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Inspiration vs plagiarism

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

  1. CatFace

    CatFace Member

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    That story about Quentin Rowan was very interesting, and bizarre. I feel as though it would lend itself to an off- beat screenplay where Rowan is portrayed as the comically tragic anti-hero(!) But getting back on point, unless, like Rowan, someone has deliberately lifted a sentence or paragraph word for word, it seems from people's responses here that plagiarism is a massive grey area, and it's hard to judge or agree on if someone else's work should or shouldn't be classed as plagiarism. This may sound a little airy fairy, but I think, if you yourself are the writer and would-be 'plagiarist', you would know deep down if what you are doing is copying or not. If it doesn't feel right then it probably isn't. You may even write something that someone else does not think bares anywhere near enough resemblance to another's work to be classed as plagiarism, but you yourself feel like you've been lazy and could have been more original, then that's the important factor.

    Now I come to think of it, I have been writing a short story recently which is very much centered around folklore, and I have included a character making a talisman out of the twigs from a rowan tree to ward off evil spirits. That's not my idea, that's something I read about and copied, and that's just one example. I may write about a water nymphs or goblins or witches later on... And hopefully by the time I have finished, it will be, on the whole, an original story. But just because I have 'borrowed' ideas from the realms of folklore, how is that really any different from seeing an idea, for example a description of a magical creature, that has been written about by one author in one book, and 'borrowing' that? Taking from folklore isn't really any less lazy or unoriginal, technically, but is not frowned upon as it would be if I took the idea from an individual.

    This isn't something I've actually ever given much thought to until now, actually. I am always getting inspiration from other people's work, just like all writers, and then write my own work without plagiarizing, but I have never stopped to properly think where the line actually is between the two. And what about accidental plagiarism? You may unconsciously rip off something that you saw or read so long ago, that you had forgotten the idea you have is actually someone else's. It sounds as though this happened to Helen Keller http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Frost_King. Many think it was a deliberate plagiarism, but I can imagine something like this could plausibly happen.
     
  2. jazzabel

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @CatFace : Only after I located the paragraph that I realised inspired me, I started to feel uncomfortable. Initially I was really happy with it. I think this is unintentional, and isn't word for word, so this is something a lot of writers face, because we read so much, it's sometimes hard to distinguish between memory and inspiration.
     
  3. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i strongly advise you to listen to your gut, jazz... if you felt uncomfortable, then it could be closer to plagiarism than you want to think it is...

    if the author whose work you rehashed, or any who are familiar with the original can recognize the source, then you could have crossed the line, or be so close to it as to be in trouble, legally... you really should consult a literary attorney to be on the safe side, or just be content with admiring the original and delete its 'homage' in your own work...
     
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  4. jazzabel

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @mammamaia : I will definitely seek a few opinions, unless I change it even more than I have. The problem is, I did write it myself, and it does represent an important aspect of the character. I think this is why I'm at a loss, because I feel it's mine, but then... Etc. I'll probably end up re-writing it, as I do most things, but still, I almost feel like writing to the original author and asking is he ok with it or not. Not that he'd answer or anything, but still, I'd like to know how he feels about these things.

    I don't think it's plagiarism, but obviously, I don't want to get into trouble. And I certainly don't want to be one of those people who rip something off intentionally or not, and then swear they never read the original. I'd rather pay homage.
     
  5. Burlbird

    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @CatFace I love just about everything in this letter by Mark Twain to Keller:
    www.afb.org/info/about-us/helen-keller/letters/mark-twain-samuel-l-clemens/letter-to-miss-keller-from-mark-twain-st-patrick's-day-1903/12345
     
  6. jazzabel

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a great letter @Burlbird, thanks for sharing :)
     
  7. john11

    john11 Member

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    JK rowlimg's theft is legendary.

    I was reading that there are only so many plots and if you look carefully all books are regurgitation of previous works
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  8. CatFace

    CatFace Member

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    That letter is wonderful @Burlbird

     
  9. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if the opinions are not from literary attorneys, or judges who've tried IT cases, they won't help much, as no one else will be able to give you completely reliable info/advice...
     
  10. jazzabel

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I had a dollar for every time I saw you write this comment etc :D However, I am not necessarily interested in a legal opinion here.
     
  11. Burlbird

    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm pretty sure there are people who scream "PLAGIARISM!!!" when facing a straightforward citation :)

    But what about good ol' pastiche? Nobody seems to bother with it lately - and I'm pretty sure 78.6% of people wouldn't recognize one even if it goes on and self-reference itself :D
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  12. GuardianWynn

    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    My argument here is color.

    Imagine a painter. We don't expect him to invent new colors to paint. We also don't accuse him of stealing if he paints the night sky. No one goes "he used red! I used red first!"

    We writers paint with words and themes. It is not up to use to invent new ones. It is up to us to arrange them in an order that derives hopefully a unique effect in someone.

