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Does ‘Baron Cut and Paste's’ punishment fit the crime?

Published: 24 Nov 2011 14:24 GMT+01:00

In a new series on The Local, readers are invited to comment on a current topic, something that keeps coming up in conversation or simply a subject that engages, outrages or deserves a broader airing.

Guttenberg was once one of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most popular and promising cabinet ministers. But he got caught up in a nasty plagiarism scandal earlier this year, eventually resigning on March 1 after being accused of lifting at least 23 passages in his dissertation on constitutional law.

But to some the real scandal may be how he managed to escape criminal charges. Prosecutors said they closed their case against Guttenberg this week after he donated €20,000 to a children’s cancer charity.

The practice is actually quite common in Germany’s criminal justice system. Typically only those suspected of very minor crimes are invited to make donations in lieu of prosecution – and the poor are expected to make smaller ones than the rich.

Experts generally seem to see no problem with the arrangement.

Plagiarism expert Volker Rieble, for instance, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that it was “appropriate,” because other writers haven’t really faced economic damage from Guttenberg’s actions.

But what do you think? Did Guttenberg’s punishment fit the crime? Is it fair that he can now say he has no criminal record?

Registered users at The Local may add their comments in the field below. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do so here – it’s free and only takes a moment.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

14:59 November 24, 2011 by nemo999
Does the punishment meet the crime? Oh hell no. Is it fair that he can now say he has no criminal record? No, it is not fair, nor is it just for the people of Germany.
15:06 November 24, 2011 by mos101392
Typical of German culture, they seem to push some of their best to somewhere else. America prospers because of this. Einstein, Oppenheimer, and countless others have left a "brain drain" on Germany. America's power is Europe's refuse. Germany should be grateful that they receive 20k euros from Herr Guttenburg...but America has received much more with yet another great mind. It is Germany's own demise when they push their "trash" away. I hope that Europe continues this trend so America continues to prosper. I applaud German culture!
15:30 November 24, 2011 by jmclewis
The type an manner of justice one receives should be determined by wealth above all other factors. Jail is for the poor people only.
15:35 November 24, 2011 by minga
@mos101392

"Einstein, Oppenheimer, and countless others have left a "brain drain" on Germany"

I think you have mistaken this Guttenberg to "Johannes Gutenberg".
15:51 November 24, 2011 by mos101392
@minga

Sorry, but no. I am referring to the the ex- Minister of Defence of Germany.
16:13 November 24, 2011 by MaKo
No, the punishment doesn't fit the crime. They should have at least required him to keep the hair helmet indefinitely.

And no, Gutti is not in the same category as actual geniuses such as Einstein, because it wasn't his life that was at stake, and his "persecution" was a direct result of his own actions, not his heritage.
16:30 November 24, 2011 by TheCrownPrince
@mos101392 - If the USA really need the copy-Baron as an example of Germany's "best", then the criteria since Einstein must have been lowered extremely. You are welcome to keep him in America, please, help yourself!
16:55 November 24, 2011 by mos101392
@ TheCrownPrince

We take much lower classes ie Beckam, Anthony Hopkins, Klinsmann, Piers Morgan ect ect. Sometimes the standard has to be lowered to include all talents.
19:38 November 24, 2011 by puisoh
@ mos101392 ..

Einstein did not come back to Germany becos the Nazi's evil power was spreading, he had good foresight, he was not a German-reject.

It seems that what the Germans call 'cheaters', the Americans address them as 'honourable stateman'. I am sure this is not a matter of language discrepancy but more the attitude of the whole American society whereby being predatory and narcissistic is the call of the day.

'Narcissism, the new Epidemic!' if you have not heard of that already.
20:44 November 24, 2011 by derExDeutsche
Yes, he's paid the price. He's lost his job, lost his Degree, his name has been dragged through the mud, he's left the country. What more do you want? To grab him by the tie and drag him to the Burgermeister? Sheesh, move on.
21:55 November 24, 2011 by maxbrando
Does he get to keep the title??? What's the answer?
23:12 November 24, 2011 by Eins Null
Given all that has happened to Germany and the rest of Europe, why is everybody getting their knickers in a twist about some fool who cheated in their exams? Yes, he was stupid, or arrogant, but he's not the first, by any means.
00:59 November 25, 2011 by Dogs_Gonads
Not an expert on this, but cant you claim a charitable donation back on your tax return.

Heard that somewhere ?.
04:51 November 25, 2011 by Nemo2010
Ah, do not be so quick to condemn... This man "has a destiny about" him. He has yet a role to play on the world scene. Watch and see...
06:46 November 25, 2011 by hanskarl
The way some of you sound one would think you came from.............Alabama!!
07:19 November 25, 2011 by Englishted
This man is a cheat and a disgrace, by paying a bribe (because that is what this is ,it is not a fine imposed by a court ) he is able to state he has no criminal record so is able to run for office. €20,000 to a multi- millionaire is nothing .

The major problem here is just because you have money you are above the law ,what sort of message is that to send out ?.

