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Discussion Something Borrowed: Should a Charge of Plagiarism Ruin Your Life?

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by The Musical Jedi, Jun 13, 2010.

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  1. The Musical Jedi

    The Musical Jedi Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 13, 1999
    On moving out east, I listened to a very interesting collection of essays that have appeared in The New Yorker by a fantastic writer named Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers, and the collection to which I refer, What the Dog Saw). One of the essays that particularly caught my interest shares the title of this thread: [link=http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_11_25_a_borrowed.html]Something Borrowed: Should a Charge of Plagiarism Ruin Your Life?[/link]. I thought it was especially interesting in its explanation of copyright laws and their limitations, as well as their potential (as I see it) relationships to fan fiction.

    I strongly encourage you to read the whole article, but here the main thrust of the article:


    What does this make you think of plagiarism? How does it change (or not change) your opinion on the subject? How does it relate to your view of fan fiction?

    Mostly, though, I just found this so fascinating that I wanted to share it with the community at large. :)
     
  2. Lilith Demodae

    Lilith Demodae Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Oct 1, 1999
    I think that using different phrasing to conceal the 'borrowing' of someone else's story is wrong, while 'borrowing' phrasing or imagery (a single line or phrase rather than whole paragraphs) is unavoidable and unexceptional.

    Having read both the Elenium and the Belgariad, I can say that if anyone other than Eddings had written the Belgariad, I'd have called it plagiarism, as they are essentially the same story with slightly different characters and setting. Seeing as he wrote them both, he's entitled to reuse his own plot without fear of censure.

    But writers, most of the good ones anyway, read copiously. It would be hard to never mimic someone else's phrasing. I'm unlikely to use the exact phrase 'It was the most impressive display of organized unfriendliness in the known world' because it's distinctive and I've read the book it comes from half a dozen times. However, I wouldn't be adverse to trying something along similar lines. And while many writers try to stay away from cliches in phrasing, many of them stumble upon the same alternative and end up creating a new one. That doesn't mean they're all plagiarising from each other.

    I hope I'm being clear. Cliched or borrowed phrasing isn't a hanging offense, but ripping off someone else's whole idea should be, in my opinion, at least in fiction.

    When reporting the news, as was the example in the above post, it'll be hard for two different people/newspapers to report the same story without a lot of similarities. After all, it's the same events they are trying to convey. I see nothing wrong with that at all.

     
  3. Ubersue

    Ubersue Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Sep 1, 2008
    What I find funny about the plagiarism debate is many of the authors I studied in lit classes were notorious plagiarists. Shakespeare, for one. :p

    I think that a lot of our philosophy on plagiarism is due to the value we place on originality. We want to protect our original ideas and demand that other authors come up with their own. But earlier literature wasn't concerned about this; they were more interested in taking a great story that people may or may not already know and doing it justice in its retelling. I think a lot of fan fiction comes from the desire to retell a good story and put our own stamp on it.
     
  4. ardavenport

    ardavenport Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 16, 2004
    For fanfiction online, plagiarism is usually cut and dried. Someone cut and pastes their name onto someone else's work and posts it. That is obviously wrong and a user would be justifiable ostracized for it. Lifting another person's work wholesale is obviously out-of-bounds.

    But what about 'Pride and Prejudice with Zombies'? Whole sections of the book are lifted from the original with zombies inserted in between. The writer gets away with it there because he credits Jane Austin for her work.

    I believe what makes the difference between fair use and plagiarism is credit given to the author of the borrowed work. It is the deception and pretense that one author is putting his/her name on another person's work that make it so abhorrent.

    And the ONLY reason why P&PwZ is not fanfic is that Pride and Prejudice is out of copyright.
     
  5. Lady_Tahiri

    Lady_Tahiri Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 23, 2001
    I think fandom is generally very good about policing itself (eg. the [link=http://www.fanhistory.com/wiki/Cassandra_Clare]Cassie Claire affair[/link]). Anybody who tries to pass off work that's not her own, or to make money from it, is shipped off to a metaphorical leper colony. I am 100% with ardavenport on this: the ONLY reason why P&PwZ is not fanfic is that Pride and Prejudice is out of copyright. The thing is, when you're talking to people outside of fandom, who don't read fanfic, there's a big disconnect. That's how we get statements like the following:

    [link=http://kate-nepveu.livejournal.com/483239.html]source [/link]