    Heck too while on topic. Movies get remakes which is exactly coping but a new cast can make it feel different. Which to me is the point of creativity in art to be able to use something someone else has and yet make it your own.
     
  13. outsider

    outsider Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you steal from one author it's plagiarism; if you steal from many it's research.

    Wilson Mizner
     
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  14. drifter265

    drifter265 Banned

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    That letter... wow.
     
  15. daemon

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    If there is a paragraph in your book that expresses your thoughts exactly how you want them to be expressed, then what does it matter that someone else once wrote a similar paragraph? Why should anything determine how you express your thoughts other than how effective that expression is?
     
  16. Rhys

    Rhys Member

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    This quote from the letter is essentially my thoughts on plagiarism. I challenge someone to find me a story that is completely original.

    I would agree a work is plagiarised when there are so many similarities in terms of character names and appearances, plot progression, characters actions and dialogue that it borders on ridiculous.

    If I wrote a story about a boy who becomes a wizard and is destined to destroy a dark lord that has tortured the community for decades, then I would say it is NOT a plagiarism of Harry Potter.

    However if my main character was called Harry or Harold, and he had a ginger friend who was scared of spiders, and another very smart female friend with bushy hair, and they all went to a magical school with an old, wise headmaster with a big long white beard then I would say THAT is plagiarism.
     
  17. BayView

    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need to distinguish between degrees of unoriginality, I think. Something may not be plagiarism, but still be derivative and unoriginal.
     
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  18. Rhys

    Rhys Member

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    BayView, that's basically what I was trying to say so I agree. My first example was not original but certainly not plagiarism.
     
  19. daemon

    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Technically, "plagiarism" means you try to take credit for coming up with that material on your own.
     
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  20. Rhys

    Rhys Member

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    If you don't take credit for the material, isn't it classed as a parody?
     
  21. SethLoki

    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    More a pastiche I'd say @Rhys. Unless it's a send up of said original material. I was putting something together recently, the MC was content in his drunkenness, I thought 'comfortably numb' what a great pairing of words. Nearly used it/them, but good ol google loads of nagging moments later confirmed my suspicion; it was a subconscious plant grown from some lyrics I'd heard as a youngster. I changed it.

    I'm ├╝ber wary nowadays of treading on others' toes and even in the belief I have an idea that begs to have my flag stuck in it, if it feels remotely obvious, I still check.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2015
  22. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    And sometimes it's just evocative or (as the thread title indicates/questions) inspirational. One of my WIP's was inspired by the dinner-at-Brideshead scene from Brideshead Revisited. And there is indeed a dinner scene in my WIP. But that's it. It was just a seed from which the rest of the story grew, and the rest of the story couldn't be less like Waugh's work in plot, tone, feel, character, etc. So, yes, there are degrees to be considered. :)
     
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  23. Jared Carter

    Jared Carter Member

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    One example of borderline plagiarism that comes to mind is Eragon from Paolini's Inheritance Cycle. I'll admit its a guilty pleasure of mine. I really don't think its as terrible as some people make it out to be, but it seems to not only lift inspiration from numerous sources, but also copies the plot of Star Wars to certain extents. Sporkings have dissected this work to its very bones and have found even paragraphs identical to those in other works. Obviously this series has still managed to be passed off as a tribute of sorts, but it came at the cost of sucking away some of its originality and has earned itself a relatively big hatebase. I think one should use inspiration lightly and subtly. Strive not to rely heavily on inspiration, or else it could evolve into either borderline plagiarism or all out plagiarism.
     
  24. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Hey, sorry about bumping a three month old thread, but I felt like this was more fitting than just making another thread.

    I'm really concerned I'm ripping off of Daredevil, why? Because my main character in my fantasy is blind and she has a mentor, a middle-aged man who is also blind. Sounds familiar? Sounds a lot like Murdoch and Stick. Of course, the storyline, context, tone, background, etc are vastly different than the ones from Daredevil. The only similarity between my story and Daredevil is that both have a blind assassin/fighter who is mentored/was mentored by a blind assassin/fighter.

    The fantasy itself is coming along great, I'm just concerned about this one particular aspect. I can remove it with ease (or simply make the mentor not blind/not a fighter/assassin), but it's kind of worrying. Would this be considered borderline plagiarism or heavily inspired? Or are blind mentors typical in fiction and I'm just worrying too much once again?
     
  25. GuardianWynn

    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    So let me get this straight.. Your fighter was trained!

    I wouldn't worry nothing about that sounds even close. I mean what strong ffighter isn't trained?
    Also blind is not something marvel owns. Just like if I make a boy wizard I am not going to be getting sued.

    Make him a lawyer in an urban environment.... then you might be worried but blind and fighter sounds like all you got that it is common and Daredevil is not the only oone to do that. I doubt highly it was the first.
     
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