@ mos101392

To equate the people who fled the Nazis and helped to bring them down with this cheat is showing there may be a need for a brain infusion somewhere but Guttenberg needs all of his to remember his name.
12:54 November 25, 2011 by lucksi
0.003% of your net worth is not a fine or a punishment; it's a joke.

He should have been prosecuted as any normal person would have been.
18:24 November 25, 2011 by mchristinerose
Come on...Who *wouldn't* consider plagiarizing a doctoral dissertation if they knew the penalty is only $20,000?! Hell, in the USA that equals the student loans necessary for a year of graduate work and probably saves about a year of writing to plagiarize so it all evens out in the end. He gave the money to charity, so everyone (excepting honor, dignity, decency, knowledge, discipline, passion and ethics) wins.
22:44 November 25, 2011 by Talonx
I think the real tradgedy of ignorance here is that the American 'think-tank' that hired him should have hired his illegal thesis ghost writer instead, bunch of idiots.
00:38 November 26, 2011 by Highveld Drifter
Well, now we know the contemporary cost for indulgences. I do believe that the public has a right to know the cost for various errors including the seven deadly sins.

I await TL's publishing of the list & cost, perhaps you could compare & contrast the cost between the mid 15th century & the early 21st century?
12:28 November 26, 2011 by Kennneth Ingle
It is sad but true, not what you know, but who you know is what counts in Europe. This is not just a German problem though, if you have enough money and the right associates, you can get away with almost anything. I well remember the case of a certain man well known for his critical remarks about the German community. He was caught out dealing with female prostitutes (the modern form of slavery). After just a few months absence, he was back again on television and still is playing his old part as a moral apostle.

Already remarks are being made, that former Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg could be a future Chancellor. Perhaps the song "Money makes the world go round" should replace the European Anthem.
12:57 November 26, 2011 by JohnnesKönig
@mos101392 I'd say you have experienced a "brain drain"!

There's a reason he's ex- Minister of Defence of Germany! CRIMINAL!
14:12 November 26, 2011 by Loth
Seems to me Americas Vice president had a similar problem back in the early 70s. While everyone should have some knowledge of English maybe only so much is necessary. Maybe it is more important that they can preform their job well. I have had doctors that might have done well in college but a car repair man might have been a better doctor then they.
15:40 November 26, 2011 by karldehm
His only crime, was he got caught. Who really cares. Next topic.
15:40 November 26, 2011 by storymann
Kennneth Ingle,I agree but rather than who you know it is of greater significance of Who knows You, Arnold Schwarzenegger is an excellent example of that .

Herr Gutenberg is becoming very well known around the globe.
09:46 November 27, 2011 by heyheyhey
This man is a bucket of slimy barn gutter scum.

The word narcissism defines every fiber of his being.

I hope that he causing great embarrasemnet to anyone who associates with him.
15:11 November 27, 2011 by Bomo
I think this is about more than plagiarism (cheating). This was about a very senior government minister whose judgement was at best was suspect ­ he lied and it is on the record. It is also about Fr. Merkel who allegedly said ¦quot;I appointed him for his political abilities and not because she needed a scientific assistant¦quot;. In English, I think this means ­ I don¦#39;t care if he lied and displayed serious misjudgement, he is after all Germanys Defence Minister. Right, that¦#39;s ok then.

By the way, zu Guttenberg (nicknamed zu Googleberg in Germany) got top marks for his 2006 law dissertation from the University of Bayreuth. Uhhmm
17:40 November 27, 2011 by cannychanta
What disturbs me is that he was not passionate about anything he said. You never saw him clench his fists in a show of emotion for something he truely believed in. He used out-of-date, recycled expressions decorated with some frilly turns of phrase and was able to fool suckers who don´t even know what a doctoral dissertation entails. Anyone who really put 100% into their dissertation and spent untold weeks researching their material only to find out they were not good enough must feel really peeved by this action.
19:21 November 27, 2011 by heyheyhey
I would forever lose the right to earn an income in my profession had I cheated on my dissertation. Merkel's response to this indicates her utter lack of respect the responsibilities of those who choose to obtain advanced degrees.

Perhaps it is time to closely examine Frau Merkel's credentials?

She makes German advanced educational degrees a joke round the world.

Perhaps were she to focus as much energymon this as she has spent having babies, she would understand!
22:29 November 27, 2011 by JosephW
Many persons outside of Germany think that criminalizing plagiarism is over the top. The only reason that Germans are sensitized about plagiarism in an academic setting is that in Germany a degree is part of a person¦#39;s name; it even appears on one's passport.

America is much more forgiving, having given a pass to both of its highest elected officials for their own well-documented plagiarism. Barack Obama admitted to plagiarizing a speech by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick during the Obama 2008 presidential campaign, and Vice President Joe Biden was caught during his graduate Law School program at Syracuse University having copied and submitted as his own work, over 5 pages of copy in a 15-page academic paper. Biden was found guilty, threw himself on the mercy of the University board and promised not to repeat the offense. This, according to the New York Times, persuaded the board to drop the matter and allow Mr. Biden to remain in law school. Biden went on, ironically, to become the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and then had to withdraw from a Presidential race due to again plagiarising in a speech entire passages of a British politician's speech.

