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A New Angle to CassieGate and Other Plagiarism Scandals
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Elizabeth Rolls



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
Posts: 1080
Location: Australia

PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 12:47 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Does it come down to whether an author has committed legally defined plagiarism or what readers consider "moral" plagiarism? Because you can't copyright a premise. How many Beauty and the Beast riffs are there for example? Heck, I've written one myself! Or should we slap William Golding over the wrist for Lord of the Flies because he deliberately used the plot of R.M. Ballantyne's Coral Island as a jumping off point? Although you'd have to admit he did something very different with the premise. What about Karen Ranney's An Unlikely Governess, which she openly admits is a tribute to Mary Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting? Obviously Sandy Coleman who reviewed it here didn't spot that. Or if she did, it didn't bother her. I noticed the similarities and because I was curious, went to Ms Ranney's website where she is quite open about having wanted to give NCW a historical setting. Fine. Obviously there is no legal problem about this or her publisher would not have published it.

There are so many books and movies that take older plots and update them that it's hard to keep up. If we're looking at Shakespeare, let's not forget West Side Story. Shakespeare may not have had legal copyright, but surely even if we can't get Sondheim and Bernstein legally, they are morally culpable and we should boycott them and burn them in effigy Shocked. The idea of needing to use footnotes or endnotes in a work of historical romantic fiction to cite sources is taking things too far. Do visual sources count? Have I plagiarised a bathroom, several libraries and countless items of furniture? Not to mention all the clothes. Should I be apologising to the authors of the books I used for research? Because I can tell you right now that publishers, as a general rule, are not going to be keen to include pages of reference notes and a bibliography in place of the advertising and excerpts they currently include. Are we going to have to cite every single source for every nitty gritty detail on our websites? Like the time I realised I'd nicked a scenario from Sophocles? Or Charles Dickens? Or . . . better stop there.

Sorry if I sound snippy, but I do think we get our panties in a wad (quoting myself in another thread there) unnecessarily at times. If it's legally plagiarism, then have at it. If not, well, we're wasting our time.

Elizabeth
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 1867

PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 4:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Diana wrote:
Schola wrote:
I'd say that Dodd's novels are "adaptations" of Sabrina and The Sound of Music in Victorian Romancelandia settings. They're not meant to be original; in fact, we can argue that one can truly enjoy them only when already familiar with the source material.


IIRC, Dodd did not start using words like "tribute" or "homage" nor did she mention Sabrina or The Sound of Music until reviewers pointed out the eerie similarities.


Then I stand corrected! Smile

Yet given how obvious the similarities were (the title of the Sound of Music take off even has the words "my favourite"), I did the naive thing and gave her the benefit of the doubt. She gets no points for originality, of course. I just think that someone ripping off another writer wouldn't wave such big "fangirl" type banners like that.

dick wrote:
I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, schola, on the matter of plagiarism when doing take-offs on other authors' plots when it occurs in the classroom. If the student writer were to use the exact organization of a non-fiction work, would you not think, uh oh, I'd better think about this?


You'll have to explain what you mean by "exact organisation of a non-fiction work" before I can answer, Dick. Smile If a student were to, say, pattern an essay with the structure of the Summa Theologica, I'd be quite impressed.

I've also never had to entertain such a situation. My high school usually skirted such issues by requiring students to follow set formats for everything from research papers to lab reports.

dick wrote:
And I continue to think that Dodd's novels could easily be considered copyright infringement regardless. Using a plot by Shakespeare, who probably never had a copyright to infringe, is considerably different from utilizing a plot of an author contemporaneous with oneself as Dodd did. Even had Shakespeare had one, it would have expired long ago.


Ah, this is where I'm fuzzy. Embarassed Does this mean that the copyrights to Sabrina and The Sound of Music will expire one day and Dodd was just unwise not to have waited until then to publish her books?

And what about the movie The Beautician and the Beast, another Sound of Music take off? IMDb.com tells us:

Quote:
Early in development, Fran Drescher planned the movie to be a spin on The King and I (1956), titled "The King And Oy" but legislatively faced the problem that FOX owned the rights. Therefore, she decided to pay homage to Beauty and the Beast (1991) instead.


(When I read that, I could only think, "Huh?" Beauty and the Beast is virtually an archetype and I didn't see any substantial borrowing from the plot of Disney's movie.)

