1. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,218
    Likes Received:
    4,226
    Location:
    Alabama, USA

    Similar plot to a media you never heard of. Still stealing?

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Link the Writer, Jun 5, 2014.

    OK, here's a hypothetical scenario:

    Let's say that one day I decided to write an action-adventure book. The book is set in the UK featuring a female lead and her two companions. One of them hears of a legend that there was a map written on the back of the Magna Carta that, if decoded, would reveal a shocking twist of evidence to that historical moment in British history. The female lead then discovers, to her horror, that a bunch of crooks also heard of that legend and are going after the Magna Carta so she must go after it first before they do. So begins a chase throughout the UK where she and her companions must keep one step ahead of the crooks as she decodes the Magna Carta, which will lead them to a great find that would change how people viewed King John forever.

    For those who watched the first National Treasure, this plot sounds eerily familiar. Now let's suppose that I never watched that movie, I had no idea it existed. The setting and characters are different, but the basic plot structure is still the same. Map on the back of the Magna Carta, wild chase throughout the UK, huge find at the end and the crooks go to jail.

    The reason I ask is because of this: I heard once that the author of The Hunger Games had unknowingly plagiarized an old Japanese film with the same plotline (corrupt government forces kids to fight to the death) and she swore up and down she wasn't even aware of the film. Did she, though unintentionally, plagiarize? I've also been told that even if the plot 'sounds' like the plot of another media, what matters is my own take on it.

    So I'm a bit confused on that matter. Would this hypothetical book still be ripping off of National Treasure even though I (a) had a different set of characters and setting and (b) never heard of this film in this scenario?

    Thoughts?
     
  2. FrankieWuh
    Offline

    FrankieWuh Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2014
    Messages:
    191
    Likes Received:
    107
    Location:
    Deepest Darkest UK
    The Japanese film you're referring to is called Battle Royale, and while the plot device of using an arena to kill off child competitors one by one is the same, the setting, characters and also the plot structure are different. In fact Hunger Games is about as similar to Battle Royale as Richard Bachman's The Long Walk (another ultra-violent competition involving children), probably more so in the latter instance. Battle Royale throws the reader/viewer into the arena from the beginning, with the children having no idea why they are on this island until they get dumped by their teaching in the middle of a killing ground. In Hunger Games, the children are all aware of what is going to happen and what is expected of them, with the competition occurring later. In that respect, (and much more) Battle Royale is a superior story (although much more violent).

    The story you've outlined, however, about the Magna Carta is too close to National Treasure, because you are using pretty much the same plot as this film. Bear in mind that National Treasure is only a modern day Indiana Jones, so the use of historical adventure and discovery is all fine, but the use of the Magna Carta would not be, in my opinion, regardless of its differences to the Decleration of Independence. It would certainly not be plagiarism, but a publisher would not publish something that is so similar to a story that's already been told and recently; and unless it was a stunning story, it would always suffer as a "poor man's National Treasure," a film that was, frankly, not that brilliant anyway.
     
    jazzabel and Link the Writer like this.
  3. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,218
    Likes Received:
    4,226
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    Ah, OK. So even though it's not blatant plagarism, it's so eerily similar that the publishing company/agents would hesitate to have the book be released.

    I suppose if the only thing that's similar is the fact that it's a hunt for something related to British history, but the structure, characters, setting, and plot were different, it's okay.

    Come to think of it, this is probably one of the main reasons why writers need to read a lot, so they know if their plot starts to sound a little too familiar for comfort.
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2014
  4. JetBlackGT
    Offline

    JetBlackGT Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    465
    Likes Received:
    158
    Location:
    Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
    There are a limited number of themes, as well. If the author has never heard of it, that doesn't mean the story can't be quite similar. Similar problems come up, similar solutions, etc.. Like convergent evolution, you can have identical-looking plants in widely separated desert environments, which look identical in every way. Totally unrelated! They have a niche to fill and identical weather pressures so they have evolved identical means to cope.

    A story can go that way too. How many Romeo and Juliets can there be? Yeah. All of them. If Disney can regurgitate the same story line over and over, so can we! :)
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  5. Mike Kobernus
    Offline

    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2013
    Messages:
    301
    Likes Received:
    127
    Location:
    Norway
    I think that something can be salvaged from the plot, regardless. There are, after all, only so many plots. They are bound to get recycled more or less continuously.

    I suggest that instead of using the Magna Carta, which is very similar to the declaration, etc...how about inventing a new manuscript? Just make it up!