No one called for Obama or Biden to be criminally prosecuted. One wonders why?
08:26 November 28, 2011 by heyheyhey
I believe that there is a large degree of difference in the meaning of using the words of another, when you are giving a speech, vs. Completing a dissertation.

All humans "borrow, if you will", phrases and thoughts spoken by others. In speaking it is often very expedient to rephrase what someone else has elegantly stated. There is no expectation that I am aware of that would lead me to believe otherwise.

In contrast, the expectation for a dissertation is that the work will be the author's work and will reflect a genuinely unique assimilation of information. The purpose of a speech is inherently different than that of a dissertation.
18:23 November 28, 2011 by Krisenfest
Joe Biden - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Biden

During his first year there, he was accused of having plagiarized 5 of 15 pages of a law review article.
00:37 November 29, 2011 by stesch
Just a little voice from germany:

" other writers haven¦#39;t really faced economic damage from Guttenberg¦#39;s actions. "

This is not the point- no way. Nobody was really hurt or had to face economic damages.

The reason for the discussion in germany is - a real soap character - in generell - no efforts, no real challenges faced - just playing pop star - without any results - look at his CV - it´s ridiculous - ask him what he really did in his life - we Germans were so stupid.... our running gag now is - Kanada - Kann - er -da - net bleiben? Translated - Can´t he stay there?

Best regards from Bavaria....
18:05 November 30, 2011 by JosephW
stesch , your analysis above is spot-on. In the US they have similar problems with their own politicians. There is indeed a well known narcissistic US politician, precisely like your portrayal of zu Guttenberg: ¦quot;a real soap character - in general - no efforts, no real challenges faced - just playing pop star - without any results - look at his CV - it´s ridiculous - ask him what he really did in his life." He likewise was forced to admit his own plagiarism incident in 2008 but the difference was that he faced no outcry from the US press. I am sure you have heard of him. The name of their problem politician who fits the same profile as your complaints about zu Guttenberg is Barack Obama.
19:29 November 30, 2011 by brnskin2010
thumbs up!!!!!!........for children cancer research....
01:27 December 1, 2011 by Jack Kerouac
It's totally fair - just buy your way out of anything with no consequences! Great idea, Germany.
05:47 December 1, 2011 by ChrisRea
@ Jack Kerouac

I think striking a deal in order to avoid court is mirroring what happens more frequently in the US. The fact that state is part of the deal is not significant (I don't think that the German public would have been better served if zu Guttenberg would have had to do community service for example).

However, there are other significant consequences for him. First of all, he lost his title. Secondly, he "won" the disgrace of many Germans and not only. I would say both weight significantly in his failed political career in Germany. But it seems that there are some in the US who have no problem in working with a cheater and a liar.
23:40 December 1, 2011 by stesch
it´s over - nobody accepts to be cheeted for a longer time - it´s erverywhere the same - it´s the nature of human beeings - so close the chapter - everywhere you can find similar
16:08 December 2, 2011 by Sally Schiller
Leave the poor guy alone. He is the best politician Germany has ever had!!!!
22:41 December 2, 2011 by rwk
He should be found guilty of fraud. Plagiarism is FRAUD, and he has received benefit from it. I am not saying. he should spend years in prison, but there needs to be a finding of guilt and some substantial punishment. Each time some jerk STEALS a doctoral degree it devalues the work of those of us who are working very hard towards earning their degrees LEGITIMATELY. Raus, Gutenplag!
11:31 December 4, 2011 by Kennneth Ingle
Sally Schiller wrote:

"Leave the poor guy alone. He is the best politician Germany has ever had!!!!"

Were you to be right Sally, have you thought about what this would really mean?

Perhaps it may be true to say he is the best man available now. Looking around I see nobody in the Bundestag who I would trust to take 10 Euros across the street, but that is certainly no recommendation for him. As with Great Britain, the voters only have the choice between bad and worse.
20:18 December 8, 2011 by Major B
This is a German issue so outsiders out to stay of it. But why is this still coming up? Does The Local not have other issues of significance and relevance. This is stupid.

@ Mos101392_ I heartily agree with you again. I read one stupid response to you and couldn't take it anymore.

Here Germany had a bright, charismatic and talented politician, and threw him out for sacrifice. Lovely wife. Great potential for a chancellor with class, brains and great conservative values. Really, the way he was treated was like the trench warfare of WWI where you send the troops over the top or one of those stupid sacrifices of the next great conflict. He made significant contributions to the modern German state.

The man paid a severe price. The worst. It was documented and OVER discussed. He was wrong. Academic excellence demands much better. But a lot of Germans are "throwing stones" as if they have never taken advantage of a system to their own benefit. Don't even try it. How many of his accusers have secret Swiss bank accounts, unbeknownst to the government, have dealt in shoddy investments, have embezzled etc.

Well, the best and brightest immigrate and we will continue to use the best from Germany to better our country, as we have for three centuries now.
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