Today I will introduce a fellow writer, John Achor, one of my long-time critique group partners. This friend has taught me a lot! He loves to write mysteries and now has two of his Casey Fremont books available on line as e-books, including a contest where readers can help him name his new novel. You can get full details at his blog site: http://johnachor.wordpress.com/
Several years ago John wrote an article about an important topic: plagiarism. I have invited John to share his article on my blog:
Intellectual Property Theft
Years ago a young office worker came to me because everyone knew I wrote. Since I detest the Politically Correct “he/she” or alternating gender pronouns in favor of fairness, I’ll refer to this person as feminine. He/She or It may or may not be female.
She asked me to read and critique a children’s short story she wrote. At home, I was moving through the prose when something reined me in. I went back over the last few paragraphs, then put the narrative down and pulled a thin hardback from my bookcase shelf — “The Velveteen Rabbit.”
In seconds I located the familiar passage in my book. Comparing the book to her story, I found she lifted entire paragraphs verbatim. That’s intellectual property theft — plagiarism.
The next day, I pointed out the problem to my co-worker. Her defense was, “… but the author said exactly what I wanted to say.” My reply was, “You can’t ‘borrow’ the words of others. You have to find your own language to get the job done.” I’m not sure my critique soaked in. I said I would read the whole story when she came up with her own version. I don’t remember her returning for a re-read.
Excuses abound: “I didn’t see a copyright notice.” Makes no difference. If you didn’t write it, someone else holds the copyright. All I have to do is put pen to paper — or in this age, fingers to computer keyboard — and I own the copyright. The Internet makes plagiarism a cake-walk — highlight text, edit/copy, edit/paste and instantly — “it’s mine, all mine.”
I hope, dear reader, you realize there are software programs today designed to identify “lifts” such as those. Also, think back to my opening example. What kid would not recognize a passage from “The Velveteen Rabbit”?
Suppose I plan to write a sweeping epic of the U.S. Civil War era and call it “Gone With the Wind.” Can I do this? Yes and No. No, because I doubt I could write that novel, but if I did, I could use the same title. You cannot copyright the title of a work. This ploy, using a well known title, has been used with less than satisfactory results.
Theft has cost several journalists their jobs and at least one novelist her book advance. How would you feel if you posted a short story on the web only to find another person did a copy/paste and won big bucks in a contest sponsored by a writers’ magazine? If you don’t want that to happen to you, don’t do it to others. Stay away from the theft of intellectual property — don’t plagiarize.