    I dunno if you guys were aware of the recent kerfuffle over this. Anyway it strikes me as profoundly wrong that we have to [link=http://bookshop.livejournal.com/1044495.html]keep explaining to people[/link] why fanfic is not, in fact, illegal or immoral. It's a symptom of a much larger problem - copyright was invented to protect artists and stimulate the production of creative works, but the state of copyright law right now is no longer serving that purpose. It's not a problem that's limited to the written medium either. For instance, [link=http://balkin.blogspot.com/2010/06/copyright-elephant-in-middle-of-glee.html]you could potentially be sued[/link] for doing what the cast of Glee does every Thursday night - perform copyrighted songs in public.

    It seems so obvious to me what is and isn't plagiarism, that when someone asserts that fanfic is tantamount to plagiarism, I just want to headdesk ad infinitum. Admittedly the case described in this article is a different beast because it's not fanfic, it's profic. The difference isn't just that they get paid and we don't. I think "the desire to retell a good story," as Ubersue puts it, is only part of the impulse to produce fanfiction. The other part is to extend canon where it's sketchy, to interrogate it where it's messy. The way I choose fanfic is completely different from the way I choose published fiction to read, because I'm already familiar with the source material so I know what to expect and I know what I want to see. I don't think charges of plagiarism should be treated any differently in fanfic than in profic, so long as the people bringing up the charges don't equate "borrowing" wholesale passages without credit and "borrowing" characters with proper attribution to the author.
     
  6. The_Face

    The_Face Ex-Manager star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Feb 22, 2003
    This was a really fascinating article! I just wanna say thanks for sharing the link, TMJ!
     
  7. The Musical Jedi

    The Musical Jedi Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 13, 1999
    Total side note: I think you should all read all of his articles (and his books). There's not a single one that is less fascinating. ;)
     
  8. J_Girl

    J_Girl Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Feb 18, 2001
    I think plagiarism absolutely applies to fanfic. It really stinks when a fanfic writer works hard developing and fleshing out a detalied storyline and then someone comes along who posts their own version of it complete with extremely similar details. I say if you want to rewrite someone's fic to your own taste, then fine, but to post it is plagiarism. Obviously I am not talking about fic challenges and that sort of thing. I don't even include 'missing moments' in this because there are just so many ways to go when locked into a set before and after. However, more original storylines themselves should be changed far enough from the original that nobody breaking them down into am outline should think they are the same.
     
  9. Alethia

    Alethia Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 13, 2005
    Accidental plagiarism is not an excuse. In an academic setting, or a fan fic setting, plagiarism is plagiarism. If you plagiarize a fan fic, well -- fandom will probably hate you. Your reputation will be likely ruined. You'll get flamed and the original author will come after you, and if you're lucky, they won't bring their friends or fans.

    But you can always make a new account. You can always drop out for a bit and then come back. The internet is anonymous.

    In RL, you plagiarize, and it goes in your academic file. You might get in legal trouble. It really will ruin your life at times.

    Looking at a fan fic basis, fan fic itself is not plagiarism. And the most common form of plagiarism in fan fic the whole copy/paste thing. Idea plagiarism is harder to do, and it's harder to prove. Basically, if an idea is very original, and suddenly there's a fic just like it, or -- more commonly -- a certain scene is quite similar, then I'm going to get suspicious.

    Borrowing ideas need credit. However, there is a bit of a problem defining the idea of fanon. To use Harry POtter as an example, there used to be a huge fan craze of writing Draco in leather trousers. Then it mutated to Harry, and the rest of the characters. The idea originated from Cassandra Claire (aka Cassandra Clare), but it soon span out of control. However, an idea where Harry is actually the Heir of Gryffindor was used by Cassandra Claire, but iirc, did not originate with her. Where is the difference? Would you call any of them plagiarism? What if someone used the leather trousers but did/did not give credit to Cassandra? What if I were to write a fic about Harry being Gryffindor's Heir? Would I have to find out who to give credit to or not?

    Pardon me for not using SW examples, but so far I haven't come across too many examples of this in the fandom. Then again, I've been out of fandom for the majority of the last five years, so please feel free to correct me and/or come up with better SW examples.

