1. Metus
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    Metus Senior Member

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    The Extent of Plagiarism?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Metus, Mar 14, 2012.

    I'm not even really sure what to title the thread. But basically, I'm wondering about what constitutes plagiarism and copyright infringement. For example, is anyone who uses elves (of similar type as Tolkein) actually plagiarizing? What if someone uses magic based on an ancient language? What if someone creates a world where mages are hated and feared?

    Can concepts, such as (but not limited to) the ones above be plagiarism, or does a persn have to copy more than one aspect (such as a world with both elves and hated mages), or is a person pretty much safe unless they actually steal exact phrasing? Is there a certain point where something is used so mainstream that it basically becomes public domain? (Such as nature-loving elves.) What determines what's open to public use and what belongs to an author?

    I've just always wondered about this, but I haven't been able to find examples or anything online. Explanations for what constitutes plagiarism are always very vague.
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Concepts, story ideas, types of characters - none are copyrighted. Neither are titles. The body of the written work is what is protected by copyright.
     
  3. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    None of that stuff is copyrighted.

    Every big-picture concept has shown up in more than one place before. For example, "Alice in Wonderland" and "Narnia" both involve traveling to an alternate dimension from an ordinary portal from your yard/house, but the two are vastly different stories.
     
  4. DaVinci
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    DaVinci Banned

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    If they copied the plot lines down to the 'T', that would be plagiarism. Giving it a different twist is nowhere near plagiarism. If it were, we'd have a total of 5 stories written throughout history, lol. Everything else would be plagiarism.
     
  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    The first paragraph of wiki entry for Plagiarism is really interesting I think. In any case, in my personal practice, any deliberate copying even of non-copyrighted material, is walking a fine line. In other words, the more copied material or ideas that appear in my work, the closer I would be to plagiarising.

    So, for example, I might have a favourite childhood story and be inspired to write a modern version of it. If I change the names, locations and plot twists then it is not plagiarism any more than the Lion King is a plagiarism of Hamlet. But if I go to write a story set in 19th century London, about a detective called Sherlock Holmes, and I refuse to acknowledge A.C. Doyle as a source, then I'm plagiarising even though all of it belongs in the public domain.

    In art, the rules of plagiarism are much more relaxed than in academia. If you look at the similarities between Worst Witch and Harry Potter for example. Whilst it isn't considered plagiarism in the art world (although the author of Worst Witch begs to differ, and I tend to agree with her), if JK tried to pull off something similar, but in scientific writing, it would definitely be considered plagiarism (being in science for almost 20 years, I am acutely aware of just how harshly we deal with theft of ideas and incomplete references).

    To be safe, it is always helpful to analyse your inspirations and to read a lot. While there is no "unconscious plagiarism" because two different people will never, of their own accord, write the exact same thing, reading helps to avoid embarrassment of coming up with stories that are too similar to the ones already published.

    Copyright infringement, on the other hand, is a legal term and it is easy to find definitions of it anywhere on the net. It is a clearly defined set of rules which are easy to understand and follow, so that's not so much of a problem, I think.
     
  6. marcuslam
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    marcuslam Senior Member

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    I thought titles were copyrighted? Unfortunately, my limit in this area is limited. It would be cool if someone could clear this up.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no, titles are not protected by copyright... which is why there are so many books and movies with the same title...

    what did you mean by that, jazz?... what are you referring to?... if you find something in print somewhere, then it IS copyrighted, so what could you 'copy' that isn't?
     
  8. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Yes, but ONLY if you fail to give proper attribution to the public domain source. Wikipedia states that 'public domain works can be freely used for derivative works without permission,’ so as long as you put somewhere ‘based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle’ you can write a story set in 19th century London and base it on a character called Sherlock Holmes without danger of copyright infringement - in fact, many people have done just that (P.D James' Death Comes to Pemberley being one of the most recent examples). It’s essentially commercial fanfiction – once copyright has expired you can publish fanfiction quite legally and make money from it :D

    I don't. I loved the Worst Witch novels when I was a kid, and watched the film (starring Diana Rigg, Fairuza Balk and Tim Curry) over and over. But I don’t see any particular similarity in the Harry Potter novels except the fact that both were based in a school for witches and wizards. This is such a broad concept it cannot possibly be covered by copyright laws. As far as I know, there are few if any similarities in either the characters or the plots.

    Yes and no. Writing exactly the same story as another author without ever having read that author would be unlikely, but writing exactly the same story as one you’ve read without MEANING to, i.e. unconsciously being influenced by a story you’ve read, is quite common. As long as you are aware of your influences and take care to avoid too much duplication, you should be ok.
     
  9. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it is like my children's stories have a helter skelter slide inside a tree that take the children to Story Land. Most people think Faraway Tree, but actually my version is closer to a children's cartoon called Jamie and the Magic Torch (It is probably a cross between the two really), because the Faraway Tree the slide is designed to take the children home, away from the land. Mine like in Jamie and the Magic Torch takes the children to the land. There are other examples of children's stories that use a similar method to get to the world.

    When I first changed my MC, Angus, into a falcon - I'd forgotten about the Sorceress in He-Man. My MC also has similarities with Prince Adam. However he is different enough, and my falcon is different so I am not overly worried. The show has had a definite unconscious influence on my fantasy, but they are different enough that it is influence/homage rather than plagarism.

    Boarding School wizarding stories are far older than Worst Witch. The Wizard of Earthsea probably has more similarities to Harry Potter. How many epic fantasies basically recycle Middle Earth etc ? But even Tolkein recycled and adapted stories that had gone before him.
     
  10. Kaymindless
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    Kaymindless Contributing Member

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    I think they were referring to works in the public domain that you can now acquire for free via the internet. Just saying even though the original Pride and Prejudice is in the public domain, copying the book is still plagiarism even if there is no copy-write associated with the original work itself anymore.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although famously that didn't stop Warner Brothers hassling the Marx Brothers over their use of "Casablanca" in the film title "A Night in Casablanca". It's probably why their hassling failed, but not everybody would be able to deal with the hassle as well as Groucho did (it's an exchange of correspondence that's well worth searching out). In other words, what's legal and what you can afford to show in court is legal are not necessarily the same thing. In a different medium, look at the fuss over Rumblefish's claim to have copyright over somebody else's recording of birdsong. Their claim had no merit whatsoever, but the person who made the recording couldn't afford to fight them over it (fortunately, the PR storm seems to have made them back down).
     
  12. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is a current one involving the film company that is making The Hobbit -- they are wanting a pub in Southampton that has been open twenty years to change its name and the names of its drinks. it does cocktails named Frodo, Gandalf, Bilbo etc.

    I guess they could drop the, the as the word is older than Tolkein. (just doesn't have the same meaning). The Hobbit characters are very similar to ones in earlier children's books.
     
  13. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    A lot of the character names in Tolkein come from Norse mythology, particularly the Völuspá. On the other hand, the pub in Southampton has images from the Lord of the Rings films all over its website, which is just asking for trouble (and almost certainly copyright infringement). Yes, the word "Hobbit" for a particular type of mythological creature pre-dates Tolkein, but it's a trademark owned by Tolkein's estate and so its use in combination with LotR images and character names is likely a trademark violation too.
     
  14. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    They are not being sued for the LOTR images on the website though, but being asked to change the name of the pub, by the film company. The pub has been around longer than the films, because of its location i find it difficult to believe the family were unaware of it -- it is the film company in the US doing the suing.

    There is also the issue with the John Carter and Tarzan which should be in the public domain but the estate are trying to use the trademark infringement with a comic that used the characters.
     

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