Plagiarism is a subject I think about now and then–trying to avoid it (the plagiarism, not the thinking).
I write urban fantasy. Believing that a good lie is always a half-truth, I tend to research a story extensively to make a story world believable. I tend to read non-fiction books about the subject, find related articles (I’m a folklore-and-mythology nut, and JSTOR has some great folklore resources), and sometimes I read related fiction. When reading last day’s (night’s?) work, I’m constantly on the lookout: can I use this fact in my work? Oh yes, it appeared in about 3 folklore books. Can my character say this? Doesn’t this line sound like something I’ve read in that great anthology a week ago? You get the idea…
I get the notion that I’m overdoing the worry thing.
I wonder if others are always in constant plagiarism-alert.
What worries me is checking back through my notes and journals. I try to be careful, when I copy out someone else’s work – commonplace book stuff – to note the source or the author.
Occasionally, though, I’ll come across something which doesn’t altogether sound like ME, the voice in my head. Did I write that in an off-mood? Could I have written something that good (or bad) and not remember it?
The problem seldom arises with fiction or poetry, perhaps because I don’t copy out something unless it’s a writer I particularly admire and whose style I therefore am likely to recognize.
Not so with non-fiction, where an idea might sound interesting, worth pursuing on my own later: is that what someone else wrote, or is it what occurred to me after reading this and that and something else?
When in doubt, I always re-write.
The definitive word on the subject comes from Tom Lehrer:
Plagiarism is part of the reality of the world unfortunately. In this digital age it is nigh impossible to create and release anything that cannot be plagiarised, whether it’s music (my main creative thing), writing, software, websites … you name it.
My view is that if you are good enough to create something that someone plagiarises then you are good enough to create something new without having to resort to plagiarism yourself.
That said, I have had music plagiarised in the past and it’s not very comfortable to experience. Of course sometimes people will come up with ideas similar to your own, independently, but … well, I guess (getting back to the reality of the situation) its all going to come down to whether you can afford legal representation, whether you’re that bothered at all, or whether you’ll just have to live with it.
If you get all existential about it you could claim that research of any kind is plagiarism, so I guess you have to draw the line somewhere!
Sorry if that’s not very helpful, just some thoughts I had
PS: Great fan of Tom Lehrer here! We will all go together when we die was sheer genius.
My particular favourite is when someone plagiarises (er, sorry, is “inspired by”) your ideas and then, after stealing (sorry again, obviously I mean “being inspired by”) design concepts you’ve worked long and hard on for a number years, has the gall to slag you and your business off on his blog in the most petty and unprofessional manner. Fortunately, should something like that happen (let’s call this theoretical Windows hack “Knock-Off-Maker”), it would probably be more pitiful than genuinely hateful, because I’m sure it would be nothing more than sour-grapes, realise-you’re-not-going-to-make-as-much-loot-out-of-somebody-else’s-ideas-with-your-pretty-cheap-looking-clone-now-they’ve-got-a-Windows-version-too, codswallop. Y’know, if such a thing happened.
I think if someone were to do this, he/she should be flogged, tarred and feathered, then hung by his/her…(fill in the blank) until he/she squeals like a pig. But maybe that’s just me…
And to my good friend, Vic. I will never reveal the secret of an easter egg or any such thing. That would be a total violation of my ethical code, and besides, I would never want to deprive anyone of the angst involved in searching for those damn things!!
Of course, then finding the damn things feels sooooo good.
Reminds me of something Red Skelton once said when asked why he was hitting his head against a wall. He said, “because it feels so good when I stop.”