    In any case, the line can be thin, and sometimes a fan is simply too over-eager. There's also the question of whether plagiarism in published-to-fan fic counts or not. Cassandra Claire is a brilliant example of how a fan fic author can plagiarize non-fan fic content, and there have also been questions about whether you can plagiarize from fan fic to original, or whether it's plagiarism at all to take a fan fic, change names and places and try to see it as original fan fic...
     
  10. Todca_Muoak

    Todca_Muoak Jedi Youngling star 1

    Registered:
    Jun 10, 2010
    I deal with plagiarism all the time in school. I know that I get upset with people who seem to confuse that plagiarism is not using someone?s idea but taking his or her work and calling it your own. I am working on my dissertation on higher education and retention rates among students who are starting and not finishing his or her freshman year of college. Am I the first person to write about this topic? Nope not by a long shot, but I am expanding the body of knowledge on the subject. This is not plagiarism, this is called work.

    Fanfic, should be seen as the same thing. If someone is creating his or her own work that is enhancing a story, going to a different place then that writer is not plagiarizing anything. Now if someone takes a body of work that someone else has written put his or her name on it and says ?I did this? then that is a different story. If you are going to borrow someone?s work, give them credit at least.
     
  11. J_Girl

    J_Girl Jedi Grand Master star 4

    Registered:
    Feb 18, 2001
    Todca: What you seem to be talking about is expository writing on a academic subject rather than fictional writing where writers create their own original storylines complete with details. I consider copying those storyline & details and changing them from 'blue' to 'green' a form of plagiarism. It has happened to me and I did not appreciate it at all. I did not go after the 'author' and I didn't expect my readers to do so either. I just vacated the scene and stopped posting. I was not taking on a subject to be explored academically and built upon. I made up a my own original story and details. Someone felt the need to 'rewrite' that story without really going to any true effort to conceal their theivery.
    So, while I can appreciate your deifnition of plagiarism, I still contend the above is tue as well. As Shakespeare wrote "That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet." Or sour in this case.
     
  12. reagan64

    reagan64 Jedi Master star 3

    Registered:
    Feb 26, 2006
    I for one don't see how calling that kind of idea using plagiarism is reasonable. If people really took that kind of thing for a serious offense you wouldn't have any fiction at all. Rowling wasn't the first person to write about a wizarding school. Should she be shunned and villified? I would say not.

    Personally I think the whole plagiarism thing is getting pretty out of hand in academia as well. It's not really about integrity anymore, it's about getting rid of your academic rivals by any means necessary.
     
  13. ardavenport

    ardavenport Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 16, 2004
    I think when most people talk about plagiarism in fanfic, they're talking about wholesale copying someone's words and putting another person's name on it. Very easy to identify.

    Plagiarism of ideas is much tougher to pin down. Not only can people borrow ideas and make them their own, they can also come up with similar ideas independently.


     
  14. The Musical Jedi

    The Musical Jedi Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 13, 1999
    But is there merit to idea that it's okay if it's used to create something new? The whole idea of the article is the discussion of how a playwright took Gladwell's article and made a play out of it. Malcolm wasn't really upset by it, because the play that was written was a new artistic creation. And how do the rules of plagarism compare to the rules used when applied to, say, music? You can hear lots of reoccurring themes, e.g. Vanilla Ice using the riff from Queen's Under Pressure for his song Ice, Ice Baby. Why are we so strict in writing, to borrow from Gladwell, to the point of scrutiny of at the level of sentences, when almost all other forms of media are more flexible?
     
  15. Alethia

    Alethia Jedi Master star 5

    Registered:
    Feb 13, 2005
    I for one don't see how calling that kind of idea using plagiarism is reasonable. If people really took that kind of thing for a serious offense you wouldn't have any fiction at all. Rowling wasn't the first person to write about a wizarding school. Should she be shunned and villified? I would say not.

    My point was to show how hard it is to 1) show proof in regards to the plagiarism of ideas and 2) how even more convoluted plagiarism in fan fic can be.

    Rowling certainly wasn't the first person to write about a wizarding school. IIRC, in the early days of the HP fandom, there were various discussions about HP versus Jane Yolen's book also on a wizarding school, which was published years earlier. I read Yolen's book and while there were slight similarities, as one would expect when writing about a wizarding school, I certainly would not call it plagiarism. I also recently read a book called Hex Hall, which was published this year and involves a girl going to a boarding school for witchcraft. Again, similarities, but clearly different. And, back in my days of the Charmed fandom, a lot of fans considered their Magic School a HP rip-off.

