1. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666

    Inspiration vs plagiarism

    Discussion in 'Insights & Inspiration' started by jazzabel, May 11, 2014.

    "Steal like an artist" or "If you want to be a great artist, you must learn how to steal" and similar are words of wisdom by some of the greatest artists of all time. It broadly refers to the fact that all themes and stories (and artwork) are derivative in one form or another. But I don't think this doesn't necessarily stop there.

    Just a lazy example, in 'Harry Potter' JK derived various aspects of the plot, characters and milieu from a variety of well-known books and stories, as did LOTR and "Hunger Games'. Like I said, lazy examples, but I saw outraged fans analysing chapters and paragraphs that come dangerously close to what's been already written by someone else, and my first instinct was to be quite appalled. But, it turned out, it wasn't plagiarism and billions of their fans didn't care at all. They all earned obscene amounts of money and are well respected writers. They learned to steal like artists?

    What I'm wondering is, what if you find a paragraph in someone's novel that perfectly expresses what you need to say in yours. And even if you modify and change it to suit your narrative, the logic behind the words and the thought progression are derivative. You can't be accused of copying verbatim at all, but what you wrote is based on something else, a bit more closely then just a 'general theme'?

    Should we or shouldn't we?
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2014
    WhiteTheKid likes this.
  2. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    to me:
    taking a whole paragraph, whether verbatim or paraphrased to some extent would be unethical... and would show a distinct lack of ability and originality on the part of the 'lifter'...
     
    cutecat22 and jazzabel like this.
  3. Catrin Lewis
    Offline

    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2014
    Messages:
    1,685
    Likes Received:
    1,079
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Well, as a guy I once worked for in a creative field said, "Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's what you make of them."

    Plot, character types (not individual characters!), and milieu are all ideas. Concepts like the Quest, the Romance, the Revenge are all mega-ideas. No problem, to my mind, in taking them and making them your own.

    But reworking the way another author expressed them and saying it's yours? Myeh. Don't think so.

    As for this, only you can say if the logic is derived from that other author, or if you're both deriving it from life.
     
    T.Trian and jazzabel like this.
  4. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    @mammamaia : Perhaps you are right. And yes, unethical and unoriginal, but is is plagiarism?
     
  5. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,352
    Likes Received:
    2,895
    Location:
    Boston
    Based on what you described, I wouldn't consider it plagiarism. If you make substantial changes to the point where you can't be accused of copying verbatim, I don't see how anyone can say you plagiarized.

    Where it gets tricky is when the writer changes a lot of things around but there are obvious elements of the original passage still present. At that point, it could go either way.
     
  6. J.C.O. Goss
    Offline

    J.C.O. Goss New Member

    Joined:
    May 5, 2014
    Messages:
    11
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Pennsylania
    To take an actual paragraph, I would probably heavily paraphrase it if I used it at all. However, when I'm inspired by something -- examples include Breaking Bad, Lord of the Rings, Fallout New Vegas, and a lot of other literature, games and movies -- I generally start off using themes, characters, even dialogue, that is almost identical if not identical, because by the time anybody actually hears about or reads it, it all took control and evolved into something completely its own that only barely speaks of its original basis.
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  7. Bryan Romer
    Offline

    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2014
    Messages:
    891
    Likes Received:
    381
    I suppose one question would be how closely did your "re-phrasing" follow the original. Since your example describes both a concept and manner of description, it would be very hard to "follow" it without a degree of plagiarism.

    Note that plagiarism is not a crime. It is an offence under certain academic circumstances but does not equate to copyright infringement, which is a crime. Dan Brown was taken to court for his use in The Da Vinci Code of the concepts and facts from another book. He was found not guilty of a legal infringement even though everyone agreed that he basically based much of his novel upon the work of these other authors.
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  8. T.Trian
    Offline

    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2013
    Messages:
    2,246
    Likes Received:
    1,449
    Location:
    Mushroom Land
    I think a "stolen" element is different enough when the original's author wouldn't recognize the "stolen" bit even if they read it (or watched or listened to it, depending on the medium).

    I think the key is to take someone else's whatever and make it your own. I don't think we can come up with any hard rules or strict guidelines, it's all shades of gray, but when I steal, I always strive to do something different with what I stole than what the original author did.

    Kinda like seeing someone stab a guy with a knife (the knife being the exact words/idioms etc, i.e. the tools the original author used, the stabbing being the act/emotion/whatever described with those words), and then you make a knife of your own, change the edge and grip shape and materials a bit to suit your intended purpose better, and start whittling with it. Stupid example, I know, but you get the picture.

    Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal."
    -Igor Stravinsky
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  9. Okon
    Offline

    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2013
    Messages:
    694
    Likes Received:
    389
    I think a 'stolen' paragraph would stick out like a sore thumb, no matter how many coats of paint you put on it. It's bad enough that we all subconsciously do that, as it is.:p
     
    jazzabel and cutecat22 like this.
  10. cutecat22
    Offline

    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2014
    Messages:
    2,434
    Likes Received:
    1,063
    Location:
    England
    I'm on the fence on this in that yes, it is very wrong to copy or steal someone else's work whether it's published or not, it's an extremely unethical and lazy way of working but, there are only 26 letters in the English language and a finite amount of words and combinations of words. There are bound to be sentences from different writers that are the same, aren't there?

    There are more numbers to choose from in the lotto than there are letters in the alphabet but if you have two people who chose the same six numbers and have to share the top prize, you don't get the lotto people checking the timestamp on the ticket to see who bought theirs first.

    That was probably a bad example ...
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  11. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    This is just me, but while I may admire the way another writer puts something, using it, even if paraphrased, would be out of bounds. I want my work to be just that - mine.
     
    jazzabel and cutecat22 like this.
  12. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    Thanks everyone, I really appreciate the replies! I agree that simply using someone else's paragraph is wrong. What happened to me was, I was writing a paragraph in my novel, and at one point I remembered something I read along similar lines, but the context was different. When I found the original. I realised that what I'm trying to say, and what was expressed there, roughly follow the same line of reasoning. The context is different, and words too, but if you put them side by side, and know all this, you could see that they are related. On its own, it isn't something that sticks out or is easily recognisable, but because I realised all this, and was between the rock and the hard place of wanting to keep the thought in my manuscript, I was feeling uncomfortable with the way it came to be.

    I cherish my own creativity and would never intentionally plagiarise anyone, but where does personal original thought begin, and inspiration from something we read and obviously remembered on a subconscious level, end?
     
  13. cutecat22
    Offline

    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2014
    Messages:
    2,434
    Likes Received:
    1,063
    Location:
    England
    I think that's where the problem lies (aside from blatant copying of course). Our eyes and ears are not closed to the world so our writing is bound to have some kind of outside influence. As a race of people, many of us will say the same things and do the same things as other people on this planet so similar ideas in stories are bound to surface from time to time.

    There's a couple of new shows on TV that I thought I'd look at, low and behold, the MC in one of them has the same name as my MC that I came up with in 2012. And a couple of surnames have popped up too but I can't change them now.
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  14. peachalulu
    Online

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    For me plagiarism is lifting an extensive amount of words from a published work and using them in practically the same way - I was reading about this guy Quentin Rowan who lifted whole paragraphs from Ludlum, Le Carre, Gardner - http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/02/13/120213fa_fact_widdicombe?currentPage=all
    Generally I think this guy knew he was doing something wrong but wanted to make a name for himself. And it was far easier to piece things together than write it himself.

    It's not the same as found art, or the cut n' paste technique though - because usually the gimmick with that is to take small phrases out of context and change their meaning. Something I totally love and don't find plagiarizing at all. And it's not even 'borrowing' like seeing Pynchon use the word threaded as a verb ( as in he threaded on a robe ) and using it for your own work. That to me is just learning.

    This is a tough one. I've come across the same temptation but decided to find my own way of saying it. I went over it extensively and broke down what I loved about the paragraph and tried to get the same feeling but abandoned the pattern. Nobody owns words or phrases ( except many slogans or brandnames ) if so every historical novelist in the world could be sued for their mimicking descriptive phrases - tumbling blonde locks and violet eyes framed with lush lashes - but they do own whole groups of words in their exact line up.

    You could write - He studied what he could see. A line from The Road - but would anyone know or care? Can he even own that line out of context. I'd say no way. It's in what surrounds and follows. * I forgot to add however, that a distinctive line couldn't be picked up and used without notice.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2014
    jazzabel and cutecat22 like this.
  15. Burlbird
    Offline

    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2011
    Messages:
    978
    Likes Received:
    295
    Location:
    Somewhere Else
    Avital Ronnel, one of contemporary thinkers I respect very much, says a lot about the position of the author when she declares that one "doesn't call oneself a writer: one is
    called, or one is convoked to writing" etc
    Great interview: www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~davis/ronell2.htm

    This is, basically, what I think of the concept of originality - and thus of "stealing" in arts : you can only "steal" someone's possesion, and claiming that a literary concept, which exists in language, in the most common of shared mediums humans have, it's just ridiculous when you truly think about it.

