September 2, 2011

"Sampling" Legal Writing? Hip Hop and Legal Ethics

Kim D. Chanbonpin, The John Marshall Law School, is publishing Legal Writing, the Remix: Plagiarism and Hip Hop Ethics in the Mercer Law Review (forthcoming). Here is the abstract.

In this Article, I focus on hip hop music and culture as an access point to teach first-year law students about the academic and professional pitfalls of plagiarism. Hip hop provides a good model for comparison because most of our entering students are immersed in a popular culture that is saturated with allusions to hip hop. As a point of reference for incoming law students, hip hop possesses a valuable currency as it represents something real, experienced, and relatable.

Significant parallels exist between the cultures of U.S. legal writing and hip hop, although attempting direct analogies would be absurd. Chief among these similarities is the reliance of both cultures on an archive of knowledge, borrowing from which authors or artists build credibility and authority. Whether it is from case law or musical recordings, the necessary dependence on a finite store of information means that the past work of others will be frequently incorporated into new work. The ethical and professional danger inherent in this type of production is that one who borrows too freely from the past may be merely copying instead of interpreting or innovating. In the academic world, this is plagiarism. Members of the hip hop community call this “biting.” In neither culture is this mode of production celebrated.

My goals for this project are two-fold. First, as a professor of legal writing, I want to ameliorate the problem of plagiarism that I have seen growing worse each year. Second, as a scholar, I would like to contribute to the growing body of literature on hip hop and the law. This Article marks the beginning of my attempt to theorize a hip hop ethics and develop its application to the teaching, the academic study, and perhaps eventually, the reform of the law.
Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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