Two Lessons and a Farting Kitten
1. No book will work for everyone, and if you think one of my books is terrible, that’s no big deal. (I am sorry you didn’t like it, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it, either.)
But tagging the author on Facebook so that they get directly notified that you think their book sucks? Kind of rude.
I get that sometimes you type in a name and Facebook or other sites automatically convert that to a tag, so this might have been an accident. But, you know, something to be aware of…
2. I remember teaching Freshman English at college a decade or so back and having students who honestly didn’t get that copying and pasting stuff from the internet without citing it was a problem.
I’m not sure why this is such a difficult concept.
If you’re presenting someone else’s words as your own, then you’re plagiarizing.*
(Yes, this was inspired by a specific incident. No, I’m not going to link to it.)
If someone else writes something you think it clever and you want to share, great. You do it like so:
John Scalzi wrote a piece about Kirk Cameron, homophobia, and free speech. He said, “…the First Amendment also means that when you say such things, other people have the a right to mock you and the silly, stupid words that have dribbled out of your skull through that word hole above your chin.” Read the whole thing.
You acknowledge the author. You quote a small excerpt if you want, but you do it as a quote so it’s clear you didn’t write those words. Then you link your readers to the original piece.
Changing a word here and there does not make it “yours.”
Sure, sometimes you won’t be able to find an original author online. If you decide to post and mock a chain e-mail, you probably won’t be able to track down who wrote it. But at the very least, you make it clear that these aren’t your words.
And now I’m done, because I’ve already exceeded my headdesking allotment for the week.
*As soon as I posted, I started thinking, “What if you hire a ghostwriter? Or what about speechwriters? And what if…” So yeah, there are exceptions. But as a general guideline, I like it.
Finally, because yesterday I promised kittens and fart jokes (from I Can Haz Cheezburger):
March 16, 2012 @ 10:41 am
I make sure to go over how to quote stuff in my blogging class.
I had a blog post quoted out of context, and without a link back. While they did have my name and quotes around the paragraph of text, I was still annoyed. I know the folks who run the blog, so it was fixed. I was still pretty steamed though. In my post the text was framed as a joke, but when it was quoted in the other blog it was not, and changed the meaning. Combine that without a link, and I was in beast mode for a bit.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2012 @ 10:53 am
So not plagiarism, but deliberately distorting a quote to make it look like someone said/suggested something they didn’t is another elementary-level no-no. (Though it seems to be fair game in politics. Sigh.)
How do people not already understand this stuff? I remember learning these lessons around middle school.
David D. Levine
March 16, 2012 @ 11:58 am
If you’re presenting someone else’s words as your own, then you’re plagiarizing. … [but] What if you hire a ghostwriter? Or what about speechwriters?
Your definition of plagiarism (which I quite like) actually works well in this situation, because if you hire a ghostwriter or a speechwriter, the words you are presenting are yours. The writer you hired performed work-for-hire and you own all the rights, explicitly including the right to present those words as your own. You bought those words, you paid for them, and they’re yours.
I suppose if the check bounces you’ve just become a plagiarist, as well as a jerk.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2012 @ 12:03 pm
Oh, good point. Hm … so how would that work if, as a student, I buy a term paper off of the web instead of just copying/pasting out of Wikipedia?
March 16, 2012 @ 12:35 pm
As for bought term papers I believe you have just pointed out the difference between morals and ethics.
By a person’s own morals it may be just fine to pay for a term paper and present as their “own” because they “bought it and own it” (or because they subscribe to the “Just don’t get caught” school of morals), but it is most likely against the ethics of their educational community to do so.
March 16, 2012 @ 12:43 pm
I teach communication classes at a university, and I think that’s a great definition of plagiarism for the classroom. I usually add this phrase in my syllabi: “Using someone else’s words as your own is a form of theft. Just as you wouldn’t steal a wallet or a car, don’t steal other people’s words or ideas.” Hopefully they get it!
I’m interested in your take on the 50 Shades of Grey books. It’s such a gray area (heh) because the books started as Twilight fanfic. Once the author decided to publish, she changed “Bella” and “Edward” and reworked parts of the story. It still seems icky to me (to use a scientific term) since she’s piggybacking off another author’s world. (Don’t get me wrong. Fanfic: good. Profiting off of fanfic (and maybe even glossing over the book’s fanfic roots): kind of icky.)
March 16, 2012 @ 1:09 pm
Academic institutions all have specific plagiarism policies that forbid this. That’s what makes it not okay in an academic setting.
March 16, 2012 @ 1:09 pm
Blah, that was supposed to be a comment to your nested comment above. I don’t know why I suck at leaving comments on your site.
