Writing has rules. Your ability to understand and follow these rules will determine your accomplishments as a writer. Knowing how to structure what you are writing with proper spacing and punctuation as well as spelling may determine your level of professionalism, but Plagiarism will ruin your chances of being respected as a writer and can land you in serious trouble.
Our friends at Wikipedia describe plagiarism as “The wrongful appropriation and purloining and publication of another author’s language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions and the representation of them as one’s original work.” Even this definition has references listed showing the Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary as their sources.
When we write a story we are hit with ideas to write about and work hard to properly structure the writing. It is also important to research our own ideas online to discover if the idea is our own original thoughts or are we remembering something we have read before. Using someone else’s work, even unintentionally, can lead to trouble especially if it had commercial value.
Singer and Songwriter Michael Bolton swam in hot water with his release of “Love is a Beautiful Thing” in 1991. The song had the same title as a song written by The Isley Brothers from 1966. The lyrics also had similarities, enough so that a jury found that Michael and the companies that produced the record were guilty of copyright infringement and ordered them to pay over 5 million dollars. Bolton admitted to being a fan of the Isley brothers but demanded that he had never heard the song. Intentional or not, Plagiarism is illegal.i
Drawing the line
When using another writer’s words we must give them the credit for their work. Let’s look at a couple of instances we can use as a guideline to determine if we have properly used material.
Common Knowledge: Let’s say you were writing a story about medieval times. We all know about knights and princesses as well as dragons. You could write about them all day long without a problem. However if you were to name your main character The King of Hearts and created similar characteristics as the famous King of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland then you might get a phone call wanting an explanation. True, you could use the name and create the character in a completely different way, but your readers would probably note the similarity and be unimpressed with your usage of it.
Copyrighted Material: This material is protected by law and cannot be used without the owner’s permission. If you contacted the owner of Alice in Wonderland and they agreed to give you permission to write a sequel or use the character then you can use the character in your story. Then include a copyright notice somewhere in your book that references the material you used.
Footnotes: When using another author’s articles to write your own you may want to quote them. You can immediately reference them as the author of the quote or use a reference tab which will take them to your footnotes at the bottom of the page and tell them the author there.ii
Original Work: This is the real meat and potatoes you need to know about when writing. How do you know your work is original?
If the information in this article were used for writing another article by an author it would be ethical for them to reference this information as the original work.
When you know that you have written material whether it is an article or a fictional story and it cannot be found anywhere else and is new or predates any other material then you know it is original.
Take them time to research your own writing to be sure that you are not remembering someone else’s work and that the dream you had last night that inspired that writing was really heaven sent.
i This information was retrieved from an article by Jeff Gordinier in Entertainment Weekly entitled “Law is a Wonderful thing.”
ii I wrote this Sentence from general knowledge and have no one but myself to reference. Ain’t I quaint?
About The Author
Robert Hatfield hails from mid-western Ohio. Comedy and Adventure stories are his passion. Editing and Reviewing are the fields of work he enjoys. Writing has been an interest for the past 25 years and he now has the time to pursue it. As a Moderator on Thoughtsinc.net, he welcomes any questions or requests for help.
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