Jump to content
Graeme

Plagarism vs Inspiration

Recommended Posts

Does anyone have any guidelines on the difference between plagarism and inspiration?

To make it clearer, I'll give a concrete example of what I'm thinking about.

Yesterday, I saw a British TV show about a time in the future where chocolate was made illegal. I was busy at the time nursing a sick child, but as far as I could gather, a political party called "Good For You" had gained control of the country. They deemed chocolate to be bad for you, and therefore made it illegal.

I was intrigued by the concept, and given exit polls from the recent USA elections where "moral issues" were high in the list of concerns for a lot of voters, it wasn't hard to consider a time in the future where a "Morality" political party took control of a country (not necessarily the USA) and made anything they considered immoral illegal.

If I was to write a story on this basis, is this legitimate inspiration, or is it plagarism of the original idea from the TV show (which in turn was based on a book)?

Graeme

Link to comment
Does anyone have any guidelines on the difference between plagarism and inspiration?

Yesterday' date=' I saw a British TV show about a time in the future where chocolate was made illegal. I was busy at the time nursing a sick child, but as far as I could gather, a political party called "Good For You" had gained control of the country. They deemed chocolate to be bad for you, and therefore made it illegal.[/color']

I was intrigued by the concept, and given exit polls from the recent USA elections where "moral issues" were high in the list of concerns for a lot of voters, it wasn't hard to consider a time in the future where a "Morality" political party took control of a country and made anything they considered immoral illegal.

If I was to write a story on this basis, is this legitimate inspiration, or is it plagarism of the original idea from the TV show (which in turn was based on a book)?

From a moral and ethical standpoint, the story would be fine because you're basing your entirely own story based on a single idea out of an entire TV show, though you'd have to be careful not to use any of the other ideas realted to it.

From a legal standpoint, you may be guilty of plagarism. You have not created a derivative work or a work 'inspired by' but rather have taken someone's very unique idea and used it. If you did the same thing and made, for instance, ketchup illegal you'd probably be ok. (Based on existing US laws).

I am not espousing that I agree specifically one side or the other. We are, as writers, after all, inspired by what we see, read, hear, and feel. I am certain if you read my work you will find things reminiscent of other authors. I have a subway in my book, but have I stolen from Neil Gaiman? Of course not. There's a fine line somewhere and it's very vague.

-- wbms

Link to comment

Thanks!

For the record, the TV show and book are both called "Bootleg". The book is by Alex Shearer, but it's not clear from what I could track down if the BBC TV drama was based on the book, or if the book was based on the BBC drama.

Graeme

Link to comment

From what you've said, aussie_gw, I'd say you're thinking of the basic idea, of things being deemed immoral and illegal by a religious and/or political movement. Hmm. Sounds vaguely similar to current events in several countries, not just in the West, either.

That's not plagiarism, IMHO. Compare Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. Or compare Heinlein's The Rolling Stones and David Gerrold's Star Trek "The Trouble With Tribbles." -- I have a copy, now packed in a box, of the box he wrote about writing that episode. He realized in the middle of writing one of the episode drafts that the story was a lot like Heinlein's book, which he'd read, and he got so concerned about it he asked Heinlein, who said the stories were different enough, and talked about how authors borrow things as opposed to plagiarizing. Last I looked, Gerrold's book was out of print, but it's well worth tracking down. There are another two by Roddenberry and by Stephen Whitfield on how the original Star Trek series came to be that are interesting for writers especially.

No, I really *wasn't* trying to put the thread on a tangent, those were just notable. :blush:

So, my opinion is, (a) there are plenty of real world historicial events that make your idea original, and (b) you made a significant change (and other changes later) to the idea in the book and show you saw.

If you'd only changed it to, oh, peanut butter or diet colas, then that might be plagiarism. I like chocolate, peanut butter, and diet sodas, in case anyone's wondering. You can go ahead and outlaw canned aspargus, though; please do. Fresh tips are fine, just not canned. :shudder: :-D [/i]

Link to comment
Or compare Heinlein's The Rolling Stones  and David Gerrold's Star Trek  "The Trouble With Tribbles." -- I have a copy, now packed in a box, of the box he wrote about writing that episode. He realized in the middle of writing one of the episode drafts that the story was a lot like Heinlein's book, which he'd read, and he got so concerned about it he asked Heinlein, who said the stories were different enough, and talked about how authors borrow things as opposed to plagiarizing. Last I looked, Gerrold's book was out of print, but it's well worth tracking down.[/i]

I know David quite well -- he lives about five miles from me, out here in Northridge -- and he has lots of stories on the Tribbles episodes that he's told for decades now.

