The Blurry Thin Line Of Plagiarism
July 30, 2010 5:26pm CST
As some of you may or may not know, I'm about to take the plunge into freelance writing. My plan is to get busy and dive into it Monday morning. In the mean time, over the last few days, I've been polishing the neurons, researching this, that, and the other thing, and searching out established freelance writer's tips and advice in order to make this endeavor as successful as I can possibly make it. Also over the last week or so, I've been submitting work to a company that's sort of like E-how. Basically you're writing a "script" which is a 3 step guide to do certain tasks. They then take these scripts and turn them into how-to videos. They give you a list of subjects to choose from. So, I'm looking at the list, and I see "How to change strings on a bass guitar." Well........I play bass guitar.........I've changed A LOT of bass strings in my 30+ years of playing bass (along with my fair share of guitar strings). So I'm thinking, easy peezey, lemon sqeezey! In a nut shell: 1)Remove old strings 2)Put on new strings 3) Tune bass But then I got to thinking........how many times has somebody written how to change bass strings? So I did a search and I see that people have written about how to change bass strings some 395,000 times.......give or take. Now I'm sure a lot of these writers are not using the exact same words, but there's not too much room to stray away from the basic concept. And after all, these aren't snow flakes......eventually, some of these 395,000 articles are going to be exactly the same. So, is this plagiarism? Or does this fall into some obscure "not necessarily plagiarism" limbo category? Anther example would be, let's say you're writing a biography about Mr. X, or the history of Product X, and there's already 500,000 articles about Mr. X or Product X.......so you begin, "Mr. X was born in 1588 in a small town in Fantasia....his accomplishments include......" or "Product X was first created in 1588 in a small town in Fantasia....." Now, of course you're going to try to make your piece original, but if everyone's sticking to the historical facts, eventually out of these 500,000 articles, some of them are going to start to sound pretty darn similar. Does anybody see where I'm going with this discussion? Where does the line cross from original content to plagiarism if the subject's already been written about hundreds of thousands of times? Just looking for your thoughts, opinions, and input. DON'T STEAL MY DISCUSSION! ©2010
3 people like this
31 Jul 10
The only thing I can think of is to actually write something no-one has ever written before in regard to changing bass strings. You could go for the mundane. "Purchasing the best quality strings will pay dividends in the long term..... or: "Make sure the chair you are sitting in is not too comfortable How about quirky: He, "Barry reckons the bass strings need changing, what should we change them for? She, "A new blender would be good.... or Loopy "Today's instructions are "How to change bass strings: Instructions for fish. Okay, I was lying about the fish. And I give you permission to use any one of these or you can change the words or ideas a little.
• Shingle Springs, California
30 Jul 10
hang on a sec... copy discussion.... paste discussion... change two words... post discussion... now what were we talking about? Dopey bear. If you write it yourself, it isn't plagiarism, even if it's been written about before. If you don't, it is. Simple, huh?
• United States
31 Jul 10
Writing the facts isn't plagiarism. Copyright law applies to the written work itself... not the underlying idea behind it, or the facts that support it. Did you know you can't patent a law of physics? It's against patent law. (Now isn't that funny?) Same deal with copyright. You can't copyright what's pretty much common knowledge or knowledge that's easily attainable. So go ahead and write your how-to. You can do things to spice your particular how-to up a bit... but it's okay if it's basically the same as every other how-to out there.
31 Jul 10
Plagiarism is more about claiming as your own the literary works of others. Basically, you just copied something--usually, it's a big chunk of their work--and claim the work as your own. This is more of an issue in fairly distinct (i.e., unique) works of literature. But if the work is rather mundane and common, it will be difficult for the author to claim copyright infringement. The concept of fair use comes is a valid defense. Since plagiarism and copyright infringement are practically related, the proper action for any writer is to make changes however slight to their reference material. If they can't, then they should treat it as a quotation and give the proper attribution to the author. A bibliographical reference to the original work is the usual practice. The best solution, of course, is using your own point of view and rewrite a piece of information with a slant. Your objective is not to be slightly different just to avoid plagiarism. It is to demonstrate that you have the skills as a writer and knows how to apply your craft.