    Maybe renovations in an old church lead to the accidental discovery of a sealed lead coffin. But inside, there is no body! Just an old piece of Vellum and some bricks.

    MYSTERY!!!!

    News gets out, and public imagination runs wild. But there is a group of scholars who suspect they know what the old document contains, and they will stop at nothing to, etc, etc, etc...

    I would say that this version is sufficiently different that you need no worry about issues or accusations of stealing.

    Re-imagine, then go!
     
    jazzabel and Link the Writer like this.
  6. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,218
    Likes Received:
    4,226
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    Now that sounds like a story I'd want to read! :D
     
  7. Carthonn
    Offline

    Carthonn Active Member

    Joined:
    Aug 13, 2008
    Messages:
    407
    Likes Received:
    32
    I don't sweat that stuff. If the writing is done well and has good characters someone will want to read it.
     
  8. Mike Kobernus
    Offline

    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2013
    Messages:
    301
    Likes Received:
    127
    Location:
    Norway
    I agree with Carthonn. I mean, there really is nothing new under the sun. Shakespeare himself ripped off every single idea for a play (except possibly one, which is not very popular..hmmm) so if the bard could get away with it, why not the rest of us?
     
  9. Burlbird
    Offline

    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2011
    Messages:
    978
    Likes Received:
    295
    Location:
    Somewhere Else
    An unintentional plagiarism CANNOT be plagiarism by the very definition of plagiarism, which includes deliberation and intent to represent another author's words, thoughts and ideas as your own.

    Note, also, the word "author": you cannot "plagiarize" your grandma's bedtime story by including it in you "authorized" work. You also cannot plagiarize a commonly known, easily recognizable, culturally significant item, even if the "author" is known - that's more or less what pastiche is. You also cannot plagiarize by staying loyal to the Zeitgeist : yeah, angsty teenagers going at each others throats and fucking up society reflects in media since 1960s :)
     
    jazzabel and TDFuhringer like this.
  10. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    What makes Battle Royale superior? I've not read it, so I know nothing about it but after reading your post, I kinda want to lol.
     
  11. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,218
    Likes Received:
    4,226
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    Probably 'cause it came first. ;)
     
    Mckk likes this.
  12. FrankieWuh
    Offline

    FrankieWuh Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 6, 2014
    Messages:
    191
    Likes Received:
    107
    Location:
    Deepest Darkest UK
    I can't vouch for the book ( I forget which came first, the book or the movie) but the films are like the difference between The Green Berets and Platoon. Battle Royale is simply more realistic, from the violence (which is quite shocking) to the characters themselves and how they evolve. Battle Royale dehumanises the characters, after all they are not killing strangers, they are killing their own class-mates to survive. It doesn't explore familiar dystopian tropes that Hunger Games feels the need to, recycling what has been around since Orwell's 1984, to the 70's movie Rollerball, and done better. Instead what you are given is a bleak story about society's insane reaction to the problem of teenage delinquents (if you're from the UK, think "An ASBO too far";)) without the the Hollywood or YA compromises filmmaker and writer are expected to make. The Battle Royale filmmakers appear to have made absolutely no compromises.

    Yes, but it's more than that. I don't necessarily always go for what came first. (I'm not a fan if remakes and yet I prefer Carpenter's The Thing over the original. SFX aside, the 1982 remake is purely better story-telling IMHO). Would I opt for Battle Royale if I'd seen Hunger Games first? ... Mmm, probably, because there have been other books/films of this kind before ... Rollerball, King's Long Walk and The Running Man (not the film, which was fun in its own way), etc etc that I consider better than Hunger Games in my opinion - though thousands of teenage (and adult) readers would say I'm wrong! :).
     
    jazzabel and Link the Writer like this.
  13. Nightstar99
    Offline

    Nightstar99 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jul 8, 2013
    Messages:
    259
    Likes Received:
    136
    Battle Royale would prolly have got a Hollywood remake if Hunger Games hadn't come along. Shame as it is the better story, but would probably have been toned down to hunger games levels anyway.

    As far as I know HG is s children's or teens book which I think is pretty apparent from the realisation. Not a bad movie overall but the film at least does watch like a rip off of battle Royale without any of the elements that made the film so good.
     
    Link the Writer likes this.
  14. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    But have you read the books? In my opinion, there's nothing childish about the writing. The writing is extremely universal - pure poetry if you ask me, I adored every word of it and it's not often I can actually switch off my inner critic and not often I find a page-turner, even when I come across a well-written book. The themes, the humanisation of the characters and the writing are all very mature - the poetry and symbolism often in Collins' language makes up for its simplicity.

