There is a view by Paula Defensor Knack that Philippine law on plagiarism is “vague.” This is from her comment on the remarks made by two foreign authors whose works were used without attribution in a Philippine Supreme Court decision.
I didn’t think the law was vague. My understanding is that plagiarism is one form of copyright infringement because Philippine law defines infringement as violation of an author’s economic or moral rights. One of the moral rights is that of credit for authorship, or the right to attribution.
It is also my understanding that Philippine law is silent on whether mens rea (or “criminal intent”) is something that a plaintiff has to prove in a civil action for damages arising from copyright infringement.
For now, the Supreme Court has pronounced that mens rea is an essential element of plagiarism. My understanding is that this theory is founded on plagiarism being a form of intellectual dishonesty or theft, and it therefore follows naturally that mens rea must be “somewhere in there” before one can be pronounced guilty of plagiarism. Such a view seems properly within the pro reo principle of giving the accused the benefit of doubt.
But what is interesting is the vehemence by which Knack pursues a kind of PR theme that it is somehow improper for Filipinos to speak their minds on the matter because it would disrespect the Supreme Court or damage the image of the Philippines. Knack does this to the extent of extensive ad hominem attacks on others who disagree with her. One example is the following (from many comments by Knack on the thread):
“… after the way you have behaved, hiding behind a pseduonym, you want US to argue with you ???????? You have forfeited so many chances, and all I was asking is that you reveal your identity so we can face each other personally if you want to argue. But dont drag the image of the entire country into your mess.”
I believe the Supreme Court as an institution deserves respect and support, but it is fair comment to engage in public discussion of the propriety of the acts of individual Justices, or even the wisdom of Court decisions. That is democracy at work.
After thinking about it long enough, I believe it is people like Knack who cheapen the image of the country not because she defends the indefensible (which may or may not be the case) but because she “cheapens” the discussion that she herself started.
The plagiarism case is only one of the many things we suffer in this benighted country, and of course it is not the most consequential. But do we have to suffer Knack as well?
The answer is Yes, because like the rest of us, Knack has the constitutional guarantee of free expression.