    Copying someone's work word-for-word, without recontextualizing, referencing, parodying, showing awereness of a shared text - that is plagiarization. Laziness, if you ask me.
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  16. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    that would be a question for the courts to decide, if the original author wanted to bring suit or file charges...
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  17. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    @mammamaia : Sure, that's the legal standpoint and everyone is wise to speak to a lawyer for definitive answer on any legal matter.

    I am confident that what I wrote isn't plagiarism by any stretch of imagination, but it is consciously derivative, so mine was more of a moral dilemma and I wanted to hear other's opinions.
     
  18. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,352
    Likes Received:
    2,895
    Location:
    Boston
    I wouldn't worry about it since it's not plagiarism. People are inspired by the ideas of others all the time.
     
    jazzabel and cutecat22 like this.
  19. peachalulu
    Online

    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    May 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,829
    Likes Received:
    2,382
    Location:
    occasionally Oz , mainly Canada
    I wouldn't worry about it. I think the writing community and especially the internet has stirred up a lot of paranoia over plagiarism to the extent that we've killed the idea of borrowing ( especially from the better authors ) - afraid to even mimic styles, patterns of sentences or lift fresh verbs, a crime greater IMOHO than plagiarism ( as the plagiarist will get caught and kill their career, anyway. )
     
    jazzabel and Burlbird like this.
  20. T.Trian
    Offline

    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 12, 2013
    Messages:
    2,246
    Likes Received:
    1,449
    Location:
    Mushroom Land
    The way I see it, whether you were consciously or subconsciously inspired by it, or if you came up with the idea yourself and then saw someone else who had the same idea after you'd written your own doesn't really matter.
    Pretty much every worthwhile idea has already been used, often more than once, so even when we think we're churning out truly original flashes of genius, chances are, someone's already done something similar sometime somewhere.
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  21. Ulramar
    Offline

    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 6, 2014
    Messages:
    799
    Likes Received:
    243
    Location:
    My own fantasy world, living the good life
    I'm pretty sure that The Hunger Games is an old folk tale modernized into a Young Adult book. That's inspiration.

    Copy/pasting a paragraph, plot, etc. is plagarism. If I added a Katniss Everdeen to my work and she was a bow slinging freedom fighter, that's plagarism. But if I have a bow slinging freedom fighter INSPIRED by Katniss, but has an entirely different name and background, it's fine. In my opinion.
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  22. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,985
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    I think that if you can compare this paragraph and that paragraph, and see a relationship between more than one attribute, you're at risk of ethical plagiarism.

    I don't know if the following will communicate what I mean, but:

    "That paragraph taught me that what looks like a prosaic, even a humorous, metaphor can actually have a serious emotional impact," is inspiration.

    "Well, they're similar, but I replaced parent and child with jockey and horse, and arithmetic with learning to handle water jumps," is ethical plagiarism.

    One more:

    "That paragraph's structure, going from a large issue, to a smaller conclusion, to a very concrete example, is one that I've used many times since I saw it," is inspiration, but not quite as clearly plagiarism-free.

    Edited to add: I think it was clear, but just in case, by "ethical plagiarism" I mean that it's plagiarism in an ethical sense rather than necessarily in a legal sense. In other words, I'm not saying it's ethical.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2014
    jazzabel likes this.
  23. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    @Ulramar : I thought 'Hunger Games' pretty much ripped off a Japanese YA story called 'Battle Royale' or some such. It was certainly quite derivative from 'The Running Man' with Arnie Schwarzenegger, similar to the ethical plagiarism @ChickenFreak described.

    @ChickenFreak : I agree. It's difficult though, since so many are doing it and it isn't punishable by law if done right. I see things like that everywhere, a lot of trends are filled with ethical plagiarism of the original, highly successful trend setter. I read somewhere that to steal from one person is plagiarism, and to steal from many is originality. So I think artists have been grappling with this for a long time.
     
  24. Ulramar
    Offline

    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 6, 2014
    Messages:
    799
    Likes Received:
    243
    Location:
    My own fantasy world, living the good life
    Ah, I thought it was a folk take.
     
  25. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    @Ulramar : I think LOTR was extensively based on Norse and British (?Celtic) mythology. 'Hunger Games' was pretty much a rip off, as was 'Harry Potter', at least in the premise. Dan Brown ripped off another body of work from the early 80s. However, the differences were obviously enough since they haven't been found to have plagiarised, at least JK and Brown.
     

Share This Page