New book lauds benefits of plagiarism

A book released Tuesday by a York University professor supports the idea of copying in pop culture, day-to-day living and even in university, where one would assume even a whiff of the word would make professorial blood boil, wrote the Toronto Sun Oct. 13.

“Our very ability to exist as human beings depends on us having the ability to copy, so it can’t just be seen as an exceptional case,” said Marcus Boon, author of In Praise of Copying and a professor of English in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

“I think once you start to think about it that way, it becomes less about intellectual property and more about just understanding who we are,” said Boon.

That’s not to say Boon supports the idea of a student looking over to another student’s exam and jotting down answers. “It’s true there are cases where the rules are very clear that stealing from your neighbour’s exam kind of destroys the point of the exam, but on the other hand, maybe we should have exams that emphasize skilful copying,” he said.

As for plagiarism?

“We want you to plagiarize, but please just cite your plagiarism,” Boon said he tells his students. “If you don’t cite or explain where you got the idea from, then there’s a problem.”

Boon’s book – available for free via a PDF download on the Harvard University Press website – explores the history of copying up to the present-day Louis Vuitton knockoffs and BitTorrent downloads.

Plagiarism and illegal downloading cases seem to ignore the notion that there is a public domain “in which one has fairly free access to work that exists for public discussion and consumption,” Boon said. “I think we need to encourage and nurture the public domain and to allow things to exist there.”

Poor people shouldn’t have to pay every time they want to read a book, Boon said.

“That’s why copying is rampant at universities. You have a huge group of young people who don’t really have any money, who are very hungry for knowledge or fun or whatever it is and the idea that they should only have access to those things when they can afford to pay for it doesn’t entirely make sense.”

  • Boon also spoke about his new book on the benefits of copying literature, on CBC Radio’s “Here & Now” Oct. 12.

Sex-trade workers consent to grace period on prostitution laws

A group of prostitutes who felled the country’s prostitution laws two weeks ago are willing to support a four-month moratorium before the landmark ruling comes into effect – for a price, wrote The Globe and Mail Oct. 13. The group said on Tuesday that it will consent to the laws continuing until February, provided a Crown appeal of the Ontario decision is heard swiftly.

York University law Professor Alan Young – the moving force behind the prostitution challenge – said that Superior Court Judge Susan Himel has accepted the proposal.

The moves are the latest twists in a continuing struggle over laws governing solicitation, pimping and keeping a brothel.

Young said that his offer recognizes the fact that governments need time to assess and respond properly to rulings that carry such vast ramifications. “The issue of whether or not a constitutionally invalid law should remain in force pending appeal is a serious issue which should not be resolved in a precipitous manner without a careful consideration of the impact of the invalidation,” Young said.

If the appeal process is not expedited, he said that it could take up to five years for the Supreme Court of Canada to settle the issue. “In my view, having the impugned law remain in force for a further two to three months is a small price to pay for having the appeal heard with such great dispatch,” Young said.

Young said that, in an ideal world, the federal government would have responded to Judge Himel’s ruling by repealing the existing provisions and working on law-reform measures to address the safety and security concerns she raised. “Leaving the status of the current law open to debate does not serve the public interest, and we will do whatever we can to expedite final resolution of the issue of whether the existing legal regime will be given a second life,” he said.

“If this timetable cannot be achieved, we will not consent to any further extensions of the stay and the federal Crown will then need to seek a court order at a contested hearing if it wishes to extend the stay.”

Actress hooked on theatre and clowning

Since her first performance, Amy Lee (BA Hons. ’05), who is turning 27, has been in at least one play a year, every year, wrote the Canadian Jewish News Oct. 14 in a story about her latest role in the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People’s production of The Invisible Girl.

“I knew that theatre was what I loved to do and that I’d done it forever, but I thought, ‘Can I really do this? Can I really make this my living? It’s always been my passion, but can it be my job as well?’” she said. “And then I decided that’s what I wanted to do, that I wanted to make that happen.”

This is what brought Lee to York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts, where she pursued a bachelor’s degree in theatre and psychology.

