1. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Are one-liners plagiarism?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Wreybies, Jun 9, 2009.

    In the book I am currently reading I have noticed at least two one line pickups from other sources. One is from another book, and the other is from a song. Are this little one line 'homages' plagiarism, or are they a tipped hat to the original author?
     
  2. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    IMO, they are guilty of plagiarism if they are recognized quotes and not attributed. I might temper that argument if the quotes are used in dialog by characters who could reasonably be borrowing such quotes. For example, I would not have a problem with a character saying "Go ahead. Make my day!" as long as the character was known to be quoting one of his/her favorite movies and the author is not taking credit for originating the quote.
     
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  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    And therein lies my question...

    Although both examples I found in the book (Light, by M. John Harrison) are delivered during dialogue, they are so obscure that only a big nerdo like me would ever catch them. These are not iconic quotes like the one there by Mr Eastwood.
     
  4. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Having read "The Copyright and Libel Handbook," I can tell you that there's no science behind it, no specific number of words you can copy without it being plagiarism. Anything in public domain is safe. (Details for what is in "public domain" at www.copyright.org) Anything not in public domain, the safest thing to do is to get permission from the copyright owner. There are exceptions called "fair use", such as doing a review of a work or certain scholarly material, or a newspaper reporter quoting the President's speech, but even these have rules. No work of fiction can declare "fair use." Even a single line could get you sued... on the other hand, an entire paragraph might not, but who wants to take that chance?
     
  5. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't consider shout-outs plagiarism. They are intended to be self-citing to those who know, and unobtrusive to those who don't. They're almost always put in as a nod to the other work saying "this was part of my inspiration," and to accuse the writer of something like plagiarism for something as trivial as that would be the height of dickery.
     
  6. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Which means in this world that it's quite likely to happen to someone. I'd be more concerned with avoiding it than whether or not I agreed with it.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Strictly speaking, they are plagiarism if they are lifted from a identifiable, copyrighted source. Quotes from speeches by political figures are not covered, as a rule. Something like the Dirty Harry quote has become a part of everyday speech, so I doubt any judicial body would uphold it as copyright infringement; however, in some cases, registered trademarks may apply.

    Lyrics are always dangerous to quote without written permission, even one-liners.

    Writers have been burned by "borrowing" one line descriptions from fairly obscure books. I hear about them from time to time on the news, and it has even happened on this site. Usually if an author uses two or more borrowed lines from the same identifiable source in the same piece of writing, it's not a coincidence.
     
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  8. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Its not necessary a negative thing though, like he's maliciously stealing (well, it may be in this case, I couldn't say...)....
    In some of my fiction, I'll borrow a line from another piece of fiction as...an adoring homage...but only where there are parallels between the two, or my one is a pastiche of the first or something like that...
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Plagiarism is stealing intellectual property. There is such a thing as "fair use", but it doesn't include embedding other authors' work into your own without proper attribution.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto all of cog's comments... stealing is stealing, is stealing, to paraphrase stein's famous 'rose' line... dress it up all you want as 'homage' or whatever, but it's still using someone else's work without permission...
     
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  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    From the OP: Agreed.

    I have to assume that there are avenues for getting such permission, yes? Even the rights to a deceased author's book belong to someone, no?
     
  12. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    If you're writing an article you're allowed to quote another persons work, so why can't the character quote the work? Just as an example, I will use the Eastwood one.

    "Go ahead, make my day. You know Clint Eastwood?"

    Would that be acceptable, considering this phrase wasn't already part of everyday speech?
     
  13. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Although that particular quote (probably also "Hasta La Vista, Baby," and a few others) are so well known and embedded in everyone's consciousness that use of them would probably be harmless and are probably unlikely to result in lawsuit, generally "fair use" only covers a few areas such as academic uses, reviews and parady, and generally, you can never argue "fair use" when your work is fiction. Even lifting short pieces of another's work can generate lawsuits.

    I've read a book on the subject and I don't come near knowing all the details of copyright law and what is and isn't allowed -- which is really unknowable, considering that the laws can't imagine every possible use of one's work by another, and all law is open to interpretation by judges, lawyers, and individuals who bring lawsuits. My best advice as a "general rule" is to err on the side of caution when possible, and, if your work uses pop culture references that you question (as mine does) that you learn as much as you can on the subject to avoid trouble. Read more about it. You'll learn things like "titles are okay to use" and how to find and contact copywrite owners to request permission when necessary.

    The book I read on the subject, "Copyright and Libel Handbook" is a good resource. Another is www.copyright.gov.
     
  14. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Yes, and, yes.

    I hate to be a living advertisement for someone else's book, but "The Copyright and Libel Handbook" actually contains information on how to discover who the copyright owner is, how you might contact them, and even gives sample letters for requesting use, as well as information on what types of permissions you'll need to request.
     
  15. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah it's technically plagiarism, though depending on what you choose to reference, and how you do it, I see no problem. Lines like the ones people have already mentioned have become so embedded in our culture that even if they are technically stealing, it's gotten to a pount where, unofficially if not legally, they have pretty much become public domain. Do you think George Lucas cares if anyone uses, "May the Force be with you," or if the people who made Terminator care if anyone uses "Hasta La Vista, Baby"?

    People reference movies like this all the time, whether they mean to or not. How many people actually remember what movie "Hey, I'm walking here. I'm walking here!" actually came from? People still use it. Besides, there are cases where "Go ahead, make my day" is exactly what the character will say. In the long run, though, it should be avoided.
     
  16. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    Personally, if I were trying to avoid a trap like that, I'd do a footnote with the source cited at the bottom of the page. I see that done a lot, and I don't think you actually have to have permission to use one or two lines from someone else's work (as long as you cite it!). Otherwise, we'd never be able to write research papers in school because we'd have to contact every author we wanted to cite.

    Just my opinion.

    ~Lynn
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The use of short excerpts in research papers falls under Fair Use. Inclusion in a work of fiction does not.
     
  18. Gurari
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    Gurari Member

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    Let's say you write a novel that has a couple of these plagiarized lines that you've appropriated (perhaps unknowingly...let's say you absorbed the line through osmosis and think it's yours or is public domain or something like that). At what point in the publishing process does permission get addressed? Does an editor have to catch the lines first? Is it the editors responsibility? What if in the course of writing and submitting your novel you forget to highlight that you wrote the line and the fact that you weren't sure where you got it from?
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Very good question. I have to image the grey area is huge when it comes to a simple one line blip.

    One of the quotes I found in the book would have a hard time impressing me as a coincidence of syntactic structure, the wording and the metaphor which was drawn is just too unusual and unlikely to be anything but a quote from a song with which I am familiar (and which I will not quote for obvious reasons). The other line, not so much. I could easily see how someone could have come up with it on their own, but it was recognizable to me given the context taking place in the storyline.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You might be able to get away with the "osmotic defense" for a single short passage, possibly even "coincidental reinvention." More that that, get your checkbook ready if the original author discovers it and wants to make an issue of it.

    I was willing to consider osmotic absorption for a poem one member posted here a long time ago; the words were from a song consideranly older than she was. However, another mod checked her website and discovered that her osmotitis was a chronic condition, so she was permanently banned.
     
  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    LOL! :D

    "Doctor, I fear I may be suffering from osmotitis. Is there a medication or procedure which might cure me?"

    "Osmotitis? What doctor told you that?"

    "Not a doctor, my publisher!"

    :D
     

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