The Movie Connections page adds that the movie is a "spoof" of four different films:

Quote:
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
The Sound of Music
Beauty and the Beast
Evita


However, now that they've mentioned The King and I, I can see how Drescher's character was patterned not just after Maria von Trapp, but also Anna Leonowens. No music, no Thai setting, no polygamy, and no Tuptim (though there is a Liesl), but it seems to me that she got a free pass just because she could plausibly say she took her inspiration from The Sound of Music rather than The King and I. Confused
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
Posts: 2064

PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 6:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Elizabeth Rolls wrote:
If we're looking at Shakespeare, let's not forget West Side Story. Shakespeare may not have had legal copyright, but surely even if we can't get Sondheim and Bernstein legally, they are morally culpable and we should boycott them and burn them in effigy Shocked.
Elizabeth


If we've looking at Shakespeare, most of his plots weren't original Rolling Eyes

At the time, nobody minded, never had (what did medieval troubadours do with the Arthur and Roland cycles?), and didn't for a long time to come. Think of such quotations as, "Plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery," and "We are dwarves, standing upon the shoulders of giants."

Or, from my beloved Philip Massinger, "Immature poets imitate. Mature poets steal."

Virginia
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Diana



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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Location: Washington DC

PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 8:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Elizabeth Rolls wrote:

Sorry if I sound snippy, but I do think we get our panties in a wad (quoting myself in another thread there) unnecessarily at times. If it's legally plagiarism, then have at it. If not, well, we're wasting our time.

Elizabeth


Shakespeare, Homer, and fairy tales such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast aren't copyrighted. That's where I draw the distinction in my mind . . . or maybe I should say in my panties. Cool IMO, there's a big difference between loosely basing a plot on the golden oldies and heavily lifting plot and detail from another contemporary author. I haven't checked, but I assume that Sabrina and The Sound of Music are protected and I'm sure that Linda Howard's White Lies is.

We jabber on endlessly about things that are a waste of time, but, gosh, that's what we do here. I'm always interested in what other readers have to say, even if it's silly or not legally defensible. In fact I'm wasting time right now when I've got other things I should be doing. Smile
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Kass



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 8:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I graduated law school in 1998, plots were not then (and AFAIK not now) copyrightable. If plots were copyrightable, we'd only have one romance, one mystery, etc. out there. The only thing that's copyrightable is an author's original words ABOUT the plot, which makes sense. That's how we can have so many remakes and reissues of older movies, for example.

So copying the plot setting of Sabrina is okay. Steaking the dialogue from the original screenplay, which probably is still copyrighted (but I ain't gonna look it up 'cause I don't feel like it) would be illegal.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 10:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, Ms. Rolls, I more or less agreed with your point of view when I suggested that publishers and authors ought to treat the matter with benign neglect, especially romance authors. I haven't twisted my shorts in a wad right now, but, if this matter is not an issue for publishers and authors, why have some publishers developed the form Ms. Marble speaks of in the opening post? Further, why have some authors brought suit for copyright infringement, as another of Ms. Marbles' posts points out? Some must think it important.

In my opinion, worthless as it might be, they should give the same benign neglect to the words in which the plot are expressed, for the language of romance fiction, in my not so humble opinion, is endlessly repeated from book to book, often with the same syntax. I don't think that's terribly surprising, as a matter of fact. There are only so many words to describe and only so many ways to talk about the sexual act, for example.

If plots are not subject to copyright as Kass points out, I'm even more puzzled about what constitutes infringement than I was at the beginning. For if they're not, what's the point?
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dick



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PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 11:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to Schola: Summa Theologica? I'd be impressed as well. But I was thinking of something far less grand than that. In my experience, for example, a considerable number of freshman athletes chose--lo, that decade ago when I was still having to undergo the torture of grading the pesky things--to write research papers about lifting weights. Were such a student writer to organize his research paper exactly as, say, a professional sports writer did, outlining the material in exactly the same way, using the same number of supporting details, wouldn't you consider that plagiarism? Or at least think about calling it plagiarism were you to encounter it?

My point was that I think we usually give much greater latitude when considering something plagiarism when it occurs in fiction than when it occurs in non-fiction Perhaps because we look upon non-fiction as more closely related to intellectual activity and thus more likely "theft" of intellectual property?

