1. Apples
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    Apples Member

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    Is this plagiarism?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Apples, Jun 13, 2009.

    Hello everybody.

    I don’t know what it feels like to be the captain of a ship in this situation (or any situation, for that matter), but I did find a published first-hand account of a similar incident. The (hypothetical) article was a sort of memoir, describing the emotional aspects of such an ordeal.

    We’ll use the following example (from our hypothetical article):

    “The radio responded only with silence. Surrounded by many crewmen and passengers, I had never felt so alone or isolated in my life. I felt like I had failed them all.”

    Now, I (the author who’s never been lost at sea) want to write a story about a ship that (you guessed it) gets lost at sea. Of course, I look to the internet for direction, where I find the aforementioned quote.

    I write:

    “Captain Bradford, though he was in the company of all his men, felt unbearably isolated. Marooned. His inadequacies were as obvious as medals on his chest and he knew it all too well. His failure to serve his crew was incredibly hard to swallow, and brought with it a feeling that he could only identify as sea sickness.”

    Now, ignoring the contrived, unedited quotes above… would this example constitute plagiarism? I’ve used an idea -- or rather, an account -- that was clearly the product of somebody else as inspiration for the emotional response of my character. While I haven’t copied any passages or phrases, I have synthesized an idea based on the intellectual work of another.

    Opinions please.

    Thanks. :)
     
  2. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    If copyright laws were that strict, nobody would be able to write anything realistic that they hadn't experienced first-hand. You want to know what it's like to be a ship's captain so you can write a story about a ship's captain. You read articles about it, and use what you learned in those articles to write the story. We are allowed to use non-fiction resources to make sure we use accurate information and show realistic portrayals of characters/circomstances in our fiction.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Using an idea is not plagiarism. Using someone else's expression of an idea, such as the phrasing, is plagiarism, even if you alter it to try to disquise the source.

    Whether it be an online article, a passage from a book, a poem, or a painting or photograph, the expression of an idea on a durable medium is protected by copyright. Taking it and presenting it as your own work, with or without alteration, is a violation of international copyright law. It is plagiarism.
     
  4. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    The examples you provided are not plagiarism--if you omit the word "unbearly isolated" and just put alone.

    If it was an essay writing, on the other hand, it would. That's the irony of a creative piece.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Altering a quoted segment does not make it legal. It is still plagiarism.

    Altering it may make it more difficult to prove plagiarism, but it is still plagiarism.

    Essays are allowed to include quoted material, but only if the source is accurately acknowledged. That falls under a part of copyright law called Fair Use. Fair Use does not extend to inclusion of quoted material in fiction. To include copyrighted material in fiction, you must get written permission from the copyright owner.
     
  6. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Again, the problem I have is the very first line: Captain Bradford, thought he was in the company of all his men, felt unbearably isolated.

    This sounds too similar.

    If you just rewrite it as: Captain Bradford felt miserable and alone. It's not plagiarism. Dude, and why tell? Show, instead.

    “The radio responded only with silence. Surrounded by many crewmen and passengers, I had never felt so alone or isolated in my life. I felt like I had failed them all.”

    Hmm...

    “Captain Bradford felt miserable and alone. His inadequacies were as obvious as medals on his chest and he knew it all too well. He deserved to fling himself off the ship.”

    Is this plagiarism?

    I'm sorry, Apples, but I think you should just reword everything, cause the more I read you're examples your a plagiarist in my eyes.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's very simple. If you take another person's writing as your own, with or without modification,

    It Is Plagiarism.

    Copy it verbatim, or replace a few words, or paraphrase it, and it is still stealing. If you pick up the idea, and put it entirely in your own words, then it is yours. But if you even take a list of points, and paraphrase the passage point by point, you ars still plagiarizing.

    When is it no longer plagiarism? When the source is no longer identifiable from the product in any reasonable way.

    Is there a gray area? Of course. That gray area arises when you put the idea of te original expression into words of your own. At some point, you are no longer taking any of the structure of the original into the product.

    If you try to balance on the edge of the blade, you WILL get cut.
     
  8. Apples
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    Apples Member

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    Thank you all for the responses.

    Let me state again that this situation is entirely hypothetical and that none of these quotes exist anywhere but this thread.

