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The New P&P (Professionalism and Plagiarism): A Not So Classic...

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A lot of questions have been asked over the past week about what is and isn’t plagiarism, and what kinds of standards of attribution we should expect in fiction. While I don’t think readers are necessarily in a position to initiate this discussion, since it was readers who found the similarities between Cassie Edwards’s books and other materials, perhaps we have something to contribute to the larger discussion of what we should be able to expect when we enjoy books in the genre. So I figure that this is as good a place as any to have some dedicated discussion on this issue.

As an academic, I was trained with the highest possible standards of citation and attribution. When academics use the work of others, we must offer acknowledgment for a number of reasons. First, we are demonstrating that we have read the relevant scholarship on any particular topic. We are also honor bound to acknowledge the role that other work has played in the evolution of our own ideas and ethically bound to give proper credit to those whose work bears on, influences, or is in any way used in our own scholarship. The entire academic community operates on an assumption that all of our work is valuable, and we extend attribution to others because none of us could do our work alone. Even, and sometimes especially, it is our greatest opposition that informs a new work (it seems so much easier, that is, to make an argument against something or carve out distinct territory). In any case, scholarship is a conversation, and its participants are supposed to offer each other the basic respect of question and reply, assertion and response, acknowledgment and addition.

Fiction is different, of course, because even though it is often shaped and influenced by other texts (i.e. fairy tales, myths, famous novels, current events, etc.), we give writers of fiction the assumption of "artistic freedom," which includes a fair amount of latitude in how they incorporate the many facets of their world into the construction of their fictional works. Readers may appreciate a richly woven fictional world, but we’re not reading fiction merely to acquire knowledge or gain factual understanding. We see fiction writers in a number of fanciful metaphors – as weavers, bards, mythmakers, visionaries — and we recognize craft as inclusive of both style and content.

In scholarship, by contrast, we don’t often remark on the writing as craft, except, perhaps, when frustrated by particularly arcane ideas or clunky prose. In fiction we don’t often talk of the relevance of scholarship (i.e. did this author consider the latest research on 19th century sideboards in writing this Regency romp). But there is a point of intersection here that is relevant to the issue of plagiarism in fiction: both involve a strong element of creativity and originality, and therefore both implicate a fundamental assumption of integrity in their creation.

Integrity connotes both wholeness and honor, two concepts that are fundamental to the whole notion of intellectual honesty and the violation that is plagiarism. The plagiarist conspires against his fellow writers to claim what they have created as his own, dishonoring his own work and the professional respect among those whose reputations as writers vest in their written work – be they writers of academic scholarship, fiction, poetry, drama, essays, etc. The plagiarist’s transgression exists on a material level (conversion of another’s work) and a philosophical level – a blow against the spirit of the general community of writers and readers.

But plagiarism is merely a remote point along a trajectory of intellectual dishonesty. It is a hard word, necessarily so, because it is a strong indictment. We should use it sparingly and thoughtfully. But at the same time, we should not be afraid of talking about the values of intellectual honesty and creative integrity that we all depend on in determining what plagiarism is and isn’t.

I think sometimes we all take for granted that everyone knows what is and isn’t honest, acceptable, and appropriate in any given type of writing. But clearly that is not the case. In Romance I think this is especially important, because there is already a perception that its authors are working with a limited tableau of available characters, conflicts, and plots. This is particularly in historical Romance, where a fictional world is made richer through allusive links to secondary research. But it also applies to contemporary Romance, where a physicist heroine might know more than the average reader about quantum mechanics or quarks. If there are rules, they cannot be so steadfast as to stifle creativity nor so limp as to disrespect the originality and creativity of others’ writing.

Writing is a persuasive art. Whether an author is trying to convince me to accept her theory on the social importance of 18th century bell makers or to suspend my disbelief and fall deeply in love with the portrait she’s created of forbidden love in 18th century Philadelphia, she is engaged in persuading me to see things her way. She is persuading me, indirectly, perhaps, to defer to the authority of her voice. And I want to be able to trust that it is her voice I hear, even if she has been listening to other voices in preparation to tell her story. That, to me, is the baseline of intellectual integrity I expect from any writer of anything. Whatever rules are placed above that, all the way out to the professional transgression of plagiarism, are for the community to fashion. But I don’t see how they can effective as professional guidelines if they do not inspire mutual respect and shared trust among all members of the genre community. And that, I would hope, is where we can always begin and end, whether in discussion of these issues or in action as readers or writers, editors or publishers.

So tell me:   where do we go from here?

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

39 Comments

  1. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 07:36:28

    So tell me: where do we go from here?

    I’d say forward~looking to education, and this post is one huge step in that direction, IMO.

    But plagiarism is merely a remote point along a trajectory of intellectual dishonesty. It is a hard word, necessarily so, because it is a strong indictment. We should use it sparingly and thoughtfully.