    But then again, I prefer simple language over flowery stuff. The only time I get descriptive is when I go for poetry with rhythm and metaphors etc. I don't do lists, which is how factual descriptions reads to me. All this - and the fact that I have not read or even heard of the other books/films you've mentioned - will play a pretty big part in why I loved Hunger Games as much as I did.

    @FrankieWuh - but then you say Battle Royale is Japanese, right? That itself gives it an edge, in my opinion. Now I do enjoy some Hollywood and RomComs and the like, but Japanese things are far less censored when it comes to violence (and sex and sexuality, of course). Seriously, I watched a CHILDREN'S film about cartoon pandas when I was 7 and I was scarred for life - Bambi's got nothing on that one. The western world screams at pretty much the slightest little hint of anything nasty in mediums meant for children, and the Japanese quite literally dunks the child head-first in bloating graves sometimes. Gotta be careful what you let kids watch when it comes to the Japanese - some AMAZING stuff and I grew up with some of it, but seriously, some of what they have is traumatising.

    Anyway, my point is simply that I'm not surprised you say Battle Royale made no compromises and stripped the characters of their humanity, because that's precisely what the film's about (or so I assume). It also means it's likely heavily realistic, far more so than Hunger Games, which strips HG of what makes it special. (because in my opinion HG was pretty realistic and honest - but if we're comparing it with the average Japanese stuff, I would assume that HG by contrast would seem like cotton candy put up against Japanese violence.)
     
    Link the Writer likes this.
  15. Mike Kobernus
    Offline

    Mike Kobernus Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2013
    Messages:
    301
    Likes Received:
    127
    Location:
    Norway
    I am not sure if unintended plagiarism matters. George Harrison did not intend to steal the melody for My Sweet Lord, and yet he lost a case and had to pay royalties for it. So that was unintended plagiarism, surely....
     
  16. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,979
    Likes Received:
    5,501
    At least in academics, I don't think that intent is required. If you read someone's theory, and it makes so much sense to you that you forget where you found it and thought that it just came from common sense, and you put it in your own paper, it's still plagiarism.

    Edited to add: Now, if you truly didn't copy--if you came up with a similar idea entirely on your own--that's different. Plagiarism, and copyright violation, involve copying. Of course, you may or may not be able to prove that you didn't copy.
     
    jazzabel and Link the Writer like this.
  17. daemon
    Offline

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2014
    Messages:
    1,361
    Likes Received:
    982
    Technically, there is no question that the OP's scenario is not plagiarism. Even if the author has seen National Treasure, the whole idea of "finding historical evidence on the back of an ancient document and protecting the document from bad guys who want to exploit it" is not nearly specific or detailed enough to be legitimately considered as intellectual property. You have to do work in order to have a claim to intellectual property, and frankly, if a nebulous plot premise pops into your head, that does not count as work.

    Furthermore, plagiarism means taking someone else's work and claiming that it is your own. The act of writing a book based on a certain premise does not count as a claim that you thought of the premise yourself. If someone reads the book and thinks "this author is lying because he wants us to believe he came up with this idea when he clearly didn't", then that is the reader's problem for projecting a false impression on the author.

    Subjectively, I enjoyed National Treasure but I do not think it is an excellent movie. It addresses interesting concepts, and it employs some Spielberg-esque "cool conceptual objects" (for lack of a better term*), but the plot is messy and the acting is unconvincing. I would be very interested in reading a book that develops the idea with an airtight plot and without the baggage of acting. In fact, I like Indiana Jones and National Treasure for most of the same reasons, and while Indiana Jones is obviously in a different ballpark in terms of quality, they do not detract from each other in my mind.

    You might think that, after watching National Treasure, I would be disinclined to read a book with a similar plot because I would be put off by its "unoriginality". But to tell you the truth, I, like any normal reader, do not care about originality. We care about having a good experience. And if we have already had a good experience watching a movie based on a certain premise, then that is merely evidence that we will have a good experience reading a book with a similar premise.

    Originality in entertainment is something that only snobs, overly zealous content creators, and lawyers care about. Asking about originality on a forum of writers is like asking it in an echo chamber. Outside the echo chamber, your readers do not think anything like the way your fellow authors think. They have not been corrupted by the notions of pride and protectiveness of content that plague authors. They just want you to write something that they are interested in reading. That is how the world is, and how it should be. I wish more authors were in touch with the world.