David D. Levine
March 16, 2012 @ 1:54 pm
The words, then, do belong to you, and you are not plagiarizing the person you bought them from. However, you may be purchasing plagiarized material (and because you paid for the work, the responsibility for the plagiarism becomes yours). Or, if the purchased term paper is original work, what you’re doing by presenting it as your own work is not plagiarism but academic cheating.
March 16, 2012 @ 2:06 pm
50 Shades of Grey was an AU fic though. So it was taking Bella and Edward and making her an English major and him a CEO (who is not a vampire), and writing a story about the BDSM scene. In cases like that, it doesn’t take a lot of filing to get the serial numbers off.
I can think of at least two other popular fantasy series that I know started as fanfic ideas (though neither of them were published on the ‘Net as this one was), then changed into publishable pro work. Are those authors profiting off of fic?
For that matter, if I read, idk, a Dan Brown book and decide that I liked some things about it, but really would like to see the story told from the Point of View of the evil priest character, then write a psychological thriller about an evil priest trying to keep church secrets (but hugely morally ambiguous because there’s a reason those secrets are kept), but use a different set up, and names… I wouldn’t have written that without Dan Brown, and I’m expecting to play off of him, and am piggybacking to some extent, but it’s not plagiarism. (Though now it occurs to me that Dan Brown is an interesting example to pick, on that topic).
It’s clearly acceptable with public works, such as say the Aeneid, Hamlet (unfortunately) or fairy tales (\o/). Though the difference there being you’re not claiming that the original idea was yours. Which I gather the 50 Shades of Grey author isn’t either.
As you say, a grey area.
March 16, 2012 @ 4:27 pm
We can call a spade a spade here. I do read this blog still.
I never said I wrote those bullet points. I said I collected them. True, I didn’t say from where, and that was a mistake. But the term “collect” clearly doesn’t mean “created”. It implies someone else created them and I am presenting them.
Also, I had no ability to link to the original piece, because it wasn’t online. And since I was quickly getting flames from people accusing me of being sexist, I had to quickly demonstrate that those points were written by _women_.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2012 @ 4:59 pm
I find an effective way of avoiding accusations of sexism is to not post sexist stuff, (regardless of whether you wrote it yourself or are just reposting someone else’s sexist stuff).
I’m not remotely interested in arguing with you. I left a comment on your blog because I think plagiarism and copyright are important things for writers to understand. You’re welcome to disagree, and to believe you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong. Either way, I’m not going to spend any more time on this.
March 16, 2012 @ 5:03 pm
Eric, I am a software engineer with patents in applied cryptography, a language student, and a writer of SFF. I am also a woman. Surprise! I know you believe women can’t think in linear fashion, but other folks still believe the sun is the center of the universe, so I guess I shouldn’t be so disappointed in your attitude. Oh, and I’m also old enough to be your mother, so this is not some recent trend.
Dude, speaking as someone old enough to be your mother, let me be honest with you. Your article is offensive. I don’t much care where you got the so-called data, it was stupid and bigoted, and if you can’t tell that, you need to do more research. Where? Well, you’ve had a few suggestions on your blog. If you need more, I would suggest you talk to women directly. Lots of women.
I’m going away for a week. I’ll check back and if you decide you would like an honest appraisal of your work regarding realistic female characters, leave me a message here. I’ll get in touch.
Until then, calm down, breathe steadily, and understand that you made a couple stupid mistakes. As my black belt teacher used to say, it’s not whether you make a mistake, it’s how you respond.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2012 @ 5:12 pm
Oh, that’s the “Mess-Janci-Up” plugin I installed a while back. Sorry about that 🙂
March 16, 2012 @ 5:52 pm
If we’re going to talk about sexist stuff, let’s do it where it happened. Mr. Hines’s post is about plagiarism. If you want to talk about sexist stuff, do so on my blog.
But I have to say this. My whole problem is exactly what you said Jim — “I’m not going to spend any more time with this.” I admitted I made mistakes about the plagiarism and corrected them, and you informed me why. That’s good. That’s what I’m looking for.
But 90% of the comments I’ve received about the article have been completely unhelpful, simply negative and insulting. “Your article is offensive.” “You should have done the research.” “Your post is sexist.” “Talk to women directly, lots of women.” “The information is out there.” “You fell into a well of clueless.” and the most helpful one: “Uh… no.”
“Do the research.” You see those bullet points? That WAS the research. “The information is out there.” Out where? Because I picked a spot where I thought information _was_ and it got me in trouble. If you’ve got some better resources, let me know. “Talk to women directly?” What should I ask them? Who should I ask? What are the issues and topics I should be concerned with getting right and wrong?