I have to admit I've always been sort of skeptical about the entire matter. Except in those instances when exact words and syntax are "borrowed" from another, I had a difficult time considering some things plagiarism even though the "rules" said they were. Even exact or nearly exact words and syntax were sometimes plaguey. Judging when some expression of thought has passed so completely into common parlance that it should no longer be considered "property" of a single mind is not a task to be relished. If a student writer were to write, for example, "ask not what your sorority can do for you, but what you can do for your sorority," use no brackets and give no citation whatsoever, ought we to insist that she acknowledge Kennedy?


An aside: I think copyrights expire in 17 years unless renewed. I'm not sure how many times renewal can occur, but I think Emilie Lorings' sons renewed copyright on her books many times; those copyrights have to be at least 75 years old or more.
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veasleyd1



Joined: 02 Dec 2007
Posts: 2064

PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 12:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
to Schola: Summa Theologica? I'd be impressed as well. But I was thinking of something far less grand than that. In my experience, for example, a considerable number of freshman athletes chose--lo, that decade ago when I was still having to undergo the torture of grading the pesky things--to write research papers about lifting weights. Were such a student writer to organize his research paper exactly as, say, a professional sports writer did, outlining the material in exactly the same way, using the same number of supporting details, wouldn't you consider that plagiarism? Or at least think about calling it plagiarism were you to encounter it?
[snipped]


Part of the issue for academic papers is that we're supposed to be engaged in the enterprise of teaching the students how to do research. When they pick up someone else's work, with minimal modification and often no proper citation form, they just aren't learning what we're trying to convey.

For term papers, I made my students, on a schedule announced in the syllabus handed out at the beginning of the semester:

1) develop five possible topics relevant to the material to be covered in the course;
2) meet with me to choose one of the topics and narrow it down enough that it could be managed within a semester;
3) bring me a bibliography of sources available in the college library;
4) bring me a bibliography of sources identified but not available in our library, which could be obtained via ILL or other means (the internet was not so much of a challenge back then -- I left teaching for other things in 1983);
5) submit an outline; meet with me to go over the outline;
6) submit a revised outline;
[optional -- another meeting if the revised outline wasn't workable]
7) complete a first draft and meet with me to go over it;
8 ) submit a revised draft and meet with me to go over it, with particular attention to whether or not the student had addressed the problems identified at stage 7, both in regard to content and in regard to format, citations, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and general readability;
9) submit the final paper.

They often didn't like me, but they did learn how to write a topical research paper, compiling, analyzing, comparing, and applying source material, both primary and secondary, to demonstrate the bases upon which they reached a conclusion in regard to the original question or hypothesis they posed as the topic of the paper, whether they wanted to or not.

The above simply isn't what a work of fiction is intended to accomplish.


Last edited by veasleyd1 on Fri Aug 01, 2008 1:59 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Kass



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 01, 2008 12:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
If plots are not subject to copyright as Kass points out, I'm even more puzzled about what constitutes infringement than I was at the beginning.

Why? It's copyright infringement if you reproduce page 66 of Mr. Perfect in your romance book. It's not copyright infringement if you write a story about four friends who happen to get subsumed into a comic nightmare, with a romantic resolution of a troubled marriage and a new romance with a cop thrown in. I think it's fairly easy to understand, honestly.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 11:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to veasleyD1: I followed a similar schedule. I added, for the purposes of instruction only, that use of any 4 words in the same sequence as a source would be considered plagiarism. I banned the internet as a source, as well. Actually, though, in the last five years I taught, I found that students paid little attention. They believed--and I'm not sure wrongly since the www--that information out there, wherever it was, belonged to whomever found it. The concept that someone could own something they looked upon as ephemeral anyway just didn't seem to stick. The research paper was but one of what I came to look upon as futile as catching moonbeams. And--oh god!--the drudgery involved in grading them!
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dick



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PostPosted: Sat Aug 02, 2008 11:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to Kass: Well, I'm taking into account what AnneMarble wrote about the man who infringed McDonald's copyright and the woman who infringed on the copyright of Whitney My Love. From what she wrote, I surmised that exact words were not copied, but that plot and character were too close. Thus the remaining confusion.
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
Posts: 1867

PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2008 4:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
to Schola: Summa Theologica? I'd be impressed as well. But I was thinking of something far less grand than that. In my experience, for example, a considerable number of freshman athletes chose--lo, that decade ago when I was still having to undergo the torture of grading the pesky things--to write research papers about lifting weights. Were such a student writer to organize his research paper exactly as, say, a professional sports writer did, outlining the material in exactly the same way, using the same number of supporting details, wouldn't you consider that plagiarism? Or at least think about calling it plagiarism were you to encounter it?


