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Jul
10
2017

What a Rip Off! -- by Andrew Mcqueen

This post comes from two things. First, the experiences of other writers who been accused of biting other writers. Second, serious thinking on embarking on the writer's path.

Reason for this is because it happens to the best of the brightest minds in fiction who had an idea for a story and someone called on them plagiarizing another one's work. Nothing says it than the old-fashioned "What a rip-off" from a fan with an eye for being critical. So if you have any interest in being a writer, you'll have to face plagiarism accusations at one point or another.

In fact, it happened to me once. When I joined an online writing group, I had a novel-in-progress receiving critiques, then one of them came down on me for ripping off the likes of an established author and a little mean comment came after that. I told the person that it's akin to what he knows so well, and he apologized. *Recalling what Peter David mentioned about the topic, he said it happens to him all the time. When he was writing Supergirl, fans called on him ripping off Joss Whedon's Buffy The Vampire Slayer. A character he created was revised to be a mirror of Whedon's Spike, especially when the character harbored feelings for the titular heroine. The character's creation predated Spike's creation by a year, and his being enamored of the book's blonde heroine predated by three years. Despite David coming up with his own ideas, no came after Whedon for biting off him.

Everything has been done before. In comics, movies, and books. Most likely what the other person came up with before will be an inspiration for the next project. But it's what they do with the inspiration that makes it their own. Translation: Ain't nothing new under the sun. Let's consider the following examples.
 

  • Green Arrow-blended mixture of Batman and Robin Hood, with trick arrows instead of a utility belt.
  • Swamp Thing-DC Comics' answer to Marvel Comics' Man-Thing.
  • The Atom-Inspired by Richard Matheson's The Incredible Shrinking Man
  • Wonder Woman-Greek myths meets flag waving patriotism and the Lasso of Truth (That's the creator's idea. Don't ask.)

   Is that to say that R.L. Stine, Brian K. Vaughn, and Andrew W. Marlowe are plagiarists? Hell no. To repeat what's said: It's not the ideas one comes up with, it's what they do with them. When you look at Vaughn's Y: The Last Man, it shares the common theme of the last man on Earth with I Am Legend and Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth.

In my humble opinion, the line between inspiration and plagiarism is blurred every once in a while. It's important to separate the two things so everything doesn't get all out of order. On the one hand, it all comes with the territory.

*Source: Writing for Comics & Graphic Novels with Peter David, pg. 172.

Posted by Andrew Mcqueen 10 Jul at 00:07
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Responses to this blog

Comeaux 10 Jul at 09:40  
Andrew, I really had a hard time getting your meaning in this blog because you left so many pertinent words out, namely verbs. Please read this again and fill in the blanks. Thanks.

Donna
Onalimb 10 Jul at 14:32  
Although plagiarism is a real concern, I agree that the accusation can be inappropriate. In order for readers to empathize, story problems, solutions, and character personalities have to land within a believable range. It's inevitable that we'll come up with similar stories and ideas. If that weren't the case, we wouldn't have genres, with their baked-in reader expectations. The freshness of a story is often in the details.

I've received my share of "similar to ..." crits, as well as its opposite number, the complaint that my story wasn't sufficiently alike others in the genre. Authors try to find unique ground between 'too alike' and 'too different.' It's not an easy task.


Paulpowell 11 Jul at 18:02  
Redundancy, repetition, copycatting, over-familiar themes and over-mined ideas. Half-hearted, limp, listless creativity which upsets no one, and keeps turnstiles turning. Thin, sappy, derivative products, empty mimicry; performers merely going-through-the-motions. A glut of hundreds of similar works alongside any ones purchased. Commercialism, heavily touted and promoted but all very quickly consumed and discarded. Recycled, repackaged, 'revisited' content.

One would be hard pressed to name a more pervasive miasma afflicting the arts & entertainment of this country, today. Yet, it's endemic.

'Automated' media (mass market blockbusters, remakes, reboots, series and franchises) all cranked out at a furious pace—is the worst substitute for a country already pained for lack of culture. It aggravates and accentuates every pockmark and wart.

What we need is a nice, tidy, savage little foreign war. Being perfectly frank here. Invasions take our minds off this godawful American curse of perpetual ennui and boredom. Historically, bloodshed is frequently how we revitalize our society. Let's admit it openly. US audiences weary of make-believe slaughter. Who is our next enemy? As someone said not too long ago, "just show us who to hate next".
__________________
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Teepack 11 Jul at 20:26  
I do not understand the point of this post at all.
Petesdiner 12 Jul at 06:12  
I don't mean to, like, well, I don't know, and I should probably just stay far, far away, but Paul, are you genuinely inciting war? In a comment on a CC blog post? Or are you just still trolling (cause if so, please stop)?

PS: Isn't the US already embroiled in at least one actual war?
Mhtritter 12 Jul at 07:11  
Quote by: Petesdiner
I don't mean to, like, well, I don't know, and I should probably just stay far, far away, but Paul, are you genuinely inciting war? In a comment on a CC blog post? Or are you just still trolling (cause if so, please stop)?

PS: Isn't the US already embroiled in at least one actual war?



And if I understand correctly, the justification is boredom??
__________________
In me there's a story that wants to be told. It is my end; I am its means. If I can keep myself out of the way and follow the movement of the story, the story tells itself. ~ Le Guin

Imjustdru 12 Jul at 07:53  
The point of this blog is to prepare everyone for any plagiarism accusations, friends. Every idea you read or seen on TV has been done differently.
Peggyc 12 Jul at 10:18  
Interesting article - Tickled a memory — commonly accepted "fact" there are only "7 stories" that have ever been told throughout all of history.
Add that to a quick googled analytic on the web (and you know it must be true if it's on the internet hahaha) : as of 2010 there have been almost 130,000,000 written (well, published anyway)
Do the math and a rough average of 19,000,000 retellings of each of the first "original" stories. Makes it kind of tough to come up with a new idea, doesn't it?

