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Avoiding unconscious plagiarism

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  • Marca
    Eternal Champion
    • Aug 2004
    • 2014

    Avoiding unconscious plagiarism

    As someone who has read widely and is a prolific writer, how do you avoid even unconsciously recalling something you may have read many years ago and using it in one of your works?

    In my view, no creative artist of any integrity would consciously plagiarise another person's work, and there are only so many plot variations that can be used in a film/novel etc. Nevertheless, as happened in the Harlan Ellison/Terminator case, sometimes writers win credit for something they believe has been lifted from their ideas.

    Has this ever happened to you, either way? Would you ever feel the need to sue for credit if you felt something was similar to one of your ideas?
    'You know, I can't keep up with you. If I hadn't met you in person, I quite honestly would NOT believe you really existed. I just COULDN'T. You do so MUCH... if half of what goes into your zines is to be believed, you've read more at the age of 17 than I have at the age of 32 - LOTS more'

    Archie Mercer to Mike (Burroughsania letters page, 1957)
  • Guest's Avatar

    Certain ideas with which I'm associated now belong to the common pot. See my reference to Terry Pratchett elsewhere -- you put some in, you take some out...
    I do get a bit weary of seeing crude versions of Elric with soul-sucking swords and the like, but I'm currently wondering about this new Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow which looks like a compendium of my ideas all put into one film, especially The Warlord of the Air and the
    associated Cornelius stories. I'm having my representatives look into it.
    There comes a point where there are so many dilute and crude versions of your stuff on the market that it can reasonably said to begin to affect
    your income as well as your creativity. Maybe that checkpoint is passed with Elric and the EC, but I'm not sure that's true of the Bastable/Cornelius/End of Time books and others. I'd be curious to hear what readers here think of Sky Captain (Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow). This is an ambience and cast of characters, backgrounds and so on to which I happily gave my blessing when Bryan Talbot did it, because Bryan's riffs added something. But when the riffs are only derived and don't complement my originals, then I start to get upset. I've used the example of the graphic novel guy who lifted parts of Jerry Cornelius whole and made nothing of it, compared, say, to people like M.John Harrison, who actually added to the substance of the Cornelius stories with his versions.
    The Final Programme movie was a cheap, vulgar version of my book,
    but at least I got a decent chunk of money to help lessenthe misery.
    Sky Captain takes much of the ambience and ideas in my books but then turns them into a standard 'saving the earth from the evil genius' as far as I can tell. I've only seen the trailer and I'm going to have to ask to view the whole movie.
    This corruption of the original material was also what was done to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but at least, agin, Alan got a fair amount of money from the degenerators. I do feel that if people produce depressingly dumbed down versions of my stuff I ought to have some sort of satisfaction, since duels, whatever Z. Miller says,aren't easily arranged, these days. But these people are actually affecting my living, since, of course, I have no control over the quality of the derivation and this tends to reduce the chances of my own original work being filmed, for instance. This is why I'm beginning to take action more than I used to against rip-off material.
    I believe I have a certain duty to try to examine my work and see if I am unconsciously ripping off someone I've enjoyed and I also make a point of not reading/seeing unpublished work just in case I unconsciously rip someone off. But most genre writers rely very heavily on established ideas of those who have gone before them, as the rafts of xeroxes out there testify. Since I started before modern fantasy fiction had become generic, I've always tried to be original while acknowledging my literary influences, who include Peake, Leiber and the Poul Anderson of The Broken Sword. I don't have much time for people who merely
    recycle generic elements, many of which derive from Tolkien or me.
    Many of my characters, their appearance and backgrounds are trademarked as mine, which you have to start doing at some point,
    whether it seems cool to you or not. I've always tended to have a fairly tolerant view of rip-offs, but these days I'm facing a future in which dozens of versions of my ideas are making money for others while
    I get no benefit. This is why intellectual property rights have become such an issue, these days.


    • Guest's Avatar

      That's me up there (MM). Didn't log in automatically for some reason and am having trouble doing it at the moment.


      • DeeCrowSeer
        Eternal Champion
        • Feb 2004
        • 2214

        I understand why you'd be annoyed (to put it mildly) about the Sky Captain film. I wanted to see it of course, but only because the flames of my interest in such adventures were fanned by your Bastable books. If there were a Bastable movie, I'd prefer that of course... but as you suggest, if this film is a turkey then studios are going to be very wary of touching another "similar" film, regardless of quality. It's a shame, because I think the Bastable trilogy is a fantastically rich and unique creation, and it gave me a great deal to chew over. To see such a project "gazumped" by a mindless "get the girl, kill the bad guy" kitsch-fest seems rather sad really.


        "Power to the people who punish bad cinema!" - Cecil B. DeMented
        "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild


        • PsychicWarVeteran
          Flesh Bag of Mostly Water
          • Mar 2004
          • 2554

          It is completely possible to come up with a complex idea on your own and then find out someone had already done it, totally unbeknownst to you. I know from experience...

          I'm not trying to go pushing my website on people, but the story behind my EyeCandy logo is a perfect example of unintentional plagiarism.

          Sky Captain, however, appears to have copied Bastable to a level that couldn't possibly be called unintentional. 'Course, I haven't actually seen the film, so I should perhaps shut up. :roll:
          "Wounds are all I'm made of. Did I hear you say that this is victory?"
          --Michael Moorcock, Veteran of the Psychic Wars


          • Rookie
            Sailor on the Seas of Fate
            • Dec 2003
            • 60

            If nothing comes of it at least it's a good way to see a film before everyone else! :D :D :D