While in school, Lee and her friend Heather Marie Annis (BFA Spec. Hons. ’05, MES ’07) were approached by Byron Laviolette (BA Spec. Hons. ’06, MA ’07), a fellow student, to perform in a short skit about clowns in Playground, the University’s student-run fringe festival. The play, a 10-minute sketch called Reflections about Morro and Jasp, two clowns, eventually turned into the creation of Up Your Nose And In Your Toes Productions in 2005, which produces various Morro and Jasp plays.

The production company’s shows have been featured in the Toronto Fringe Festival, including Morro and Jasp do puberty and Morro and Jasp go GREEN, which follow the adventures of two sister clowns played by Annis (Morro) and Lee, who plays Jasp.

Ideas for improving our commute

As part of the Moving Forward series, the Toronto Star has been asking commuters and activists the same question: What one thing would you suggest to improve transportation in Greater Toronto? wrote the Star Oct. 13.

Albert Koehl, environmental lawyer, cycling advocate and adjunct professor of natural resources law at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School:

“The one thing I would suggest is to make efficiency and safety the priority in transportation decisions.

“This will mean greater investment in mass transit (buses, streetcars, and trains), cycling and walking along with better planning to reduce distances people and goods travel. It will also mean making personal and organizational choices reflect real costs (and benefits) by implementing measures such as road tolls, carbon taxes, and parking fees.

Thinking outside the (jury) box

London-based First Quantum Minerals Ltd. is fighting [a seizure of its copper mine by the government of the Congo] by using what many multinationals locked in fights with governments have found to be an increasingly useful tool: international arbitration, wrote The Globe and Mail, Oct. 13 .

The process has its critics. Gus Van Harten, a professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, said international arbitration is mostly held in secret; unlike with open public courts, the process cannot be held accountable.

“The treaties tend to be very investor-friendly,” Van Harten said, adding that many disputes involve countries with reliable court systems and stable governments, unlike Congo.

Canada’s role questioned after Thais arrest Sri Lankans

Canada’s involvement in the arrest of 155 Sri Lankan migrants in Thailand, some of whom reportedly were set to board the next smuggling ship, is raising questions whether Canada may be “blurring the lines” between legitimate asylum seekers and those involved in human trafficking activities, wrote Postmedia News Oct. 13.

While the extent of Canada’s involvement isn’t clear, Professor Craig Scott of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School suggested Canada may be morally and possibly legally complicit if it were encouraging or economically supporting the Thai government in its efforts to deport the group en masse because Thailand isn’t bound by the same standards, having not signed UN human rights and refugee treaties.

The goal is to stay in the game

There’s no doubt that parental support and encouragement keep kids in sport, but there’s a line between support and pressure that parents should avoid crossing, wrote BC’s Maple Ridge Times, Oct. 13.

That line isn’t well defined, but a York University study of athletes who dropped out of a sport and those who stayed in offered a surprising picture of when parents should push and when they should back off.

According to lead researcher Jessica Fraser-Thomas, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science in the Faculty of Health, all the athletes in the study considered dropping out of sport. Those who did noted that their parents forced them to continue even as their interest waned. Whereas the children who chose to stay in sport, did so after exploring their options with their parents.

Learn another language to help protect yourself from Alzheimer’s disease

Bilingual people can delay the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease by up to four years, researchers have found, wrote London’s The Daily Mail online Oct 12 in a story about research by Professor Ellen Bialystok, distinguished research professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health.

“Speaking two languages isn’t going to do anything to dodge the bullet,” said Bialystok. But she added that improved cognitive reserve was “the same as the reserve tank in a car: Once the brain runs out of fuel, it can go a little farther.”

Bialystock said that speaking more than one language is related to inhibitory or cognitive control, or the brain’s ability to stop focusing on one thing and focus on the next. Those who can speak more than one language develop this skill when they “silence” once language in their minds while talking in another.

She added that it is not yet clear whether patients benefit if they don’t speak a language fluently or if they need to speak it every day.

The age at which the second language needs to be acquired to yield the protective effect is also unknown meaning, for now, it is never too late to start those language classes.

On air

  • Ian Roberge, political science professor at York’s Glendon College, spoke about former OPP commissioner Julian Fantino’s decision to run for the Conservatives in the Vaughan byelection, on Radio Canada Ottawa’s “Le monde selon Mathieu” Oct. 12.