I’m sure most wordsmiths would agree – writing is really hard work. It’s not only takes time to learn about and hone one’s craft, but inevitably, some piece of the writers soul is embedded in the finished work (well, I like to think so anyway!)
I was chatting to a fellow writer the other day who had recently submitted an article to a local magazine for publication. Some time later, he received a rejection letter (yup, those disparaging and discouraging scraps that are part and parcel of being a writer). Some months later, he bought a copy of this magazine, and was absolutely floored to see his rejected article published under the by-line “Staff Writer”.
The Editor (or Staff Writer) had just swopped a couple of the paragraphs around, spent some time with a Thesaurus and changed a few of the words, but essentially, it was the same article. After I had expressed horror and outrage on behalf of writers everywhere for this obvious breech of ethical conduct, we got to discussing plagiarism and at what point does the expression of a common idea become blatant bootlegging?
The Oxford English Dictionary describes Plagiarism as to “take and use (another’s writings etc.) as one’s own”. It is inevitable that several writers will share the same ideas, but the way in which they express those ideas will differ, just as each individual’s way of speaking and stringing sentences together differs. Does merely changing the words used in another’s document let a writer off the hook?
Dan Brown, author of the bestselling novel “The Da Vinci Code” is one author who knows what it’s like to be charged with plagiarism (although he was later cleared of both charges). Author Lewis Perdue claimed that Brown stole the core plots from two of his works – “The Da Vinci Legacy” and “Daughter of God” and that he used this idea to write “The Da Vinci Code”. Perdue lost the case. Similarly, authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh brought similar charges against Brown. They argued (unsuccessfully) that their factual research had been used without acknowledgement.
Any well-written document requires research, and it is inevitable that some ideas will be absorbed and repeated in some form, based on what the author has learnt during the course of this research. However, if one considers the amount of words in the English language, and the myriad ways they can be weaved and shaped, it is sometimes very difficult to define an original idea. However, it is every writer’s moral obligation to acknowledge those who contributed to the finished work, in whatever form.
Plagiarism can sometimes be difficult to identify, but every person (or publisher) who is guilty of stealing another’s work will know that any accolades he/she may receive as a result of their copied work are not really theirs to enjoy. Sadly though, it seems it’s becoming all about low overheads and huge profit and integrity be damned. If there can be honour amongst thieves, why can’t there be honour amongst writers?
I’m now boycotting that magazine (not that the loss of my few coins will make a difference to their bottom line) but because it’s my small way of standing up for my fellow writers who work so incredibly hard just to see their work (and their name) in print.
Copying the writings of another author word-for-word shows a complete lack of integrity and respect for REAL writers – those who have the talent and patience to creatively craft and mold the English language, writing and rewriting until they get their message across effectively. There is no richer reward for a real writer than to bask in the praise of an original piece well written.
Author of “Beautiful: Simple, everyday advice for improving your self-esteem and living the life you deserve”