    My point is that something like having a wizarding school is not by itself a signifier for plagiarism, but that depending on its portrayal, it can be. In fan fic, the lines are even more hard to define, because fandom cliches are rampant. The question I was trying to pose is how does one create the line between fandom cliches and plagiarism? Can it be defined?
     
  16. anakin_girl

    anakin_girl Jedi Knight star 6

    Registered:
    Oct 8, 2000
    Good topic.

    I have little tolerance for plagiarism. It's stealing, plain and simple. I have no problem with someone's reputation being ruined for blatant and deliberate plagiarism. That being said, defining "plagiarism" can get a little blurred. Copying and pasting someone else's work is obviously plagiarism. In fact, the definition I've been given in the academic world is if you copy and paste four words or more, you need to cite it. Up to three words is acceptable.

    Stealing the entire plot of, for example, an AU story or a take on a missing scene, and writing it as your own, is plagiarism. The more specific the repeated idea, the more likely it is to be plagiarism. Taking a broader idea and working it into one's own story, probably does not cross the line. That's inspiration, not plagiarism.

    Example: Rowling writing about a wizarding school, not plagiarism. If another writer were to write about a wizarding school in the UK, that would not be plagiarism either. But if another writer were to write about three friends, two boys and a girl, who went to a wizarding school in England, played a game that was a cross between soccer and basketball and baseball, befriended a giant gardener, had a few really weird teachers, and fought a dark wizard pretty much by themselves? Crosses the line or at least toes it.

    Or in Star Wars fan fic, there have been plenty of missing scene stories about Anakin proposing to Padme on the ship on the way to Naboo. If one of us were to write a story tomorrow about Anakin proposing to Padme on the ship on the way to Naboo, that wouldn't be plagiarism. But if one of us were to "borrow" the same phrasing, sequence of events, ring, etc. from an existing fan fic, that would be plagiarism.

    In my graduate work I'm studying how the Internet has blurred the lines between what does and does not constitute intellectual property and performance rights. It's really interesting and does put a new spin on plagiarism in both the academic and entertainment industries. Case in point: those of us who were kids when the OT was released in theaters, probably remember getting assignments in school along the lines of "Write a report on Abraham Lincoln." Teachers could do that then, because photocopying a print encyclopedia would be way too obvious and hand-copying an article was almost as big a pain as just writing a report. Now, not so much. Such an assignment is an open invitation to go to either a website that sells ready-to-print reports or go to an online encyclopedia and copy and paste. Teachers are having to get a little more creative with the assignment; one way to do this is to ask the student to relate a topic to his or her personal life. When I was in the classroom, I was shocked at how many students--and parents--genuinely did not know that copying and pasting was wrong. "Well he looked up the information! That's what you asked him to do, isn't it?"

    As I said, I have little tolerance for it, but I think that in academia and in the writing world, we need a specific agreed-upon definition of what plagiarism is.

    ETA: I couldn't read the article, said the link was broken.
     
  17. DarthIshtar

    DarthIshtar Jedi Grand Master star 9

    Registered:
    Mar 26, 2001
    I think that there are a lot of different ways to plaigarize but a lot of different ways to avoid plaigarism. I remember having a friend stop speaking to me because, while on heavy medication, she mentioned to me an idea for a fanfic. I told her that I had been working on a very similar idea and when she read my fic, she refused to believe that I hadn't copped her idea. On the other hand, I recently read a story in the Doctor Who universe that inspired a story of my own based off of that premise. I wrote the author, outlined my idea and cited what elements of her universe I would have to borrow. Only after I got her permission to proceed did I go ahead with my draft.

    In the context of fanfic, yes, we are using others' ideas, but we don't write on fandoms where the author has forbidden it. I think it's extremely important to cite inspirations and/or sources if we have them in an intra-fandom sense.
     
  18. The Musical Jedi

    The Musical Jedi Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Dec 13, 1999
    I fixed the link in the OP.
     
  19. Robimus

    Robimus Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 6, 2007
    Plagiarism is difficult to define. Sure if someone takes something word for word, thats easy, but is not the taking of one writers idea the same thing?

    Personally I think its a little overblown and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery right?:p

    "It was dark outside" - There is the four word rule mentioned earlier, so how many authors(both pro and fan) have used these four words over the years? Impossible to say but I bet the number is prolific.