    And this is why education is so important. One of the discussions I’ve seen elsewhere, a reader mentioned something from a book that struck her as being from a textbook. She didn’t say she’d seen such info in a text herself or discovered it~the impression I got was because the detail being related was so clear and concise and direct, it couldn’t possibly be from a fiction writer’s perspective. She hurled the word plagiarist into the discussion without really understanding it, saying there’s no clear definition but she’s no giving any credence to the fact that a person can do huge amounts of research, take what’s she’s learned from that research and then use her words to tell others through a fictional story.

    Doesn’t that seem so very inaccurate? It would be like telling me, that while I may be a nurse, I can’t possibly write a fictional story involving a nurse and have her explain the effects of a date rape drug or a common heart med without needing to look the info up and if I look the info up then I must quote a source. But if it’s information I’ve learned over years, or even a lifetime of studying, then it’s not stealing somebody’s words or ideas if I take the facts I know and share them with others… in MY own words.

    That’s not the case at all.

    Now if I was putting together info for a workshop on medical jardon in romance, then yes, I’d need to put sources down. But to simply have a nurse in a book explaining that some common, legal drugs with genuine therapeutic use are often the drugs used in date rape? That’s not something I need to look up. I know it. Just like I know almost every culture has their own ‘myth’ of creatures that bear resemblance to the vampires we see in pop fiction today. I know it just because I’ve read up so much on the subject. Saying just that in a romance book isn’t plagiarism, it’s knowledge I’ve learned through all the reading I’ve done over the years.

    Writing an essay about the different types of vampiric creatures? I’d have to look up sources and then I’d quote them.

    And it’s too early to think this much. guh…

  2. Mora
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 09:20:40

    Where do we go from here? I’d like to see some sort of consensus within publishing about what does and does not constitute plagiarism. I was shocked at Diana Gabaldan’s first take on this whole issue; obviously, it will be impossible to get all authors, readers, etc., to agree. But I’d like to see more publishers with strict language in their contracts and submissions guidelines about what they consider plagiarism.

    There’s also something I’ve been wondering, as a reader–where is the line between homage and plagiarism? Say a writer of an urban fantasy novel has one of her characters say, “that seriously gives me a wiggins.” (“Wiggins” being an expression used on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Or if a bad guys bursts through the door and says, “here’s Johnny!” Is that plagiarism? Should the author add a footnote?

    I’ve read lots of books in which characters use turns of phrases made popular in books, videogames, movies, tv, etc., and there’s no attribution. Are those all instances of plagiarism, or is it okay for the author to assume a reader will understand the reference to popular culture?

    Again, I think the publishing industry itself needs to define these issues more clearly, or readers will continue to be confused.

  3. Nora Roberts
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 09:49:29

    ~I want to be able to trust that it is her voice I hear, even if she has been listening to other voices in preparation to tell her story.~

    Bull’s eye.

    As for stuff like `wiggins’, I’d call idiom. You can’t expect writers not to use contemp terms or phrases, because they originated on a TV show, for instance.

    Now if someone used the dialogue: I may be love’s bitch, but at least I’m man enough to admit it. (fave Buffy line) That’s a problem.

    If they added: As Spike said, etc, not a problem for me.

    As to where we go from here, I hope we reach a place where we can talk about issues as important as this and come to an understanding. It may not always be clear-cut, but there will always be lines that must be drawn.

  4. Ros
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 09:58:59

    There’s idiom, but there’s also the problem of literary allusion via direct or indirect quotation. I don’t think that’s plagiarism since the point of the allusion is precisely to evoke the earlier work in the reader’s mind but it might be pretty difficult to construct rules that distinguish the two.

  5. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 10:08:42

    “So tell me: where do we go from here?” – Janet

    “I'd say forward~looking to education” – Shiloh

    I agree, I think there needs to be more discussion and education about the issue, and particularly about the less clear-cut areas. Obviously someone taking large chunks of someone else’s text and passing them off as their own is plagiarism, but there are grey areas, and as we’ve been discussing some of them over at Teach Me Tonight it’s become clear that authors are worried about these grey areas, and that makes me worried too, because I don’t want people to feel they have to “play it safe” to the extent that they omit pop culture references, or allusions to fairytales etc.

    So yes, I think there needs to be a lot more discussion about this, both to prevent plagiarism and to stop authors becoming so sensitised to the issue that they end up self-censoring and losing artistic freedom.

  6. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 10:53:04

    where is the line between homage and plagiarism?

    The instances you’ve used aren’t plagiarism, for a couple of reasons. “Wiggins” isn’t plagiarism, because it’s a single word, and its use is meant to link back to Buffy, to be a “ping” that creates resonance with the fans of urban fantasy who are expected to “get” the reference. Same with “Here’s Johnny!”. That’s a phrase which has practically passed into the vernacular. It's a pop culture reference at this point.

    Nora's example of lifting a whole line of dialogue is a good example of what might be plagiarism, especially if the source is unclear, and no direct reference is made. You can quote something if you make it clear it's a quote (“Here's Johnny” has become so famous that it doesn't need a reference for most people in most situations, and this is key to its use being ok without attribution, it's very use is attribution, at least for fans of horror). It is not unlikely that many Joss Whedon lines may eventually end up being absorbed into the vernacular is the same way (my friends use “Bored now.”, “Shiny, let's be bad guys.” And “I aim to misbehave.” constantly, as do many many many others out there across the land).