I think the Heinlein characters were called "Fuzzies," but my memory's kinda dim on these things. David's book on the making of "Tribbles" is still out-of-print, but Amazon's got 75 used copies out there very cheap. You can find them here: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detai...=glance&s=books

BTW, David's excellent time-travel novel The Man Who Folded Himself, was recently reprinted. It's highly recommended, not only for its occasional gay themes, but also because it's extraordinarily well-written -- possibly the best story of its kind I've ever read.

Link to comment
Does anyone have any guidelines on the difference between plagarism and inspiration?

I too wonder about where plagarism ends and originality begins.

Several times I have been adding a new scene to my as yet unfinished story, (don't you just love how working interrupts creativity?),

only to discover that another author has also used the same idea in a scene in his story.

I am not talking about sex scenes as such here - they tend to be somewhat similar by nature and anyway I guess you could say sex is in the public domain. (or should be :roll: )

As an example let's say I write a scene in which a character looks in the mirror and describes himself with some terror at what he sees.

The purpose here is to not only promote the plot but to also convey to the reader the physical attributes of the character without resorting to the usual "let me tell you about my appearance and stats." routine.

Then quite by accident I read an article about how clumsy this mirror technique is in describing characters.

Is this now plagarism.

and/or

Have I found a way to make the clumsy technique new, interesting and valid for my purposes?

Another brief example;

I write a scene about (say) lust in a train, then afterwards read a story which has that idea as one of its story elements.

Who will believe that I didn't steal the idea from the other story?

This is not a new dilemma. Tchaikovsky and Verdi both wrote a very similar tune for their respective operas within weeks of each other.

It seems to me that "great minds think alike" to put it politely.

Maybe however, mediocrity abounds. I hope not.

Also there is the unconscious element of thinking something is new when it is really just a resurfacing memory that presents itself as original thought.

Then there is the question of cliches. Are cliches plagarism?

Personally I think cliches can be a valid means to satirical revelation, but others may only see the cliche.

No easy answers. (tears hair out and looks forlornly at his script which he is sure he wrote and did not copy).

Link to comment
I think the Heinlein characters were called "Fuzzies"

The Heinlein critters were called "Martian flatcats," from the novel, The Rolling Stones. H. Beam Piper had semi-sapient creatures called "Fuzzies" in about three books. Gerrold used the name, "Fuzzies," in early drafts of the Tribbles episode, until he inventing an alien-sounding word he liked.

I'll have to check out David Gerrold's other books, I've read his Star Trek novels and possibly one other book of his. His two non-fiction books on Star Trek, from the 1970's, are very good reading for anyone interested in writing, for any medium. His critiques of his own writing and of the original Trek series are well worth it.

(I'm impressed you're friends with him. Gerrold's books on writing for Trek are one of the reasons I write and edit.

David Gerrold's Tribbles weren't plagiarizing, because he used a fundamentally different story and characters. There were similarities, but the differences in usage outweighed them.

If you get right down to it, both the Tribbles and the flatcats are about population explosion and the dangers of animals aboard ship, much like mice or rats, only...cuter and fuzzier...or rounder or flatter.

Sorry I didn't comment on this earlier, but I somehow missed it.

Link to comment

Story/scene concepts that are fairly generic I would not consider to be plagarism. This then scales down to specifics which would be plagarism.

So, if you wrote a scene that involved a situation on a train, that, by itself, wouldn't be plagarism as this is a common situation in real-life and couldn't be considered to be copying an idea from another author.

Even if there were elements of similarities with another story, if you wrote it independently I wouldn't consider it to be plagarism, though it's getting greyer (consider recent court cases where elements of similarities have been made between old stories and new, popular stories. The issue has been partially if there is SUFFICIENT similarity to be able to reasonably claim that the story has been copied).

However, if the actual words are identical, or very, very similar, or if the situation is so unusual that it can't be reasonably expected to independently derived, then that is likely to be plagarism.

