Plagiarism: from Latin “plagiarius” (“kidnapper”), use pioneered by Roman poet Martial who complained that another poet had “kidnapped his verses”.– (Wikipedia)

THERE IS a half-life to the dynamics of political scandal. If headlines stay on the front page a week and then move inside, its political toxicity may be diluted and the culprit may survive. Two weeks, and new revelations, and the poison will eventually topple the most popular of politicians. So it was for Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, Germany’s charismatic and aristocratic defence minister, key ally to Chancellor Angela Merkel, a shooting star brought down this week by claims that he had engaged in plagiarism in his doctoral thesis.

The website GuttenPlag Wiki says it has detected plagiaristic “lifts” on 324 of the dissertation’s 407 pages and is finding more by the day. Bayreuth University has stripped him of his doctoral title and zu Guttenberg, who resigned his post, admits to “serious mistakes” which had “unconsciously” found their way into his text.

Coincidentally, a new anti-Gadafy front has opened up in the London School of Economics where the doctoral thesis written by his son Seif al-Islam is also being checked for plagiarism following complaints by online activists. Now one of the major challenges of academe, plagiarism is claiming high-profile political casualties.

Academics in Ireland worry at what they see as a serious cultural problem associated with the ease of cut-and-paste Internet use. Many students of this generation, they complain, simply do not understand why wholesale lifting of material, often verbatim, is seen as morally culpable, and certainly do not see it as intellectual theft. Concerned at the threat to the country’s ’s reputation as a source of quality research, the Royal Irish Academy in September urged new procedures to protect against falsification and plagiarism.

A recent US survey in Education Week, cited by, reports 54 per cent of student respondents admitting to plagiarising from the internet; 74 per cent, to “serious” cheating at least once in the past year; while half believed teachers sometimes chose to ignore cheating. Are Irish students that different?

And then, of course, there’s that truly scandalous hardy annual – claims of plagiarism in the Eurovision Song Contest. This year Denmark’s A Friend In Londonis accused. The melody of their New Tomorrowis apparently similar to Face 2 Faceby Future Trance United. Imitation may be flattery but it’s also a route to the courts.