Friday, March 19, 2010

Yes, Copying Program Notes Counts as Plagiarism

“Correspondent” John Lawhorne reports a wonderful story in this week’s Arcadian about a family that hired musician Joel Raney to score an anthem in honor of their mother’s half century as a church musical director.

Lawhorne's page-10 opus lumbers along in his unmistakable style, freighted with passive voice (“... was taken up and promoted...,” “a fee was agreed on...,” “.... anthem was recorded...,” “anthem was presented...” “Raney was invited...” “March 21 was agreed ...” “the anthem will be heard...”) and regimented to insure almost every paragraph marches onstage to the uniform beat of article-noun, article-noun, article-noun (“The concert ...” , “The presentation ...” “The concert ...,” “The family...” “The project...,” “The score...,” “The family...,” “The idea...,” The anthem...” “The surprise,...” “The family...” “The anthem ...”).

And so when Lawhorne's flat-footed shuffle through the language suddenly bumps into a bright spot, the reader alerts: Whence cometh this refreshing, vigorous prose? And so suddenly, in the midst of the obligatory bio?

In Lawhorne’s case, the brightest prose seems to have come directly from a brochure that he copied -- not quite word for word, but almost -- almost enough to be charged with plagiarism.

Last August, a Pittsburgh, Pa., company called "Volkwein's Music" left a pretty green brochure lying around the Internet. Volkwein's brochure may not be the source of Lawhorne's plagiarism; more likely both Lawhorne and the nice folks at Volkwein had a bio sheet from Raney's publicist. Volkwein used the curriculum vitae to create a brochure; Lawhorne used it as his own by-lined work. One is publicity and promotion; the other is plagiarism.

Lawhorne: After receving his master of music degree in piano performance from The Julliard School in New York, Raney went on to work as a musical director and conductor for numerous Broadway and off-Broadway productions.

Volkwein: .... went on to receive his master of music degree in piano performance from the Julliard School in New York. After graduation, he worked as a musical director and conductor for numerous Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.

Lawhorne: He owns Catfish Music, a music production company in Chicago that produces music for televsion and radio commercials for major companies.

Volkwein: ... Joel currently owns a music production company in Chicago, Catfish Music, where he and a team of composers create music for televison and radio commercials.

Lawhorne: Raney is an editor for Hope Publishing Company in Carol Stream, Illinois.

Volkwein: Joel is an editor at Hope Publishing Company in Carol Stream, Illinois.

Lawhorne: He serves as artist-in residence at the first Presbyterian Church in River Forest, Illinois where he plays regularly for the services and composes for the choirs and ensembles.

Volkwein: He currently serves as artist-in-residence at the First Presbyterian Church in River Forest, Illinois, where he plays regularly for the services and composes for the choirs and ensembles.

The final give-away that Lawhorne copied someone else's paragraphs into the middle of his story is those ideas appear in exactly the same order as his source materials.


  1. So my paper gets thinner every week but the no. of plagiarisms oww find every month remains constant meaning the ratio of writing to CTL-C diminishes with each passing day. Never thought I'd say this, but the only stuff I trust in D-R's press anymore is labeled (AP). When a writer plagiarizes and editors call him back for more that tells me something.

  2. Madam Wolf, you seem very focused on plaigerism in the Sun Media Newspapers. Did you ever work for them? Do you have an opinion on the plaigerism charges against VP Biden, which prompted him to drop out of the Dem. Pres. Primary in 1988?

  3. Old Word Wolf opposes plagiarism by any and all, Mr. Biden included. The blog's focus is simply on the newspaper that's tossed in my driveway every morning. If the plagiarism stops, the blog goes away.

  4. As a professional program annotator, I find this story interesting but, sadly, not surprising. In my research, I find countless instances where program notes are copied in whole or in part, as I've written about here:

    One aspect of this continued plagiarism is that, over time, errors of fact are perpetuated until they become accepted as correct, as I've written here:

    Of course, this makes the researcher's job more tedious, as I must check and double check every "fact" as I go along.

    I find plagiarized material every time I conduct background research for my program essays. It’s theft. It’s lazy, unprofessional, and just plain wrong.

    Keep up the good fight!

  5. I think the SUN is slowly improving -- at least in the department of locally written news because there is NONE! All they run nowdays is wire stuff that everyone gets on the home web pages anyway. Notice they don't even run wire corrections I see my Yahoo home page corrects its stories but the Sun never does unless its a local event time. They are improving -- only becasue theres no lower place to sink to than plagirism and ignoring accuracy.