What books and movies do it right? How do you write a proper woman character that won’t earn ire? Is Buffy one? Is Stephanie Plum one? Scarlett O’Hara? Bella? Hermione? I’ve seen arguments on both sides for each of those.
I’ve already reposted some comments and links that were good. I’ve got “Woman: An Intimate Geography” on my to-read list — is that a bad or good book?
So what I’m saying I am trying to learn, but I can’t learn if you shut me down or give criticism that’s not constructive, or kill the messenger.
March 16, 2012 @ 6:15 pm
So you are unhappy that women won’t spoon feed you information on Feminism 101.
Women did give you links on your blog. You ignored them.
And you outright rejected the suggestion to talk to women directly. (Afraid, are you?)
And I, a woman author, published in SFF, offered to read your stuff with the goal of helping you, but you ignored that completely.
At this point, I can only assume that you are unable or unwilling to listen to women.
So, sadly, I give you what you really want and expect from women:
Fuck off, you moron, and I hope you die in a fire.
Happy now? I bet you are. Now you can cry about how you were dissed by those horrible wimmen.
Bye and have a nice life.
P.S. Jim, Sorry about spilling anger in your blog. I’ll try to do better next time.
Jim C. Hines
March 16, 2012 @ 6:21 pm
Anger is fine here.
“Fuck off you moron and die in a fire” is not.
WordPress doesn’t let me freeze threads, but please consider this thread dead.
March 16, 2012 @ 10:12 pm
and if a hundred students buy that paper, who owns it?
March 16, 2012 @ 10:41 pm
In my eyes, plagiarism is all about deceiving others about the origin of your work.
Within the context of academia, you are generally held to be asserting that the work is yours, and that it is essentially novel – hence the concept of ‘self-plagiarism’, where you pass off your own prior work as new work. It’s a matter of intellectual integrity, not intellectual property.
It might be argued, however, that the idea of some celebrities being able to write at all is incredulous, let alone an auto-biography; and the politicians speech – well, the idea that they have any intellectual integrity is a greater leap of faith again. 🙂
and celebrity autobiographies is
March 18, 2012 @ 2:17 pm
I think it would depend which rights you buy with the paper, whether it’s the exclusive rights or just specific rights.
March 18, 2012 @ 2:31 pm
It’s a very grey area.
I mean there are numerous Sherlock Holmes books around that weren’t written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Same with stories and novels in the Lovecraft-universe. Or all the published sequels and AU-versions of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.
Mr. Hines himself wrote novels based on specific fairy-tales. Would those be considered fanfiction of the writing of Brothers Grimm? Or inspired by something that was originally part of the oral tradition, was then collected, written down and sold by different writers and by now is back in the public domain?
Tad Williams wrote a sequel to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Is that fanfiction or not?
“Filing the serial numbers off” (the fannish term for that practice) happens far more often than we readers are aware off, especially with fanfiction that is massively AU to the original universe.
Jim C. Hines
March 18, 2012 @ 3:05 pm
Shakespeare, Austen, Homes, and so on are all public domain works. Twilight isn’t. That particular line is pretty black and white.
March 18, 2012 @ 3:32 pm
And what if someone decides to write a modern Holmes that might or might not be fanfiction based on the BBC series? Or writes an SF-AU-version of the Bridget Jones Diary which was clearly inspired by Jane Austen?
I haven’t read the book in question. I haven’t even read Twilight but would anyone have noticed that it was originally fanfiction if the writer hadn’t published it on the net first? After the success of Twilight I just noticed that there were numerous books getting published that used similar tropes and often sounded like copies of Twilight with minimal changes.
I currently have a story in the works that started out as an idea for fanfic but then I started changing things, adding things and characters, changing the characters and everything has by now undergone so many changes that even die-hard fans would no longer recognize the original characters or even the actors. And the whole universe is very different to the original source. I personally no longer view it as fanfic but more as ‘inspired by movie X’. It’s also not published anywhere on the net. Would that still be fanfic if I ever manage to get it published?
Jim C. Hines
March 18, 2012 @ 3:59 pm
There is a difference between writing something based on a public domain work and writing something using stories/movies that are still in copyright. Both the BBC series and Bridget Jones Diary are still in copyright.
As for the rest, without having read your story, I’d probably not define that as fanfiction, no.
March 18, 2012 @ 4:55 pm
Hm, guess that makes CBS decision to do a ‘modern Sherlock’ then somewhat problematic? 😉
Jim C. Hines
March 18, 2012 @ 4:59 pm