Saturday, July 15, 2006

Q & A 72 Guess the Plot Plagiarism

I'm still unsettled about the answer to the question by the poster about using the fake plots submitted to you by others or created by you. And I'm generally interested in issues of copyright and plagiarism, so I read about these topics.

I came across an interesting interview by YA writer Cynthia Leitich Smith of lawyer Aimee Bissonette. Ms. Smith asks about copyright and plagiarism and how they relate to each other and Ms. Bissonette answers. Her answer suggests (says) that use of ideas and concepts can be plagiarism and works derived from another's work can be copyright infringement.

I wonder how this applies to the fake plots written by others. Obviously minions who submit fake plots allow you to post them on your blog. But I wonder if that's enough to make them public domain, or if the original author still retains ownership.

Because we minions all love you, we don't want to see something bad happen. And as a minion, I hope you'll get some legal advice to protect yourself (and revise your answer, if need be), because somebody will rely on your advice and somebody else will cry foul and then it will be a mess.

As it happens, answering this question is as easy as excerpting the interview you referenced:

"Writers cannot copyright ideas, titles, or even character names, and with good reason. The truly creative work is what the writer produces as a result of the idea or title or character name. That is what is protected by copyright."

"Plagiarism is the false presentation of someone else's work as your own. Ideas and concepts cannot be copyrighted, but they can be plagiarized. The way to avoid claims of plagiarism is to give full attribution to others when incorporating their work."

As I recall, I suggested that authors acknowledge the Guess the Plot writer in their published books, so I think we're in the clear. My guess is that authors of "Guess the Plots" would be thrilled to see a book published based on their idea, and would eagerly await their take from the film rights. Below are some quotes which Evil Editor has properly attributed to their authors, thus avoiding charges of plagiarism.

"Though old the thought and oft exprest,
'Tis his at last who says it best."--James Russell Lowell

"Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before him."--Mark Twain

"I do borrow from other writers, shamelessly! I can only say in my defense, like the woman brought before the judge on a charge of kleptomania, 'I do steal; but, Your Honor, only from the best stores.'"--Thornton Wilder

"Originality is undetected plagiarism."--William Inge

"The more worthless the manuscript, the greater the fear of plagiarism."--Stanley Unwin

"Whatever has been well-said by anyone is mine."--Seneca

"Great literature must spring from an upheaval in the author's soul. If that upheaval is not present, then it must come from the works of any other author which happen to be handy and easily adapted."--Robert Benchley


Anonymous said...

"Bad artists copy. Great artists steal" -- Pablo Picasso

Someplace I read that what he meant by this is that great artists take ideas from others and change them to make them their own, where lesser artists just take & drop them in wholesale.

A two sentence discription of a plot idea obviously leaves a lot to be filled in. If one starts with a "Guess the plot" idea & writes a book from it, almost all contained in the book is from the author of the book, even if he/she didn't change the seed idea along the way.

Anonymous said...

Oh, for cying out loud - if someone can write a book from one of my two-sentence pieces if lunacy I say Go Forth And Do It! And I will be delighted.

If *I* wanted to write the book, I would keep the idea to myself, and not publish it on one of the most widely-read blogs in the world! DUH!

Bernita said...

"...and any such notions that have wandered into this book have got there by the usual writerly methods, which resemble the ways of the jackdaw: we steal the shiny bits, and build them into the structures of our own disorderly nests."
- Margaret Atwood.

Anonymous said...

If I write a novel based on one of my Guess the Plot suggestions, and someone else does also, I am certain that completely different novels will result. I am not worried about this. A good book takes more than a good idea; execution is (nearly) everything.

Anonymous said...

"one of the most widely-read blogs in the world!"

Well, there is also Miss Snarks. [Oh, and MS claims that George Clooney is real.]

Certainly, EE's blog would be required reading for anyone if they were listening to *me*, but I will admit the comment tails on Scott Adams are much longer. Perhaps we minions should keep EE to those of us that can really appreciate him, so I have a hope of reading the comment tails in this lifetime -- some of the minions are almost as funny as EE.

Bemita, I love the quote you posted.

Bernita said...

From "Negotiating with the Dead," Anon.

Anonymous said...

Great quotes. Love them all. EE's and those in the comments.

Anonymous said...

15 of my GTPs have made the cut so far, and if anyone makes a real novel out of them, they are welcome to the entire share of proceeds. Plots are the easy part. That's why, I agree with EE, they are not protected.

For those who have had extraordinary strife getting a GTP on the blog: try taking a TV Guide and typing a few program descriptions [what screen people call the 'log lines'] onto your text-editing screen of choice. For a title like "Portal To Doom," which could be about anything, cut and paste a phrase from one show, like "Stargate SG-1," which involves a portal, into the logline of a completely antithetical-genre show, like "Ponderosa," and combine them in a tabloid show's lead story --

Cattle wander off the back-forty, leading Hoss and Little Joe through a time-space portal to Prairie-ovia, where galaxy-roving grass plants conduct a galactic revenge campaign against all four-stomached mass-murderers, returning them to earth as mutilated examples to all who would follow their genocidal grazing-behavior example.

At this point, what is funny is easily separable from what is just dunnage. Tighten down to 25 words through ruthless hacking, slicing and word concision, and voila.