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Monday, April 30, 2007


An interesting article on plagiarism

It's called:

Look What I Found In My Brain!: What can happen if you accidentally plagiarize

It's brief, gives a couple of case examples, both of which are horror stories about what happens if you're careless about checking where your stuff comes from, and is very readable. Check it out.

Lucy is very cool!
Lucy is very cool!
Oops, sorry.
Lucy is ver...


I mean to wonder: How far can intellectual properties be taken? Sure, if your characters are similar down to the same middle initials, and your novel has all the same plot twists as last month's bestseller, that might be a good warning sign. But where is the middle ground? The realization that eventually there are always ways to find similarities between two stories that were created independently by two equally disconnected minds?

I admit to having done this, however. I write what I think to be a great, clever scene, only to realize I took the basic layout from a book I loved last year. Grr. Then I get to grouse over it, trying to figure out how to make it original enough that I can truly call it mine.
I think, legally anyway, there's a difference between directly lifting something and doing something similar under its influence. Basic layout isn't copyrightable. Others may know more about this than me.

Originality is a bugbear, but generally speaking I find it best not to worry about it. If something feels cliched it should be avoided, but if it's only been done once before, then there's no reason not to try it. It won't come out the same in your version as it did in the first version anyway; it can't, because nobody can write exactly like anybody else.

Though having said that, I find it very inhibiting if someone I admire has done something similar to something I'm planning on doing. So much so that I tend to scrap the plan and do something completely different. Inhibitions are bad for writing.

On a side note, this is also the reason why I never base major characters on people I know. I worry too much about whether the portrayals are accurate, and that, again, is inhibiting. Better to just strike out alone than keep cricking your neck back towards the beach.

So that's my main tactic when I think I'm straying too close to someone else, either their writing or their personality: I pitch the whole thing. What are other people's?

(And at the risk of sounding very ignorant, do you all know this Lucy? I just stumbled on the article somehow and thought it was good, but it sounds as if she's famous? I seem to be missing something. Sorry Lucy, if you ever read this, it's nothing personal. I never know who's who. As I said in an earlier post, I'm the person who asked Dave Gilmour what he did for a living.)
Lucy is one of my lj friends. Joel and Josh I suspect were joking around plagiarising my post.
Lucy is one of my...

No. I don't know her. And buffy, I'm hurt that you'd accuse me of such a thing. I'll see you in court.
It's a date!
Is it sad that the only way I can get a date is by suing someone? This does not bode well for my romantic endeavors. Oh wait. Wedding this weekend. No worries. Heheh.
You're getting married? Congratulations!
Thankya! Yup. Heading back to Colorado this Sunday for the main event. Pray the weather treats us nice, 'cause it's an outdoor ceremony. Pictures will be put on the blog, sooner or later.
Plagiarism is a tricky one. I don't really agree with copyright/plagiarism laws but I don't want to get into all that because writers tend to try and lynch me over that one (even though I am a writer myself and am happy to have my work ripped off - by which I mean re-invented, quoted with no payment, bounced around, and parodied rather than presented as someone elses work!!)

Reading Lucy's blog I felt extremely sad once again, that ignorance is no defense in copyright law. Ignorance should surely always be a defense because if you don't know you are committing a crime how can you stop yourself. It was nice that the second author was so understanding, but I'd prefer to live in a world where she could just stick a note on the front of the story explaining the situation and where she didn't have to give all the money to the originator, but half of it instead, which is fair.

I tend to actively invite writing about facets or traits of people I know (including things they've said to me) but avoid like the plague the idea of basing entire characters on them. If you know someone you can never do them justice, you get paralyzed by the responsibility of capturing them correctly.

As for plots etc... being like existing books, this is a real pain. I try to avoid it because of the dangers, but how many times have you come up with something and then later discovered someone else is doing it. I once wrote a passage about snow about two years ago. A few months later I read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, and there is a passage on snow in there that is almost verbatim what I wrote. Can I sue him for plagiarism? No. But I could be sued if I use it, even though I had definitely not read AG when I wrote it. How could I prove that I hadn't? And even worse I own American Gods. The evidence is staked against me.

I intend to use to passage anyway. To (be un)publish(ed) and be damned. Because I wrote that passage. It came from me. And so I have as much right as Neil does to it. Odd that we both came up with the same stuff but not unusual. I know quite a few people that have had similar things happen to.
I did a screenwriting module at university and we were required to produce our own original script as the final test. During workshop I noticed that one of the people there had come up with a concept exactly the same as a long-running sketch character popular at the time. I felt like I was required to point this out, but reasoned that at least that would never happen to me.
By chance I watched the eighties remake of DOA a few days later and the first five minutes were exactly the same as my script. As if I'd literally sat down and transcribed it. Hah.
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