    My question is not about the quotes or the percentage of unique material (in fact, "isolated" is the only keyword that appears in both passages), but something more abstract:

    Regardless of how I word it, my story HAS to depend on the emotion expressed by this fictional first-hand account. I simply have no other sources of how a captain would feel in this situation. By using these ideas in my story... and not just ideas like isolation, but specific ideas like isolation in the company of others... am I doing something wrong?

    Thanks, and I look forward to more input.

    -Apples
     
  9. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Surely you can read that account and, with your newly acquired knowledge of how a sea captain feels, write your own original account of his thoughts and feelings....I mean, that's what being a writer is all about, putting yourself in unfamiliar situations and seeing how things work.

    Beyond that, as Cog said, anything you derive directly from that (hypothetical) quote is plagiarism.
     
  10. Apples
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    Apples Member

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    A fair point, arron89. In a real-life situation, I would certainly expand on the ideas expressed in the first-hand account more so than I've done here. I'm just wondering if the original author would be justified in accusing me of plagiarism in this situation.
     
  11. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    You can't copyright an emotion. Your captain can feel exactly the same way as the real captain does in the quote, as long as it is expressed in a way that is not directly derived from the quote. You don't copyright ideas, you copyright words. He would only be justified of accusing you of plagiarism if you took his words, not if you took his emotions.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Quite apart from copyright issues, your character will be fairly thin if you only use a single source to model your character's feelings after.

    I would not give up trying to find more examples. More than one commander has lost his or her vessel and lived to tell the tale. Include fictional accounts as well, although clearly more weight should be given to true accounts.
     
  13. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Plagiarism has nothing to do with researching your topic. It has to do with lifting the prose, intact or intentionally, from someone else's writing. In your example, you have not done that. Ideas and real-life experiences are not copyright-able (writing about them can be). I also don't see that you have used someone else's "emotional response" for your character (in your example). There are only so many emotional responses, after all; and the key is how those responses are actually (or fictionally) experienced and how the author presents them to the reader.

    Your example (from research): “The radio responded only with silence. Surrounded by many crewmen and passengers, I had never felt so alone or isolated in my life. I felt like I had failed them all.”

    You wrote: “Captain Bradford, though he was in the company of all his men, felt unbearably isolated. Marooned. His inadequacies were as obvious as medals on his chest and he knew it all too well. His failure to serve his crew was incredibly hard to swallow, and brought with it a feeling that he could only identify as sea sickness.”

    It seems to me, you have (and/or should have) infused a researched example of someone else's recollected experience with your own take on how you believe your particular fictional captain would respond in such a circumstance. I don't see anything in the researched quote to suggest that the "real" person considered his own inadequancies, for example, in the same way your fictional Captain Bradford did, nor that the real person equated that feeling to nausea, as did your fictional character.

    Even if your story takes off from or parallels the entire story of the real person whose experience you researched, as long as the writing is yours and the characters and storyline develop and originate from your imagination, then it's your story, not someone else's. Authors do this all the time--maybe run across an article in an old newspaper that sparks an imaginative notion of what might've led up to or arisen from a particular, newsworthy incident.

    If, on the other hand, you're forcing a fiction out of someone else's life story, which parallels that story in an identifiable way, you might run into other issues (mayabe libel or defamation)--but not necessarily plagiarism.

    A concern about plagiarism might arise out of a concern that your words were used in the same way someone else might've used them. A global concern that someone else might've somewhere at some time used the same construction and configuration is not worth stewing over (because almost certainly, phrases and sentences are replicated all the time).

    What is worth stewing over is if you've just read something that inspires you to write some of the same sentences you found especially stunning, just rearranging or replacing a word here and there. One--you're likely to fail miserably at recreating the same effect; and two--if you think you're plagiarizing by doing something along those lines, then you probably are, and you surely ought to re-imagine your prose and storyline structure in a more original way.

    Great fiction is, if nothing else, both original and imaginative. Neither of those qualities can possibly come from anyone else but the author--however much research that writer does to familiarize himself with crucial storyline, setting, and/or character details.

    This is, as they say, just my opinion.
     
  14. Apples
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    Apples Member

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    Cog, You're correct in stating that multiple sources would be required to portray this scene in a three-dimensional manner. I appreciate your dedication and insight.