Kscollier 12 Jul at 14:37  
I think the post is a good one. I have seen famous authors accused of plagiarism and have seen the accusers lose. However, I believe it is brought on by an author who did not receive recognition for their work; maybe because it wasn't written well. Then again, maybe it was a cheap, underhanded way to get free advertisement. I would never read anything from a person who is quick to run to a lawyer for plagiarism without full blown proof that the author deliberately stole their work.

Critics are everywhere. We all need to grow a thick skin if we plan to make it in this business. I heard so many comments against Stephanie Meyers in reference to her stories, however, my comment was "Well, she is laughing all the way to the bank." Who cares when it is a great story and the group you are writing for loves your work.

You want to turn in the best work you can, but you don't want to lose your voice along the way by allowing others to destroy what you started out to write. It is our duty to make sure we take criticism and change what we know needs changing and leave alone what we know to be good. I read and learn all I can to improve my writing and I'm willing to accept constructive criticism, but I think we should be very careful not to offend.


Kscollier 12 Jul at 14:40  
One person's masterpiece might be someone else's fire starter. To each his own.
Paulpowell 13 Jul at 09:26  

Paul, are you genuinely inciting war?


No, I simply started off talking about how redundant creative endeavors are in an media-saturated society (which leads to the plagiarism woes as outlined by the OP) but then as I pondered the further cause of this I remembered the quote about war and American history. I delivered this with what I hoped was a sardonic tone— which I guess, just didn't come through. Sorry pod nuh.

Never trolling, by the way. I simply go through my workday grumbling under my breath about stuff no one can control (I reside in New York, where every social issue is magnified). When I get a break in my hectic daily routine (usually waiting for my next assignment or task) I run my eyes over various websites like this one which are to my interest (writing) and mayhaps a particular thread inspires me to comment. So, in a distracted manner, I vent-a-little-of-the-steam-building-up.

FYI, when I first joined the site and first visited this forum, I was told this kind of thing—was all okay. Random remarks were encouraged, as long as one is not being disruptive. A moderator reassured me on this point, as I recall, because I specifically asked what were the safe-boundaries...




Bluewave 13 Jul at 10:22  
Quote by: Paulpowell

Paul, are you genuinely inciting war?

No, I simply started off talking about how redundant creative endeavors are in an media-saturated society (which leads to the plagiarism woes as outlined by the OP) but then as I pondered the further cause of this I remembered the quote about war and American history. I delivered this with what I hoped was a sardonic tone— which I guess, just didn't come through. Sorry pod nuh.


If it helps, I "got" the dark sarcasm.
Kregger 13 Jul at 14:58  
Please correct me if i"m wrong.
It's impossible to plagiarize ideas.
A written work can be plagiarized by being copied and presented as the non-original writer's own work.
Stealing ideas is...stealing.
Veinglory 14 Jul at 09:56  
This blog post reads like a subtweet, like the writergot upset about an incident but don't say what the incident was. Therefore I am left wonder whether the plagiarism (or trademark infringement, or whatever might actually apply) accusation was correct and maybe the lady doth protest too much. No way to tell without knowing more about it.

Of course an accusation of theft of intellectual property can be true, or false, or in between. But being in a writing group is about hashing out ideas and if someone thinks a work is overly derivative, IMHO they should be free to say so and the author should seriously consider whether it is true. No need to get offended.

And I say this as someone who was once accused of publishing a book that was "obviously" heavily inspired by another published book written by someone else. My only response was to contact that author, let her know I had not actually read her book but apparently mine was very like it, and ensure that she did not feel I had stolen from her. We were cool; end of story.




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Fictiondog 15 Jul at 01:26  
Quote by: Kregger
Please correct me if i"m wrong.
It's impossible to plagiarize ideas.
A written work can be plagiarized by being copied and presented as the non-original writer's own work.
Stealing ideas is...stealing.



One cannot copyright an idea. One can only copyright a string of words (poem, story, song, novel, ditty, etc).

To use someone else's copyrighted work without their permission, even with attribution, is infringement of copyright.

To use someone else's strings of words, whether copyrighted or not, and pass them off as your own is plagiarism.

Plagiarism is not (in the US) a crime, although it is an unethical in Academia, and grounds for dismissal at many schools and universities. it could include copyright infringement (if the work was copyrighted) but it doesn't necessarily have to (if the work wasn't, such as a partnered writing project which one partner submits for publication in only his name.)

Ideas are not subject to copyright infringement because they are not copyrighted.

Ideas are merely the skeleton; the execution of the idea, the writing (or, in other fields, the experiments, etc) makes each idea unique. Someone could steal your idea, but their execution would be so different that it's irrelevant. It's the difference between Harry Potter and Wizard's Hall, the difference between every single Robin Hood retelling and the others, it's the difference between Cinderella and Ever After, the difference between Clueless and Emma.

Plagiarism, a generally academic distinction, does not refer to ideas. Academia is all about ideas; two scientists frequently have the same idea, and go about discovering the truth in different ways by running different experiments. Knowledge is built on prior knowledge (and on the discovery that an earlier idea was flawed) so "plagiarism" isn't a term used for ideas. But likewise in academia, ideas are rarely considered stealable, but are freely shared.


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