    And while you can take the idea of a chosen one (or many) and shift it about (as was recently done by Colleen Gleason Gardella Vampire Chronicles) you can't use any of Joss Whedon's characters, or even imply that you are using his “real” Buffy world (even as a prequel). You have to do some shifting to make the idea/setting/characters your own.

    “Homage” becomes a whole different thing when we get to works that are out of copyright (as shown by everything from the slew of Austen “sequels” out there to Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Dead to The Wide Sargasso Sea to West Side Story). But you still have to be careful that what you write is YOUR creation, and that when you must use something from the original text (for example, dialogue in a scene from the original book or play that must also be in your version, that it is clear that you have “borrowed” from the original, but with a purpose).

    For example, Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange is a retelling of Austen's Pride and Prejudice from Darcy's POV. By necessity the book must include scenes from the original work, and thus dialogue written by Austen. But because we know that MDD is a re-envisioning of P&P, and thus are prepared for those scenes, and Grange uses only the dialogue, what she has done is not plagiaristic.

    Clear as Mud?

  7. Nora Roberts
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 10:55:56

    ~Here's Johnny~

    I’ll also point out that it’s use in The Shining (movie, not book) was a ping back to Ed McMahon’s nightly intro of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.

  8. JaneO
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 11:14:11

    An allusion, whether to pop culture or Shakespeare, that you expect (or hope) the reader will recognize, is clearly not plagiarism. It’s an old an honorable literary device.
    Taking a scene from a novel that’s been out of print for 50 years, changing the names of the characters, and hoping no one will recognize it clearly is plagiarism.
    The murky ground comes in the middle. An author’s note at the end, or thank you at the beginning, is probably the best way to credit sources for any unusual or specialist historical background. The really tricky bit is unconscious plagiarism. Did you really invent that scene or did you come across it years ago, leaving it tucked away in a corner of your memory waiting for an opportune moment to pop out? And how many times does a plot device have to be used before it becomes common property? After all, mix ups involving twins have been around for a couple of thousand years.

  9. Elise Logan
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 11:17:13

    Direct quotes are one thing – especially in dialogue. As has been mentioned, there are ways to attribute with grace in the context of the story.

    Background research is another thing. Here is where I think things start to get very fuzzy for fiction writers. In the recent case, I think the word-for-word lifting is clearly unacceptable. What happens, though, in a case where a writer uses a source (or sources) as a major portion of the work? Here, we aren’t talking about word-for-word lifting, but about the use of ideas and theory to inform the work. It seems much less clear to me how fiction writers ought to deal with such source material.

    My inclination in that situation would be an acknowledgment. Something along the lines of “The theory of the yellow shoes was first put forth by Alfred Handypants in his work _Pointy Yellow Shoes_.” – either on the acknowledgments page or, if more than one work is integral, perhaps in a short reference section at the back of the book. Both of these methods have been used in fiction, and I think they work well.

    [I just made up the yellow shoes bit - if there is any theory of yellow shoes or an author of that name, I am unaware of their work.]

  10. hotflashes
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 11:48:43

    I’m hoping that this subject will get serious attention and actions from publishers and editors alike. Editors need to do their job. Writers association need to educate their members. Professional seminars need to be created as soon as possible to address this issue.

    People are confused. This experience has been hurtful and unpleasant. So if as a reader I want do do more – if I find something too close for comfort, I would write first to the author of the original work and let her take it from there because I’m not an expert on the subject and she has agents, editors and publishers to protect her.

  11. Jennie
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 11:49:16

    Hmmm. If a character is a Buffy fan and has a favorite quote and uses it without saying “as Spikes says”, why would that be plagiarism? That’s just normal conversation.

    I’ve heard co-workers use the phrase “Round up the usual suspects” (Casablanca) and “90% of all books are crap” (Sturgeon’s Law) without attribution. I have favorite poems and I sometimes use lines & phrases from them in normal conversation so I don’t see that a character using “famous phrases” or favorite quotes should be considered plagiarism. Now if the author were to lift those phrases and use them outside of quoted conversation, then, yes, that might be plagiarism or it could be homage, with a wink and nod to the people familiar with it.

  12. Shannon Stacey
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 12:05:19

    The plagiarism vs homage—I personally think it comes down the character’s POV.

    “Here’s Johnny” is a “ping back” not only for the reader, but for the character. In one of my books the heroine uses “Yippee-kay-yay” and while I don’t mention Die Hard, it’s made clear it’s a ping back. The Die Hard movies are a part of the characters’ pop culture as well as the readers’.

    But if you’re writing a historical western and your bad-ass Texas Ranger says toward the end, “I aim to misbehave”, that’s ripping off dialogue because Serenity is not part of his pop culture.