From what you describe, you are more concerned about being accused of plagarism, rather than whether you have plagarised. Use the above guidelines to decide for yourself if you could be realistically accused. Just because there are a few points of similarity, that doesn't make it plagarism. The differences are equally important.

As an example, in my stories there are situation where a character is bashed. This obviously has similarities with lots of other stories where characters are bashed, especially gay-bashings, but I don't consider that to be plagarism because:

a) It's a logical consequence of prior events in the story.

b) It's not an uncommon occurence and can be realistically expected to occur, given the right situation.

c) There are unique features that distinguish them from scenes of gay-bashings in other stories.

On the other hand, if I wrote a story that involved someone travelling on the London Underground, and who boarded the third carriage of the third train that had arrived, and then got off at a station that had been closed many years before, I suspect WBMS would be sending me nasty emails about copying ideas from his stories, as the situation is too specific for it to be considered to be anything other than plagarism.

Just my opinion.

Graeme

Link to comment

I think there's a very fine line between plagiarism and inspiration.

For example, I remember a few years ago when JK Rowling went to court with a Swiss (I think, but don't quote me on that) writer who had written a book very similar to Harry Potter. The main character of this new book was a young orphaned boy with a scar on his head who discovers he is a wizard and goes off to school at a private academy for wizards and witches with his two best friends. He also plays sports on broomsticks. Sound familiar? I'm not sure if JK Rowling won the case--my guess is she did. If I remember correctly, it was almost exactly the same, except for names and a few minor details-- but I think it's a fairly clear-cut case of plagiarism.

But then take Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. Few would consider accusing him of plagiarism in this case. After all, who, prior to the 1950's had written such a novel? Pedophilia was only just becoming an issue that people were aware of. But as it turns out, someone did. Nearly twenty years before Lolita was written, a German writer composed a short, forty page story about a man who falls in love with a young girl named Delores. Noticeably, Delores is also the real name of Lolita in Nabokov's novel. But does taking a forty page short story and turning it into a developed 457 page novel following the descent into madness of the main character, constitute as plagiarism? Nabokov was undoubtedly aware of this earlier story, he in fact mentions the title in one of his notes from writing the story.

You might say that it was plagiarism of a great sort. But is it really? In the novel, Nabokov (writing as Humbert) writes, ?Only the other day we read in the newspapers some bunkum about a middle-aged morals offender who pleaded guilty to the violation of the Mann Act and to transporting a nine-year-old girl across state lines for immoral purposes?. In this case, he is actually referring to a real life event in 1948 (even though the story is set in 1947). The incident he was referring to, was the of a twelve year old girl named Sally Horner by Frank La Salle, a 50-year-old car mechanic. Horner spent 21 months living and traveling with La Salle before she confided her secret to a friend in Dallas, Texas, where she attended school, and was rescued by the FBI. Lolita and Humbert spend almost a year traveling across the US in his car. The story of Sally Horner was reported through several articles in newspapers across the US, which Nabokov undoubtedly would have read-- if not at the time, then later while researching his novel.

But is this plagiarism also? I'm inclined to say it isn't because Sally Horner was a real person, not a fictional character created by another author, and the real world is fair game to anyone writing. You can't put a copyright on life. But is the newspaper article really that different from the short story? Both existed prior to the novel, and both were read by the author... but the author has developed his story much further than either.

Is it all right to take an idea or a premise from something you read and write your own story of it? How much further does one need to develop an idea before it stops being plagiarism? Can an author even have an original thought anymore? One can?t imagine something that they?ve never experienced before. I?m not saying everyone just copies other people?s work, don?t get me wrong. But certainly someone has to have had something to inspire a certain idea or imagination. They don?t come from nowhere, they are unconscious alterations to something previously experienced. Lock a person in a room from birth and then let them out after twenty years. They won?t be able to imagine angels, nuclear weapons, giraffes, even mirrors, without exposure to other ideas. The human brain simply can?t work like that. If it did, it wouldn?t have taken ten thousand years to develop electricity. We had to spend years building on the conjectures of those before us before people even realized it was possible.

I was going to write more, but then I realized that this is already horrendously long, much longer than I intended, and I?m starting to ramble now. So I?m going to end it here and see how people respond.