    Originality deserves praise if it contributes a good thing to the world, but developing someone else's idea into something that satisfies readers does not deserve criticism. In fact, if the idea is interesting enough, then adapting it might even be a better use of the author's time than developing an original idea that is less interesting. I myself am currently dealing with that conundrum. I have had several original story ideas over the past few years. I also recently read a book that instantly became my all-time favorite book simply because the idea is so interesting, even though the writing is sloppy. It is humbling to think that I could contribute more to the world by marginally improving this book and publishing the improvement (thereby sharing a life-changing idea with a broader audience and getting critics to respect the idea), than by developing all the ideas I've ever had into complete books. It puts my own creativity in perspective.

    Pragmatically, it is a win-win for National Treasure itself, the book itself, viewers of National Treasure, and readers of the book. They do not compete with each other. I doubt that there is a single person in the world who only has enough money to buy one of them, and actually has to choose one over the other. If they do exist, then for every one of them, there are thousands who would tell their friends, "So you liked that book? I think you'd like National Treasure, too." Because that is what people do out there in the world -- they talk about books and movies they like, and they make recommendations to their friends.

    Note that my opinion is exactly the same whether or not the author has actually seen National Treasure.

    * In Spielberg's movies, I mean things like the giant spherical boulder chasing Indiana down the tunnel, the scuba tank in the shark's mouth, the flying bike in E.T., etc. -- concrete physical objects that employ creativity and spatial/physical ingenuity in order to create very discrete and, above all, memorable images. The kind of images you would refer to as "that boulder from Indiana Jones" because they practically define their own category. National Treasure has quite a few of these, e.g. the container they keep the Declaration inside (useful as both a quasi-Macguffin and a blunt weapon), the glasses, and the marked brick in Liberty Hall.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2014
    TDFuhringer, Mckk and Link the Writer like this.
  18. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,218
    Likes Received:
    4,226
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    Regarding Battle Royale and Hunger Games: Well yeah, the Japanese aren't quite so sensitive about what their children see on TV. Some might say Battle Royale is more superior because not only did it come first, but it does not tone down the violence. Their mindset is on the lines of 'steel yourself, this will be the ride of your life and we will not hold back.'

    Regarding unintentional plagiarism: I have a funny story about that. Once I made up a fantasy race called 'Nepurians', only to learn it was already a race in a book I hadn't heard of before. :D I also made up a landmass whose name is now used as a character in a videogame, and I made another race whose name is similar to a race found in Star Wars. Again, I had no idea about any of this at the time until I found out about it a year ago.

    Unrelated to that, apparently Mrs. Rowling got into big trouble at one point with another author because she used the word 'muggle' to describe non-magical people, just like the other author had done.

    @daemon - I liked reading your post and I think I should address some of it. While true most people wouldn't care if my hypothetical story sounded similar to National Treasure, I should at least take care to not blatantly rip off of the movie. I can do so many things with the 'heroes find something of historical significance and must protect it from the bad guys' idea that it would be a waste to borrow heavily from National Treasure. Sure it's set in a different country with a different document, but I'm reminded of Paolini's The Inheritance Cycle. Effectively, people have accused it of basically being Star Wars set in a fantasy world. I remember my time in a forum that was anti-Inheritance Cycle and one of the major problems they had about it was the fact it was a blatant rip-off. Eragon/Luke was a farmboy. Brom/Obi-Wan was the old mentor who died. Eragon/Luke is one of the last of a mighty group of warriors. Galbatorix/Vader was once part of that band of warriors until he turned to evil and helped to kill that band of warriors. Arya/Leia was a princess that needed to be rescued, etc.

    I suppose there's nothing wrong with a story that's based off of another story; there are millions of stories like that. But one has to take care to not blatantly and knowingly rip off of another story. Even though my hypothetical story isn't National Treasure, it basically is National Treasure.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2014
    Mckk likes this.
  19. ToeKneeBlack
    Offline

    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 4, 2014
    Messages:
    592
    Likes Received:
    207
    I've been working on a story for a few years before finding out that my primary heroine bears a strong resemblance to Marvel's "Blink" character, even though portals are only the first of the powers she is able to use.

    The only way to get a story published is to keep trying. If the publishers won't publish, there's always the option of self publishing or going through Amazon or similar services to publish electronically.

    Most stories are based on other stories. Star Wars, for example, draws heavily from Japanese samurai movies and the Percy Jackson series seems to take the classic ancient Greek myths and puts them into a modern setting.
     