    That’s how I see it, anyway. Although it’s a very gray issue to wrap one’s head around, I guess.

  13. Nora Roberts
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 12:06:36

    I think if you have a character as a Buffy/Spike fan that’s different. You’ve set the tone. And I don’t think one phrase or sentence or expression from another source equals plagiarism.

    I was trying to illustrate that certain phrases (Round up the usual suspects would certainly ring the bell) are part of the lexicon. Is that the right word?

    If I had a character say or think: ‘We’re not in Kansas anymore’ pretty much everyone over the age of ten would recognize Dorothy.

    As much as I love me some Buffy, she’s not as entrenched in the general consciousness (should be, should be!) as Dorothy Gale.

    I once said to a landscaper: ‘I want . . . a shrubbery!’ He didn’t get it. He did not get it. So instead of sharing a quick laugh, we just moved on to what shrubs I had in mind.

    Not everyone’s up on pop culture. But pretty much everyone knows Casablanca–or recognizes the phrase.

  14. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 12:44:39

    if you're writing a historical western and your bad-ass Texas Ranger says toward the end, “I aim to misbehave”, that's ripping off dialogue because Serenity is not part of his pop culture.

    Yes, that seems like a good example. Although I can think of an exception to it, which would be if the historical western included deliberate anachronisms. The films Shakespeare in Love and A Knight’s Tale were like that. I can imagine that in those particular circumstances, the characters might say things which would be part of our pop culture but not theirs.

    And something I’m finding interesting on this thread is the fact that I’ve recognised almost none of the pop culture references. Haven’t seen Casablanca or The Wizard of Oz or any episodes of Buffy and don’t know anything about the Princess Bride other than that she’s in a movie. But then, the point isn’t whether one particular reader recognises the source of every single allusion: the point is whether (a) the author hopes the readers will understand the allusion/reference (i.e. the author’s intention is good) and (b) whether some of the author’s readers could reasonably be expected to do so.

    What happens, though, in a case where a writer uses a source (or sources) as a major portion of the work? Here, we aren't talking about word-for-word lifting, but about the use of ideas and theory to inform the work. It seems much less clear to me how fiction writers ought to deal with such source material.

    Yes, I agree, it does seem much less clear. The issue here seems to centre on what constitutes a “major portion.” If you’ve looked at one magazine to get an idea of what your contemporary heroine might be wearing, does that count as “major”? I’d think not. But if you wrote a book about a heroine who goes travelling in the 18th century, and you used one particular guidebook to plot her route and give you inspiration about what she might have seen, then perhaps. But even so, that might not be considered a “major portion” if the route is only mentioned a few times, and the places are also described in the author’s other sources. And are authors going to be expected to give credit to Google maps if they use that? I’d tend to think not. Again, I can think of lots of grey areas, and my feeling about attribution and when it’s required might differ from someone else’s.

    From what I’ve read on blogs when authors have posted about items from their research libraries, it seems that some authors use an awful lot of books for their research, and although they may not refer to every book in their library for every novel they write, they might have the information lodged in their minds from the last time they read the book. I really wouldn’t expect authors to list all those research books at the back of every single novel they write.

    And, just to reiterate, I’m only thinking here of “the use of ideas and theory to inform the work.”

  15. Nora Roberts
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 12:48:33

    ~western included deliberate anachronisms.~

    Blazing Saddles.

    A fave in our house.

  16. azteclady
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 13:30:41

    In the case of deliberate anachronisms, all the examples mentioned above are clearly anachronistic–and hence, there’s no intention at any time to deceive the viewer/reader/whatever.

    Like Laura Vivanco, I’m not as familiar with a lot of pop culture references, at least right off the gate (I’ve lived over 11 years in the US and have yet to see The Wizard of Oz, for example), but many of them crop up in so many and so very diverse places, the reader is rarely in doubt as to whether these are original to the author or a ping back to someone else’s work. IMO, at least.

    As far as research for background details, I really like Shiloh Walker’s examples. I’m a sucker for a character who actually knows her stuff, and don’t see that the author should give a three page bibliography for each character’s knowledge within his/her area of expertise. However (of course there has to be one), I really really like those nifty author’s notes and/or acknowledgments. One or two sentences on the major sources of inspiration or research shouldn’t make a publisher cringe at the expense, and yet they show the writer’s intention not to deceive the reader by claiming other’s work as his/her own.

  17. Bonnie L.
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 14:05:25

    I once said to a landscaper: ‘I want . . . a shrubbery!' He didn't get it. He did not get it. So instead of sharing a quick laugh, we just moved on to what shrubs I had in mind.

    ::snorts soda out of nose::

  18. Serenanna
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 16:01:25

    I’ve been watching this discussion since the uproar broke out on Fandom Wank, and have been waiting for this topic to come up to comment from the fannish perspective. To be quite clear, I do write fanfiction, but I also write original fiction, and all of works are adult romances, usually with genre bents. As a writer, I’ve been accused of writing porn, and as a fan author, I’ve been accused of not having an original thought in my head, which to me is a greater offense.