    Wonderful response, Molly. Thanks for your input. You answered the question I was asking (but unable to adequately vocalize, I suppose) perfectly.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no, you're not!... you have only used his experience as 'research' and not quoted him in any way at all... using the same single word 'isolated' does not constitute plagiarism... you have simply read about one person's emotions in a certain situation and made your character feel somewhat the same... that is NOT plagiarism...

    it would be, only if you used the writer's actual words in context, not singly...

    writers do this all the time... that's why we do research, to find out things we don't know from our own personal experience, so we can apply them to our characters and plots...

    and describing that real person's emotions in an essay is still not plagiarism, unless you use his own words without citing the source...
     
  16. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    So who's right? You or Cogito?
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Please reread it Eyez. Maia and I are in agreement. Research and plagiarism are two different things.
     
  18. EyezForYou
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    But didn't you say Apples was plagiarizing? Because that's how it sounded like since you posted right after me.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You were asserting that changing a couple words from a lifted quote made it no longer plagiarism. That is not true.
     
  20. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    So the examples Apples provided is plagiarism?
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    As presented, no. He did not actually use any of the wording from the online article., not even a close paraphrase. One ordinary word in common would not make it plagiarism. My point was that IF a sentence were plagiarized, changing a word or two would not alter the fact. What you were suggesting was that such a small change COULD change a plagiarized passage to one which is not.

    That is the element of plagiarism that seems to be most misunderstood, and it is why I place so much emphasis on it.

    If you extract a passage from another writer's writing, and incorporate it into your writing, it remains plagiarism even if you then make changes to it.
     
  22. ManhattanMss
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    This is a really good point. Of course plagiarism in the "legal" sense differs a bit from what plagiarism actually is, in my mind. I think Asimov wrote a little essay about that from personal experience, which might be of interest (I can look it up later, I think, if someone wants to know where to find it).

    The more important aspect of plagiarism, for me, has to do with the intention to use something someone else wrote in order to write something that isn't original. Usually that's done because the writer doesn't think he can write as well as the writer he's lifting. Importantly, that's something a writer KNOWS he's doing. And, so, the thought might occur to him that he better protect himself in some way, by changing the actual words where he can. But he's still plagiarizing, no matter how much he tries to disguise it (and, importantly, no matter if anyone knows it).

    If I'm writing a story (or essay or whatever) and want it to sound like some better writer (because I don't think I've got what it takes to do the job on my own), that writing is anything but original, no matter how much of it comes from my own thesaurus or dictionary--or even if I surround it with my own, comparatively dreary efforts. Knowing you're trying to replicate another author's writing and claiming that as your own, is plagiarism, whether it’s defensible in court or if it never arrives there at all. And it probably won't unless you're a very good writer (like Asimov, e.g.), in which case you're not likely to have any reason at all to be making that choice in the first place (which he didn't).
     
  23. EyezForYou
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    I was suggesting no such thing. I was saying he should reword a couple words--under the impression that it was not plagiarism, to make it have zero possibility of writers accusing him of plagiarism. I know what plagiarism is. Those examples didn't look like plagiarism, but because of your post I got confused--you saying "It is plagiarism" and all.

    So I was right! Yay! I knew it!

    On another note, Apple, I really don't think you should even use someone's else fiction books as research. You're only limiting yourself and run the high risk of plagiarizing. Instead, expierence what you want to research first-hand through visuals and real people, whether it's from TV shows or going out into the real world. Please don't look to text as good research, because the examples you provided would actually discourage me or anyone to read your book. Those examples were pretty bland and boring, plagiarism aside. Show don't tell.
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    s/he didn't!... read the original post... what s/he said was used is a 'firsthand account' [= non-fiction]...

    ...sorry, but that's utter nonsense, imo... probably 80% or more of all research that writers do comes from 'text' of one form or another... apples did refer to a 'real' person's account and there was nothing wrong with looking to that text for accurate info from one who'd experienced what apple wanted to depict...

    there was no plagiarism... and the whole thing was a 'hypothetical' anyway!... that means all that was referred to did NOT take place, but the poster was just making up a potential situation, to get feedback on whether it would be plagiarism, or not... so, why would you presume to critique [and pan] the examples, as if they were actual excerpts from a real piece of work?...
     

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