Hmmmm. I don't know, Dick. Confused I realise I must sound like an incredible flake here, but . . . from what I know of my more athletic students, writing and the organising of ideas are generally not their strong points. If the pattern of the research paper were to exactly follow another writer's, but have their own research and different supporting details, I might give him the benefit of the doubt. (Especially if the paper were full of unplagiarised grammatical errors! Laughing ) So I'd probably just give it a low grade, but not raise the issue of plagiarism.

However, I was a lowly Literature teacher who didn't have to worry about research papers like that. Razz There was a separate Research class which was run a little like Veasleyd1's:

veasleyd1 wrote:
For term papers, I made my students, on a schedule announced in the syllabus handed out at the beginning of the semester:

1) develop five possible topics relevant to the material to be covered in the course;
2) meet with me to choose one of the topics and narrow it down enough that it could be managed within a semester;
3) bring me a bibliography of sources available in the college library;
4) bring me a bibliography of sources identified but not available in our library, which could be obtained via ILL or other means (the internet was not so much of a challenge back then -- I left teaching for other things in 1983);
5) submit an outline; meet with me to go over the outline;
6) submit a revised outline;
[optional -- another meeting if the revised outline wasn't workable]
7) complete a first draft and meet with me to go over it;
8 ) submit a revised draft and meet with me to go over it, with particular attention to whether or not the student had addressed the problems identified at stage 7, both in regard to content and in regard to format, citations, grammar, punctuation, spelling, and general readability;
9) submit the final paper.


It may be that the Research teacher would completely flunk that paper you've described, Dick, assuming that it wasn't snipped in the bud with all those "checks" first. Smile

Hey, this reminds me of when I was still earning my English Lit degree. The School of English had developed a system that made it really difficult to plagiarise other essays. We never wrote about just one text at a time, but always two or more. Some of them would be as difficult to connect as Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and H.G. Wells' Food of the Gods. (I remember being very bitter at the low mark I received for that comparative analysis.)
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Kass



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2008 7:46 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, I can assure you there's a world of difference between writing a community based romance set in your own world, as both Robyn Carr and Debbie Macomber do, and deliberately copying Carr's Virgin River series. If you call your place "Maiden Valley" and have two Marines running a bar in the mountains in Northern California and have a midwife get stuck on the shoulder on the way in and be rescued by Doc Mulroney and have her met by Faith McConnell, etc., yeah, you're probably just copying Carr. But that's not just using a similar kind of plot (woman from big city goes to small community, finds happiness and love), that's deliberately copying Carr's order/characters/original expression OF her plot.
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ladynaava



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2008 10:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think it depends on whether an author chooses to pursue the offender too.

Rachel Vincent stray is very derivative of Kelly Amrstrong's "Bitten" right down to borrowing plot ideas and similar charaters.

Apparently the two authors know eachother and Vincent is a protege or Armstrongs's. (Don't quote me on that, but I believe I read that somewhere).

But that didn't stop me from being annoyed when I realized I'd read a lot of it before- In Armstrong's work.

Is it punishable? I tend to be pretty lenient about the whole plagiarism thing. Unless its paragraph after paragraph of copied text line by line, I'm willing to let most forms of plagiarism slide.
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dick



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PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2008 11:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

to Kass: The website for the government copyright office states that copyright gives the original owners the right to allow "derivative" works. I can find no record of the McDonald suit against Dmitri Gat to see why the judgment was made in McDonald's favor, nor the case record of infringement of copyright for Whitney My Love. But that both were derivatives of the original rather than word for word copies, I would assume that the original authors won because the derivatives were too close to the originals. Since Dodds' "In My Wildest Dreams" is a derivative of the movie "Sabrina," having the same selection of characters only with different names, following the events of "Sabrina" without any change except the historical period, I should think it would be considered a "derivative."
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