    Fanfiction is unique because all the writers work off the base assumption that everyone reading has already read the core texts, the movies, the shows that they’re fans of. So, going right in, everyone knows the character’s histories, traits, mannerisms, and idiosyncrasies, as well as the world and the setting. A successful fanfic is not a repeat of all those original thoughts, but an add on to it, a continuation of the adventure, in homage of what the fans love about the work but want to see more of, but know isn’t going to come in some cases. Needless to say, fanfiction is always referring back to the original work, but doesn’t always stop to say what it’s referring back to because it’s assumed the readers already know what the writer means since they’ve all seen or read the same work and loved it. It’s called an in-joke because you gotta be in the know to get it.

    So, this brings me to the point. The actual citation should not matter so much as the context in which the reference is made. As someone said before, it’s more understandable to hear quotes of Shakespeare in Shakespeare In Love, references to John Webster and Christopher Marlow, and not have the movie stop to explain the in-joke. Enchanted would have been a horrible movie if it stopped every other moment to say yes, that’s Under the Sea from the Little Mermaid playing as office music, or yes, Bella Naute was the same restaurant in Lady and the Tramp. While the non-Disney nuts still understood the story, those that were could then appreciate the production’s attention to detail more. Because the context is there, the tone is often light, and the assumption that the work is playing to that audience, it’s not needed to say where the reference is from, because those that know it, got it, and everyone knows that those words are from the original work.

    That’s what paying homage means, and to me that is not plagiarism.

    To me plagiarism is exactly what Cassie Edwards here has done, taken page after page of obscure non-fiction and little-read fiction and made copy-pasta out of it, and pass it off as her own words. She was making references to references, creating a crazy quilt out of other people’s words and hoping it formed a novel. Even the Hiawatha passage was used as a description of a setting in the middle of the novel and not as an actual poem coming out of a character’s mouth as parody, even if none of the things I’ve read so far of hers were anything but dry as sand.

    Edwards probably assumed her audience was dumb to not see something so blatant, especially Hiawatha, and now she’s probably going to pay for it, legally and in the court of public opinion.

    On the upside, maybe the sales of popcorn will go up. Goodness knows I’ve been eating more of it since this whole thing started.

  19. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 16:12:30

    I think it comes back to what Janet said about fraud. Is the intent fraudulent? If I'm writing a vampire, urban fiction book with a sassy female lead, the general assumption is that my reader base will be largely familiar with Buffy, and will catch the Joss Whedon-isms and appreciate them as allusions/homages. If I'm writing Georgian/Regency romance, the general assumption is that my readers will be familiar with Georgette Heyer and will *grok* (to steal from Heinlein) my homages to Heyer. If I'm creating a cartoon short for the Philosophy depart of a college (yep, did this) the general assumption is that when I have a forest of upside-down trees spouting off lines like “If the car runs, there's gas in it.” they’ll get the inside joke.

    Bottom line: Nobody who is part of the target audience is going to be deceived into thinking the quoted bit is my own creation. There is no intent to fool them.

    And I do aim to misbehave.

  20. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 16:20:42

    Serenanna, while writing your own stories about someone else's characters, or stories set in a world created by someone else, might skirt around plagiarism, it IS copyright violation. Each author is going to react to the infringement in their own way. Some are going to sue, some are going to start hosting contests, some (like the late Marion Zimmer Bradley) might even start editing collections of the fanfic for publication. Regardless, unless the author gives permission, it's still illegal.

  21. Serenanna
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 16:49:46

    I knew someone would bring this up as soon as I mentioned fanfiction. It never fails. To me, the discussion is almost irrelevant since most of my works are written based on Japanese anime, and all those controlling companies are so lenient on fanworks that they almost encourage it by allowing doujinshi, or fan comics, most of which are pornographic and sold for a small profit to the artists of the doujin. To my knowledge, no one in the entire anime fandom has gotten a C&D from the anime companies for fanfiction, just fan-produced subtitled copies of anime.

    In contrast, most fanfics which can be found online for free. That’s right, words for free. Novel-sized serials written and exchanged for nothing other than the sheer joy of making other fans happy. Is that really hurting the copyright if no one is profiting from it? Then again, if you think about it, every retelling of Cinderella is really no difference than a fanfiction story. The only difference is the Grimm’s tale is in the public domain and something like Grey’s Anatomy is not.

    I also ask the question, if fanfiction is inherently illegal, and wrong, and a copyright violation, why doesn’t every media company and every author clamp down on it with a flood of C&D or even DMCA orders? Surely, they should be protecting their copyright, right?

  22. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 17:33:46

    In contrast, most fanfics which can be found online for free. That's right, words for free. Novel-sized serials written and exchanged for nothing other than the sheer joy of making other fans happy. Is that really hurting the copyright if no one is profiting from it?

    That would probably be something that doesn’t have a single answer, Serenanna. The copyright owner of each work would have to make that decision for themselves and they do… that’s why some push to have fanfic taken down, and others don’t.

