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A bit about plagiarism from someone who is not a lawyer, doesn’t want to be a lawyer, and doesn’t play a lawyer in the internet.

I’m sure that a lot of people who travel the romance blogosphere routinely got tired pretty quickly of the many discussions on plagiarism, copyright infringement, intellectual honesty, and other related topics sparked by the CE dêbacle (or the SavageGate, which I believe Seressia Glass coined).

However, the Obama speech incident reignited discussion on this at a couple of places I visit, and once again I was impressed by the varied and well, weird ways people can look at things.

• There have been statements that all writers ‘plagiarize’ from academic texts when they research say, the Middle Ages. “After all, it’s not as if the writer could have been there, right?” (Though one wonders what the hell is a writer’s imagination for, in that case. But perhaps that’s just me.)

• There have been statements that word-by-word copying from non-fiction sources is ‘poorly integrated research’ (You don’t want to know the words that left my mouth upon reading this.)

• There have been statements that Nora Roberts, or Mary Balogh, plagiarize from their own, earlier work, because they have certain recognizable tropes or themes or characters in several of their novels. (One wonders what the hell a writer’s voice is, then. But again, perhaps that’s just me.)

• There have been statements that there are all sorts of gray areas between ‘using research by changing a comma or two’ (paraphrasing from an earlier discussion, but I swear that is the condensed version) and ‘actual plagiarism.’ (All I can say to this is… WHAT THE F…?)

• There have been statements that, hey, this is the information age! Sharing is what it’s about! It’s all good! (One wonders whether creativity has any place in a society where everyone can claim everyone else’s original work as their own without it being wrong.)

• There have been statements—by authors who are otherwise very much invested in protecting their own copyrights (Diana Gabaldon for example)—that using out-of-copyright works without attribution is fine. (Yet another WHAT THE F…? from the peanut gallery)

Then, in a more recent, and completely unrelated discussion over at the SmartBitches, Laura Kinsale posted these comments:

I’m curious. What’s the difference between Cassie Edwards writing about ferrets and fan fiction published for profit?

So that’s what I’m asking. Why is that so different from Cassie Edwards? Why is taking a paragraph about a ferret, or even a page of dialogue, so worthy of scorn and ridicule, but fan fiction is supposed to be a nice compliment to the author of the original work?

Leaving aside the bit about fanfiction, and whether it’s legal, illegal, original, derivative, or what have you (a topic worthy of its own article), but simply judging from all that I listed above, I can only conclude that a lot of folks don’t know what plagiarism actually is.

So here it is, in the immortal words of… well, I’m sure plenty of people have said it before me, so you can check your favorite dictionary for a better worded version, but here is mine:

Plagiarism, distilled to the most basic terms, is the intent to pass off someone else’s words as your own, original, new creation. Whether or not there is a concurrent illegal action (such as copyright infringement), ethically this is fraud. It is lying. It is saying, “look how smart/creative/artistic I am” while using someone else’s work, and getting credit and/or money for doing this.

So perhaps I am simple minded, but I don’t see how there can be a gray area there.

Now, let’s see what plagiarism isn’t. (more…)