  20. Burlbird
    Offline

    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2011
    Messages:
    978
    Likes Received:
    295
    Location:
    Somewhere Else
    I know this is a frequently repeated idea for a student's excuse, but frankly, can you really see it happen? How lazy or disorganized do you really have to be to forget where you read something crucial to you thesis? I mean, in private conversations or letters/emails you are certainly not going to back-track something interesting you've read in a newspaper article 3 years ago - but putting something like that in a scientific/academic text? That's not a way to approach any serious work. So it would go down either to laziness or disorganization. Either way, if s/he publishes the text without full bibliography and ommits a crucial reference, s/he is quite deliberate trying to mislead the readers. An intention is there , even if s/he plays the "I'm a dumb blonde"-card. In which case, the question would be what the f* is s/he doing submitting academic work in the first place...
     
    jazzabel and Link the Writer like this.
  21. Link the Writer
    Offline

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2009
    Messages:
    11,218
    Likes Received:
    4,226
    Location:
    Alabama, USA
    I agree. In academic papers, it's important to cite any text you've quoted, especially if the author you're quoting seems to be backing your thesis up. Back when I was in college doing papers, I would organize the text from most important to least important on (a lot of) paper, but I'd make sure to cite every one of them that I used, filling the text with my own examinations, of course. The quotes you use only serve to support your thesis, but the bulk of it is on you.

    ...I really should become a professor one day.
     
  22. FrankABlissett
    Offline

    FrankABlissett Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 29, 2008
    Messages:
    422
    Likes Received:
    22
    Location:
    Sault, Michigan
    Link,

    Nothing hypothetical about it - that happens all the time. Sometimes the mood of the culture and the contemporary fads cause two (or many) people to come up with similar ideas by coincidense. Other times, bits and pieces of an idea are floating around and someone subconsciously recreats an idea. Other times, somebody will say "that's a good idea, but I can do better" - ie more commercial, or more literary, or more tailored to a niche demographic.

    I remember someone on this forum, years ago, pointing to a particular Stephen King story as an example of an "original idea". Thing is that he was too young to realize that that particular story was a complete send-up to weird-tales from old-time radio and golden age sci-fi. But, even knowing that (maybe even because of that), it was still a fun story.

    A great example of something more subconscious comes from George Harrison. In that case, the Chiffons song "He's So Fine" floated around the deep receases of his mind, and a little while later came out as "My Sweet Lord".

    As to the question at the end of your post, you might be accused of ripping of something or anything, not matter what you write.

    I would say not to worry about it too much. Just have fun writing.

    -Frank
     
  23. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,979
    Likes Received:
    5,501
    I don't know, but I was responding to the idea that it's not plagiarism if it's unintentional. It's still plagiarism, even if it is unintentional.
     
  24. Burlbird
    Offline

    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2011
    Messages:
    978
    Likes Received:
    295
    Location:
    Somewhere Else
    @ChickenFreak again, I disagree on "terminology" :) I know that "plagiarism" is used all around, and is of lately being used in academic judgment in any possible situation, but I think it is a misuse of the term. "Unintentional plagiarism", in modern schooling is judged usually after an "anti-plagiarism" software is applied. While unquestionably a useful tool, in many cases these software would point to things that are later established by human proofreader to be either lack of quotation, unskillful paraphrazing, lack of sourcing, etc etc. Students, especially younger ones, usually get to learn from these mistakes - they are failures in writing process, not cases of academic dishonesty. Accusing a student, especially an unexperienced one, who is yet to learn about academic integrity, for plagiarism, which could draw serious consequences for them, in cases of misplaced quotation marks - it's not just cruel, but borders on unethical in my book... On the other hand I do work with teenagers, so my heart may be a little mellow :D

    However, the idea that you mentioned, about the student using a concept s/he heard somewhere, sometimes, then forgetting where and when, thinking that it was "common knowledge" and then basing his/her work on it - that's ludicrous. If someone would come to me claiming that was unintentional (even a 15 year-old) I'd seriously think they are pulling my nose. In any case, that is not what in most academic circles would be considered "unintentional".

    The same goes for creative and artistic endevours of any kind, with that exception that you are not obliged to specify sources of your citations and paraphrases and pastiches. I've seen toilet seats, sinks and bathtubs exhibited in galleries - however lame that is - but nobody needs to point at that one specific pisoir that all of these unmistakenably come from / or point to. However, these are not "stealing intellectual property": nobody in his right mind would think of exhibiting a bathroom piece claiming it's his own, new, fresh and original artistic approach. You are expected to judge the artistic citation by its re-contextualization etc etc. :)
     
    FrankABlissett likes this.
  25. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    Try telling that to Serbian Minister of Police :p
    (couldn't resist, forgive the inside joke, everyone)
     

Share This Page