    I also ask the question, if fanfiction is inherently illegal, and wrong, and a copyright violation, why doesn't every media company and every author clamp down on it with a flood of C&D or even DMCA orders? Surely, they should be protecting their copyright, right?

    The answer to that, though, I suspect is fairly easy. Cost. How many sites out there have Buffy fanfic on it? I don’t know what Wheddon’s take on it is, but if he decided he didn’t like it and wanted it all gone, we’d be looking at HUGE amounts of money. Even those who can afford it might not want to spend the expense.

  23. Mora
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 18:25:04

    I really hope this doesn’t devolve into an argument about fan fiction! That’s a separate issue, at least in my eyes, and the conversation about it never ends well. *grin* On the other hand, I’ve been enjoying the discussion about attribution, allusion and homage. Very interesting stuff.

  24. rlynn
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 18:25:31

    There was an interesting article related to this on Slate. A prominant Harry Potter fansite created a compendium about the HP series. They wanted to publish it as a reference guide to HP. When JK Rowling indicated she might be interested in penning a definitive encyclopedia of the HP universe, she and her lawyers sued.

    The fansite is clearly profiting from Rowling’s creation and yet its clear Rowling is the origin and its also clear most of the effort of compiling the information came from fans.

    The author of the article supports the fans but I thought it was another shade of gray to consider.
    http://www.slate.com/id/2181776/

  25. kasey michaels
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 18:37:16

    In this one hotlink reached from the ninc.com site there are about, oh, a gadzillion (rough estimate…) other hotlinks to explain Fair Use, etc, etc, etc. If anyone needs more than that, there are links to the U.S. Copyright Office, and several others. Not enough? How much would anyone need? LOL!

    http://fairuse.stanford.edu/

  26. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 18:40:29

    Each author is going to react to the infringement in their own way. Some are going to sue, some are going to start hosting contests, some (like the late Marion Zimmer Bradley) might even start editing collections of the fanfic for publication. Regardless, unless the author gives permission, it's still illegal.

    Yes, I’m quoting myself, since I had already pretty much answered the question before it was asked (because I knew it was coming). Is fanfic illegal? It is if the thing the fans are writing about is still under copyright. Are all authors going to sue? No. Each of us decides on our own tack. Some feel that the fan base created and supported by fanfic helps them. Others feel that they lose sales due to there being so many free alternative versions of their work floating around. There's no one “right” answer, but there is one “legal” answer. And yes, I grew up in the Science Fiction community, so many of the writers that my parents are friends with deal with the issue of fanfic all the time. I've always thought Marion's answer to it was freaken brilliant! Take submissions and publish authorized anthologies. But if she'd chosen to be litigious, she had every legal right to sue.

    And that’s all I’m saying on this subject, as there’s no real point in debating it. Facts are facts, and reality is something else.

  27. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 19:02:47

    In this one hotlink reached from the ninc.com site there are about, oh, a gadzillion (rough estimate…) other hotlinks to explain Fair Use, etc, etc, etc. If anyone needs more than that, there are links to the U.S. Copyright Office, and several others. Not enough? How much would anyone need? LOL!

    But the problem is that (a) there’s almost too much material there, in vast and dauntingly large quantities, (b) not all of it is relevant to authors of fiction (e.g. there’s stuff there about fair use for educational purposes, and fair use as applied to movies and songs) and (c) it’s focused on what’s legal, not what’s best practice or what’s ethical.

    Earlier on in the debate, someone quoted from a response made by Diana Gabaldon, who’d apparently written that it wasn’t plagiarism if the work was out of copyright. In post #11 of 50 (scroll down the page a bit) she says the following:

    Oh–with regard to your last sentence…in fact, you _can_ legally use absolutely anything that’s in the public domain (i.e., out of copyright). And in fact, at least two of the “sources” they were mentioning almost certainly are. Given the peculiarities of style in some of the bits quoted, I still don’t know why one _would_–but it’s totally legit to do so.

    Bottom line being that no, in fact, you _can’t_ plagiarize a source that’s out of copyright. You can do anything you want to with it.

    That’s not true, but the Stanford site is focused on what’s legal, not what’s ethical, and some things may be legal but unethical. So sending people to the Stamford site may just confuse people.

    Fair use, as it’s been explained by Robin and Jane, only applies to work in copyright. And the guidelines for use in songs and film may well not apply to novels.

    There still seem to be a lot of misconceptions about, for example some people think that it’s only plagiarism if you take more than a certain number of words, or that it’s OK if you rephrase something (but paraphrasing can still be plagiarism, and it’s still plagiarism if you translate something, even though that automatically means you’re using different words, unless you explicitly state that it’s a translation), and that doesn’t even start to deal with complex areas like plot similarities.

  28. Jane
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 22:13:48

    Is fanfic illegal? It is if the thing the fans are writing about is still under copyright.

