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Off With Their Fingers! December 27, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, ideas, writing.
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Plagiarism is one of those concepts that seems easy to grasp but slips away if you draw too fine a line. There is a reason titles can’t be copyrighted. How many possible 3 or 4 word combinations in the English language can there be? Mostly authors try to avoid putting titles on their own work that echo more famous work. As much as I’d like to use Childhood’s End or The Door Into Summer as titles, I won’t. My books would come up more often in a search if I did but the outrage from readers would be palpable. But there has to be duplication in titles simply because most of those huge combinations of words are gobbledegook.

But real plagiarism is easier to find now thanks to the Internet. Professors and lower grade teachers can do a quick search and match passages lifted verbatim. That’s certainly the most extreme version. In olden days, things like Nevsky’s Demon by Dimitri Gat could sneak past even astute editors.

There are legions of fans out there to jump on such things, too, and they are most likely to find it. What about taking someone else’s idea? Ideas, like titles, aren’t copyrightable, either. This is a great springboard for fiction. You read, see something the writer should have done and missed, then launch into your own story from that point. Ideas are easy to come by and duplicating them independently is going to be a fact of (writing) life. A few years ago there was a spate of novels set on Mars. Why? Instead of it being steam engine time, it was Mars time. Writers are always hunting for the next new thing and Mars hadn’t been used for years. The ideas were sucked into that idea vacuum.

John Campbell proved years back giving the same basic idea to different writers gives different stories. So why would anyone ever plagiarize an entire story? Laziness? They are missing the best part of being a writer. The thrill is thinking up the idea and developing it, playing with it and the characters, not copying what someone else has done. Years ago I realized how inept I would be at assembly line work, tightening bolt A in plate B for 8 hrs a day. I’d last 5 minutes before I’d be changing the orientation, wondering if a different wrench or bolt or plate wouldn’t work better. (I also use this inability to perform repetitive acts to explain my dearth of dancing acumen.) I couldn’t copy as fast as I could create a new story.

But what should happen to plagiarists? Perhaps under sharia law it would be this….

Insert plagiarizing finger and...

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