    And how does this apply to the stealing of ideas? Should Bram Stoker be upset with Anne Rice, Joss Whedon, Stephanie Meyer and a thousand other story tellers who have written Vampire tales?

    I think not, ideas need room to grow and the evolution of story telling is a shared endeavor.

    Now just imagine if when Bram Stoker wrote Dracula he'd had the ability to copyright the fictional use of not only the word "Vampire" but the ideas and descriptions presented within? Say in a the way George Lucas has copyrighted Jedi, lightsabers and the Force? Would we then have had any other stories about Vampires or would they be the intellectual property of one person?

    Plagiarism can seem annoying but in reality its as much a part of story telling as the written word is.
     
  20. FelsGoddess

    FelsGoddess Game Host star 5 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Sep 5, 2004
    You cannot copyright an idea. Three people can write a story about character A and character B going to planet xyz and capturing the leader. Unless you pull exact lines and scenes, it's not plagiarism. The stories should be completely separate in their own way. Is it annoying if someone pulls your idea and write it their way? Yes, but it's not illegal. Should something read as an exact copy, then yes, claim the person copied your work.

    Simply copying and pasting words from a book/screenplay/story/ect. is plagiarism.


     
  21. darksideyesplease

    darksideyesplease Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Feb 12, 2005
    There are too many things in movies, literature, and other mediums that have similar ideas. To call them the same is relative and is very opinion based.

    If you want to redefine what plagiarism is on the basis of idea stealing, I suggest first that you must redefine what an idea is and what constitutes being one person's idea and where to draw the line where it becomes another person's idea based off their idea.

    Star Wars is based off so many other things I won't even start to name it.

    There is a huge difference between being unethical and plagiarism.

    Just because I have an idea doesn't make it mine, solely on the basis that I can't prove or disprove that I invented it originally. Perhaps someone thought of the idea a hundred years ago and never bothered putting it down on paper. You see where this can become a crazy discussion.

    1. the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work.
    2. something used and represented in this manner.

    The definitions are pretty clear and don't leave much room for interpretation. While yes there might be some wiggle room for legal maneuvering because yet again the term "close" is a relative term.

    While we might want to believe plagiarism represents this broad, huge, vast thing, it simply does not.

    Themes are a type of idea. Does that mean because George Lucas borrowed themes and even the scrolling text from other things that he is a plagiarist?

    I think some people are trying to make plagiarism this broad term that encompasses everything and anything that might have belonged to someone else.

    Honestly plagiarism by the definition of the word and the way it is taught in college classes isn't all that hard to determine (as long as we have the reference source to prove that something has been obviously copied and passed off as some other person's). A lot of the underlying conversations in this thread are dealing with something else entirely.

    All that being said, it's still a good discussion and worth talking about. But let's not group certain scenarios that do not fit the definition delude what is fact from fiction.
     
  22. Robimus

    Robimus Jedi Grand Master star 5

    Registered:
    Jul 6, 2007
    So a Vampire is an idea while a Jedi is a copyright?:confused:
     
  23. FelsGoddess

    FelsGoddess Game Host star 5 VIP - Game Host

    Registered:
    Sep 5, 2004
    Particular phrases and words are trademarked. I would imagine Jedi is trademarked. Lucas created that term. Vampires are mythological creatures that has been around for hundreds of years.

    [link=http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/doc/general/whatis.htm]US Patent Office[/link] has some definitions.


    [link=http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-protect.html]What does copyright protect?[/link]

    Hope that helps clarify. [face_peace]

    Oh, and to respond to if a charge of plagiarism should ruin your life...

    If you plagiarize an article/story, publish it and make money on it and then get caught, you get what you deserve. Anyone seen Shattered Glass? It's about Stephen Glass, who fabricated most of his stories for the New Yorker. Interesting movie.
     
  24. ardavenport

    ardavenport Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Dec 16, 2004
    Actually, Stephen Glass was caught for fabricating his articles. I suppose it would have been fine if he had labeled them as 'fiction', but he didn't.

    And Hayden Christensen was very satisfyingly creepy in that movie. Sure he's a bad-ass dark lord, but in 'Shattered Glass' he was playing a type of person that I might meet in the office.
     
  25. darksideyesplease

    darksideyesplease Jedi Master star 4

    Registered:
    Feb 12, 2005
    stories, articles, same difference. ;)
     
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