    I always consider the term “illegal” to apply to criminal acts which, of course, copyright infringement is not. I don’t know of any case or statute that is a wholesale condemnation of fan fiction. Fan fiction, merely by definition, is not infringement and must be studied on a case by case basis. I think it would be illuminating to see a case go to the appellate level on this issue but as it stands, I don’t believe I’ve read a case that finds the entire sub culture of writing to be infringing.

  29. GrowlyCub
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 23:36:06

    The following just came through on the Aphrodisia list in response to one of the authors posting the Tolme link. Written by the owner Joyfully Reviewed.

    Headdesk, twice over.

    “for the love of goodness – would they leave that woman alone – how is it that Janet Dailey was able to get back into publishing/ Cassie just didn’t add footnotes”

    and

    “you would think that Cassie had taken the history of the bible and made it hers”

    If we don’t get any respect from our own for the written word how can we ever expect it from others? A couple of authors chimed in expressing concurring sentiment.

    I wanna cry. I can’t post on there and with Kensington publishing Aphrodisia I can see how it could possibly be difficult to touch the Dailey issue, but … but… words fail me.

  30. Jane
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 00:03:21

    I can only believe that these authors haven’t read the 40+ page (and growing PDF). I wasn’t going to post this, but now you’ve made me do it GrowlyCub:

    %%%%%%%%%%%

    SAVAGE OBSESSION
    Page 549
    “I, alone, the chief’s wife, did as you asked. Do you now truly believe the cornfields will be more fruitful?”
    [...]
    “You have blessed the cornfields. The passing of your footsteps drew a magic circle around the field of freshly planted maize. No insects or worms shall pass over that magic circle.”

    HIAWATHA
    Section XIII, fourth & sixth stanzas
    To his wife, the Laughing Water:
    ‘You shall bless to-night the cornfields
    [...]
    Thus the fields shall be more fruitful,
    And the passing of your footsteps
    Draw a magic circle round them,
    So that neither blight nor mildew,
    Neither burrowing worm or insect,
    Shall pass o’er the magic circle;

    &&&&&&&&&&&&&

    SAVAGE OBSESSION
    Page 549-550
    When night had fallen in their village and all was silent with the spirit of sleep a companion in all the St. Croix’ wigwams, Lorinda had crept from her tent, alone. Once outside, beneath the soft reflection of the April moon, she had laid her garments aside, knowing that Yellow Feather had assured her that no eye would see her.
    [...]
    she had begun her slow circle of the field, around its borders [...]

    HIAWATHA
    Section XIII, fifth stanza
    In the night, when all is silence,
    In the night, when all is darkness,
    When the Spirit of Sleep, Nepahwin,
    Shuts the doors of all the wigwams,
    So that not an ear can hear you,
    So that not an eye can see you,
    Rise up from your bed in silence,
    Lay aside your garments wholly,
    Walk around the fields you planted,
    Round the borders of the cornfields,

    &&&&&&&&&&

    SAVAGE OBSESSION
    Page 436-437
    The odors of the forest, the dew and damp meadow, and the curling smoke from the wigwams [...]

    HIAWATHA
    Introduction, first stanza
    With the odors of the forest,
    With the dew and damp of meadows,
    With the curling smoke of wigwams

    &&&&&&&&&&&&

    SAVAGE OBSESSION
    Page 424
    [...]seeing how warrior-like he appeared today. His face had been painted like leaves of autumn, streaked with crimsons and yellows.

    HIAWATHA
    Section I, 10th stanza
    With their weapons and their war-gear,
    Painted like the leaves of Autumn,

    &&&&&&&&&&&&

    SAVAGE OBSESSION
    Page 386
    He looked, oh, so handsome in a shirt of white doeskin, decorated with fringe and wrought with even more embroidery and colorful beads. His deerskin leggings and buckskin moccasins were fringed with hedgehog quills and his hair was shining brightly from oil.

    HIAWATHA
    Section XI, 10th stanza
    He was dressed in shirt of doeskin,
    White and soft, and fringed with ermine,
    All inwrought with beads of wampum;
    He was dressed in deer-skin leggings,
    Fringed with hedgehog quills and ermine,
    And in moccasins of buck-skin,
    Thick with quills and beads embroidered.
    [...]
    >From his forehead fell his tresses,
    Smooth, and parted like a woman’s,
    Shining bright with oil, and plaited,

    &&&&&&&&&&&

    SAVAGE OBSESSION
    Page 387
    [...]seeing how they were attired in their richest raiments, beautifully clad with beads and tassels.

    HIAWATHA
    Section XI, 3rd stanza
    And the wedding guests assembled,
    Clad in all their richest raiment,
    [...]
    Beautiful with beads and tassels.

    &&&&&&&&&&&&&

    SAVAGE OBSESSION
    Page 392
    [...]a smoothly polished bowl of basswood and a spoon of horn-of-bison.

    HIAWATHA
    Section XI, 2nd stanza
    All the bowls were made of bass-wood,
    White and polished very smoothly,
    All the spoons of horn of bison,
    Black and polished very smoothly.

    &&&&&&&&&

    SAVAGE OBSESSION
    Page 146
    Tangled barberry bushes with tufts of crimson berries[...]