Link to comment

OK, plain and simple, plagiarism is a form of cheating. It's copying someone else's work and passing it off as your own. It's a particularly bad kind of cheating, because it uses someone else's work, words, ideas, and brain-power, instead of one's own. It's lazy, in that, typically, it doesn't bother to create new work or new ideas that acknowledge the original sources.

If you read or watch something and, either intentionally or not, you produce a book or play that substantially duplicates the original, that's plagiarism.

There is a difference between writing a story based on central, big ideas and archetypes, versus plagiarism. If you start off with some basic statements like those mentioned in the article vwl cited, that isn't plagiarism, it's basic storytelling.

If you create an original work, inspired by the original, but that takes a very different approach in the central ideas and the story components, that's alright.

It should be clear that your story isn't a knock-off. -- If you can say, "Oh, that's just The Great Australian Novel with only this and that change," then, chances are, your story isn't original enough.

If you write a story with the intention of a counterpoint, an opposing approach to another work, that can be alright, though it can be a grey area too. Your story must be original and strong, enough to stand as a separate work, not just the original, now with less X and more Y. I'm sure someone can think of a clear example, though at the moment, I'm drawing a blank: ______. (Note fine artistic skills ;) .)

However, if you can compare your story with another and easily list all sorts of things that are different about them, chances are, it's fine. Compare Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. There are critical similarities, and R&J was an inspiration for WSS, but the two are original works. I've seen critics compare The Tempest and Forbidden Planet in the same way.

If you start off with your own very specific ideas on plot and chars. and setting, such as a particular scene as a beginning, middle, or ending, that is fine. Do that. Avoid obvious stuff whenever possible.

-----

Hmm, and if you want an opinion on your story, ask for a beta reader to give an opinion on it. I'm sure one (or several) of the editors or beta readers, here or elsewhere, would be willing to look at it.

If that sounds like handing your baby or your dear grandma over to the big, bad wolf, well, relax. A good editor or beta may offer you all sorts of advice on parenting and being a grandkid, or make some strong remarks about your baby (or your granny) in looks and behavior. But the editor or beta is doing it so your baby and your grandma and you are all better off, not to be mean to little ankle-biters or little old ladies...or aspiring, perspiring, gay-friendly writers. :)

All clear now, mate?

Link to comment
All clear now, mate?

Yes I think so.

Firstly thanks to Graeme, blue, vwl and ArchangelMatthew72 for your speedy and helpful replies. I will cetainly look at the site, vwl.

I was really just astounded at the coincidence of having written a section of my story and only then finding a similar segment in a recently posted story (on Nifty). This led me to consider deleting my segment, but decided against such action on the grounds that I had a lot more detail and plot motivation tied up in my descriptions and that the worse that anyone might think is that I had reworked the published idea with more detail. Is this wrongful thinking?

There is another nagging thought however, of having been beaten to the punch with the segment's storyline idea, but such is life.

For a non-existing example I thought you might like to consider the following for discussion. This is specially written for this forum to see what you think about working *obviously* derived material into a work for the "fun" of it.

There was little civility in the approaching storm.

The Northerly gusts froze us as we cuddled. Our windswept

bodies were stiff with passion. I held him tight as he held me,

longing for the release of our own inner tempests.

Each of us seeking that release, at the hand of the other.

Our faces were flush as much from momentary joy as they were from

the biting weather.

I could feel his excitement building in ever expanding surges

matching ny own. Finally he turned to face the South and I knew

that the essence of our lovemaking would soon be gone with the wind.

Ok so it's corny. It is only an example but is the use of a well known title in this way considered plagiarism or worse yet an infringement of copyright?

What are your thoughts? (yeah, yeah bad taste, but it was a spur of the moment thing). :oops:

Link to comment
is the use of a well known title in this way considered plagiarism or worse yet an infringement of copyright?

I assume the well know title you're reffering to is Gone With The Wind, because you also used the word 'tempest' as in the well known Shakespearean play of the same name. I guess it's important that I had that confusion with which you meant because really both are used in the same sense. A Tempest is a thing, not just the title of a play, so you can't get in trouble for using it. And 'gone with the wind' was a phrase long before it became the title of a novel. The author was most likely drawing on the phrase for a sense of how things are fleeting and seem to simply vanish like sand on the wind.

