois instructed Saint-Mars to prepare a cell with multiple doors which were to prevent anyone from the outside listening in. Dauger was also to be told that if he spoke of anything other than his immediate needs he would be killed. Saint-Mars was to see Dauger only once a day in order to provide food and whatever else he needed. But, according to Louvois, the prisoner should not require much since he was "only a valet". ...
The prisoner died on November 19, 1703, and was buried the next day under the name of Marchioly. All his furniture and clothing were reportedly destroyed afterwards.

The List Universe:
According to the letter that accompanied him, the man’s name was Eustache Dauger. The letter instructed the governor to prepare a cell with multiple doors - to prevent anyone outside from listening in. The prisoner was told that if he spoke to anyone of anything other than his immediate needs, he would be killed. The Governor was the only person who was to see the prisoner, and he provided him with his daily food. When the prisoner died, all of his belongings were destroyed. To this day, no one knows who he was.

Note that The List Universe does not credit Wikipedia.


  1. I don't know about plagiarism - but I do know that it is generally almost impossible to claim any sort of copyright on a short, somewhat generic retelling of an historic event. You can't copyright history. And there are only so many ways you can summarize in a few short sentences particular historical events.

    To put the legal spin on it, if there is only a single set of words you could use to express a particular idea, then those words cannot be copyrighted - because ideas are not copyrightable, and if so if those words could be copyrighted, you'd essentially be copyrighting the idea. (The same holds true if there is only a small set of ways to express an idea - you can't just claim the idea by copyrighting the three ways to say it - you can't copyright it at all).

    Again, this doesn't speak directly to plagiarism, but I'm sure you can see the parallels. If there are only a handful of ways to express something in a few sentences, invariably, everyone who expresses it is going to sound very much alike. This is particularly likely if you are describing something that happened, like history. As an experiment, you could go off, without referencing either of the texts, and try to write a paragraph yourself about that bit of history - and have someone else who hasn't even read it (but who knows the general story after you tell it to them) do the same thing. I'd bet you'd see it was similar.

    I mean, how many ways can you describe a prisoner in an iron mask in France in that time who was once held in the bastille?

  2. It's plagiarism. It wouldn't be if the ordering of the sentences and some of the wording wasn't so similar, because as DBB said, there are only so many ways of stating this set of facts.

    But there ARE more ways of stating them than is evident here. The guy obviously paraphrased the Wiki entry.

    Copyright is a different and arbitrary set of principles.


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