    HIAWATHA
    Introduction, final stanza
    Where the tangled barberry-bushes
    Hang their tufts of crimson berries

    From Nikki, again

  31. GrowlyCub
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 00:30:01

    I am not sure it’s a good or a bad thing that I ‘made’ Jane do something. :)

    Am I too cynical in wondering whether there are any original words in CE’s books?

    I just had to vent since I can’t post on there.

    I had gotten to the stage of overwhelmed numbness at the ever increasing evidence and when I read those statements the rage was reborn. Not having an outlet in the appropriate place, I brought it here. Sigh.

    I feel powerless in the face of people dismissing this as minor shenanigans in the face of such overwhelming evidence.

    It’s like standing in the middle of a crowd shouting and either being ignored, getting blank stares or outright ridicule.

    I think I’ll go read a good book to try to distance myself from this incredible disappointment in my fellow readers and authors.

  32. Nora Roberts
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 08:49:45

    ~for the love of goodness – would they leave that woman alone – how is it that Janet Dailey was able to get back into publishing/ Cassie just didn't add footnotes”~

    This KILLS me. It diminishes the offense, and mocks the craft of writing. Why do plagiarists continue to publish? Because there are a lot of people who say, so what.

    And The Bible crack? So anything less than The Bible is up for grabs? Unless it’s the holy word, it’s not important enough to protect?

    You can bet your ass any writer saying these things would sing a mighty different tune if his/her work was lifted.

  33. barano
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 09:15:21

    Well, at least she tried to paraphrase Hiawatha. Without much success.

  34. azteclady
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 09:53:01

    GrowlyCub

    I feel powerless in the face of people dismissing this as minor shenanigans in the face of such overwhelming evidence.

    Exactly my feelings, and why I can’t leave well enough alone.

  35. L.C. McCabe
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 14:54:33

    I appreciate your post on this issue, and as a courtesy wanted you to know I linked to it on my blog here.

    Keep up the good work,

    Linda

  36. gemiwing
    Jan 17, 2008 @ 04:06:10

    I think I can’t leave this alone because I’m still in shock. Shock that this isn’t being taken seriously across the whole of the writing and book loving community. *smacks head on Dr.Pepper can*

    As far as plagiarism goes, I kind of go by the rule- if your charachter quotes it its ok. If you put in the beginning or end of the written piece “With exerpts from yadda yadda” its ok. Hell get really creative with the footnotes if you want to.

    What bothers me the most is that we are talking about more than a sentence, a phrase or an idiom. We’re talking about huuuge tracks of land.. no no we’re not. sorry.
    We’re talking about complete paragraphs and in some cases pages of another author’s work. I can overlook a sentence in most cases… in ‘most’ cases… but overlooking an entire passage? It’s harder to swallow for me.

    Where I myself get bogged down a bit is actually intent. Did the author intend for this to be an ‘in joke’ or did they expect me to just not notice? Unfortunately, trying to prove intent without having a bias is almost impossible.

  37. Tsu Dho Nimh
    Jan 17, 2008 @ 15:53:42

    For an interesting case consider Fred Saberhagen’s “The Dracula Tape” and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. Saberhagan recasts the scenes that have Dracula in them into Dracula’s POV, while keeping the dialog the same and much of the action intact although it is done from Dracula’s POV. The rest of the story is Saberhagen’s writing in scenes that do not appear in Stoker’s work.

    It’s brilliant! It’s also plagiarism. But it doesn’t bother me like Cassie Edwards’ plagiarism because it is transformative, not just a copy-paste job.

  38. L.C.McCabe
    Jan 17, 2008 @ 16:22:08

    Tsu Dho Nimh wrote:

    It's brilliant! It's also plagiarism. But it doesn't bother me like Cassie Edwards' plagiarism because it is transformative, not just a copy-paste job.

    I’m not familiar with that book, but based on your description I would have to disagree on your conclusion that Saberhagen committed plagiarism.

    To me it soundly like an adaptation with no attempt made to disguise the origins of the source material so therefore he was not trying to fool anyone.

    I see that example as similar to writing a screenplay based on a novel. You assume that there will be dialog from the source material used in the adaptation. The difference is since the novel Dracula is in the public domain, no permission was required in order create the work nor were there be any royalties due to Bram Stoker’s descendants.

    I hope that helps settle any potential qualms you had.

    Linda

  39. Julie
    Jan 17, 2008 @ 17:24:11

    In response to Shiloh above (“I don’t know what Whedon’s take on it is”), Joss has specifically endorsed fanfic of his works and went so far as to say, when asked what fans should do now that his shows were over: “Write fanfiction.”

    Of course, what with the corporate ownership of the works in question, the legal legs the writers of such fanfic have to stand on is shaky at best. I’m sure Fox could come down like a ton of bricks if they wished to. So even though Joss created Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he probably doesn’t have the actual legal right to say “Write fanfiction.” But that’s a whole ‘nother can o’ worms.

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