Basically, you won't get in trouble for saying it. If I'm going to mentioned the title of another work in something I write, I usually italicise it or underline it to make clear it's a title.

Also, important to note is that essentially all you've done is make an analogy. Plenty of modern novels use classics or well known stories to compare something to something else. That's not plagiarism.

And you can't get in trouble with copyright for just mentioning the title (I don't think). That's more just advertisement which I'm sure most authors are happy to have. Plopping the name of a great work or book you liked in a piece of writing can be like saying "Hey, look how learned I am, I've read this book and know all about it" or "Hey, check out this book by this other guy who I think is great."

Link to comment

Thanks ArchangelMatthew72.

Tempest of course was a red herring as it is, as you rightly point out a thing in and of itself.

I am sure too that your analysis of Gone With The Wind being in use as a phrase before the book is correct. I like the idea that authors might see it is advertising. (Margaret Mitchel was certainly alluding to the disappearing nature of the old South at the time of the American civil War with her title, but there is more depth to the title hidden within the novel. Fleeting is indeed a good word here.)

I don't however agree that such usage is necessarily the author parading his ego as to how well he is read or how great he regards the book.

Particularly so, when it is only the title that is used.

Cetainly I agree with you where an author refers to a real world book title or song as something that a character should read or that a character "really loves" does become a little boring if not condescending to the reader.

Parody as I intended here, can be for "fun" or can be a tool for insight or satire.

I could just as easily have chosen to write:

...the essence of our lovemaking would soon be blowin' in the wind.

Had I chosen this however, the references to North and South would not be valid in connection to the (civil) unrest of the storm in the first sentence. Perhaps I should have been a little more descriptive and added that the two men were soldiers. :D

However I take your post as a sign to be moderate in such usages.

I am not certain about actually putting these things in italics or quotation marks where they form part of the sentence in a fictional story.

In a reference or academic work I would consider it mandatory to use quotes.

I think it is more fun for the reader to discover the connection or wonder if there is one in a novel. I'm sure you know that Shakespeare has many such references hidden in his own works to other stories as well as places that were well known in his own time. But I guess he is Shakespeare.

I am very grateful for your reply and feel somewhat more confident in approaching my writing.

Thanks again. :D

Link to comment

I frankly think people are getting overwrought about unintentional use of ideas versus word-for-word copying or paraphrasing.

Plagiarism is difficult to prove in any case. A clear case on point is the suits over The Da Vinci Code and the judge's decision that Dan Brown did not plagiarize. The following is a good summary of the judgment and some of the comments

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...6040700601.html

The key graf is:

But the expression of those ideas differs from one book to the other, and that's the standard criterion in plagiarism and copyright infringement law. "Copyright protects the expression, not the idea," said intellectual property lawyer Lee Bromberg, a founding partner of the Boston-based law firm Bromberg & Sunstein, who called the plaintiffs' claim "a long shot" at best. "What Dan Brown did is simply make use of some of those ideas, but the expression was his and was original."

Link to comment
It is only an example but is the use of a well known title in this way considered plagiarism or worse yet an infringement of copyright?

Book titles can't be copyrighted, according to the US Copyright Office. See this link which says in part:

Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases. In some cases, these things may be protected as trademarks.

Link to comment

Des,

Yes, of course it's fine to reference ideas or titles. The only way it'd be a problem is if the author is just showing off or name-dropping. If it's really fitting for the story, or to show a char. is well educated, for instance, then by all means, do it. Hmm, I'd say if it's a specific ref. to a story title, then yes, use quotes or italics as needed; otherwise, they aren't absolutely needed.

OK, I've caught another reference: To Bob Dylan, "The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind. / The answer is blowin' in the wind." Or Kansas, "Dust in the wind, all we are is..." (also Ecclesiastes). Hah, and that gets into the point that a reader or critic shouldn't read too much into the symbols in the story.

Link to comment
Hah, and that gets into the point that a reader or critic shouldn't read too much into the symbols in the story.

Thanks blue and I would probably add that the author shouldn't expect too much from the use of symbols, but I like seeing them as long as they are motivated by, or relevant to, the plot/character situation.

Paul and vwl

-thanks guys you have been very helpful with your thoughts and suggestions.

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...


×
×
  • Create New...