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More on Plagiarism From Adam-Troy Castro

Just last month, I began discussing issues of copyright and plagiarism. For those of you who are interested in revisiting those discussions, I've created a new tag: copyright. You may recall that in one of the posts I complained about Lehman High School's unlicensed production of Chicago. A student at the school replied anonymously, and one of the questions he asked was why I should care about what happens at their school.

I gave an answer to his question, but in case he's still reading, someone else has come up with an even better answer.

Friend and writer Adam-Troy Castro recently had to deal with a plagiarist who violated his copyright by posting an excerpt from his powerful story "The Juggler" on a vampire role-playing board, and represented it as his own work. When confronted, the malefactor removed the excerpt and apologized. But a few other people in the RPG complained that this wasn't so big a deal.

So by invitation from one of the other RPG board participants, Adam wrote a response, laying out exactly why this was, in fact, a big deal. He's posted his response on his own newsgroup under the title Plagiarism Note, and I encourage any and all of you to go read it. The gist of it can be summed up in one sentence from the letter: "The fact is that plagiarism is a serious crime with serious consequences." And Adam explains exactly what those consequences can be, and how they not only hurt the victim, but damage the public good as well.

Copyright © Michael Burstein

Comments

Word.

In all its senses.
Hm. I find that letter pretty UNimpressive, myself.

It's all about "look, I have a legal hammer and things could have gotten far nastier" and not about intellectual property and what's *wrong* (rather than merely illegal) about plagiarism.

Now, maybe this makes sense in the context of the discussion on the role-playing board. But it doesn't seem to me to add much to the larger discussion. I really thought your response to Anonymous was far better.
I think part of Adam's point was that things could have gone a lot worse -- not just for him, but for them.

I also like his specific examples, such as what happened to Marion Zimmer Bradley and her fans.
I think part of Adam's point was that things could have gone a lot worse -- not just for him, but for them.

Indeed. That's what I meant about legal hammer and nastier.

But all the examples essentially said "look, people you plagiarize have legal recourse against you and they can and will use it", as opposed to talking about what's *wrong* with doing it. Which I find far more interesting than "do it and you'll get a spanking". *shrug*
But he does talk about what's wrong with it. He points out that it is essentially stealing from the creators.

I guess YMMV.
But the example of MZB and fan-fiction is entirely irrelevant - the claim there was not plagiarism (or, rather, infringement, since "plagiarism" is not a criminal term). He claims there that money was taken out of MZB's pocket, but that's unsupportable, and certainly literally false. (Did that writer actually steal money?)

You just wrote a Harry Potter ficlet on your LJ. Either that's legal or it isn't. Did you just take money from JKR's pocket? I don't think so.

I'm guessing here that you're not familiar with the whole MZB story. I don't recall all the details, but the upshot of it was that MZB was prevented from publishing any more Darkover novels. So I'd say that yeah, money was taken out of her pocket.

As for my ficlet, I believe that what I did fell under parody, which is why I was willing to do it. But I certainly did not post a chapter that Rowling actually wrote and claim it for myself.
Why would you guess that I'm not familiar with the whole MZB story, especially if, as you say, you don't yourself recall all the details?

It's not true that she was prevented from publishing any more Darkover novels. She elected to not publish the novel under question, which is too bad.

But you miss the entire point. Like you and your ficlet, the other author didn't take stuff that MZB had written and claimed it for herself. Rather, MZB had taken an idea this fan came up with and used it in her novel.

For the actual story and other wise comments, see: http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/007464.html (see especially the Mercedes Lackey post).
My understanding is that the fan sued, or threatened to sue, MZB. And that even when MZB said, fine, I won't use the concept you developed, the fan still threatened to sue anyway. So if MZB made a choice not to publish the novel, it sounds like a choice made under duress.
No one denies that it's a terrible and sad story.

But it isn't about plagiarism.
No, it's not about plagiarism. But I think Adam's point in including the story was that it is about an author's copyright, and what can happen if people are not careful to respect it. Remember that he's trying to show a group of people that copyright is, in fact, a "big deal." This is one example of how it is.
To be clear, in the MZB case the "fan" had the effrontery to sue Marion Zimmer Bradley for infringement, when MZB published things that too closely resembled the fanfictions. This is why many writers insist that no fic or story ideas be mailed to them or posted where they can see them, and authorized fic will involve the fan writer signing a waiver. Some examples: Mercedes Lackey, J. Michael Straczynski.
Adam has asked me to forward this reply, with regards to the "hammer" comment:


Excuse me.

The point is NOT that I have a big hammer.

(Though I don't mind allowing people to know that I do.)

You can see that I was satisfied with an apology. I don't want to put myself
through years of hell, as Harlan did.

The point is that the consequences are so dire that "Lucius" threatened doom
to everything around him.

This is the situation. Let's say you WANT to go up to the big muscular guy at
the end of the bar and call him a pussy. Who knows why. Maybe your significant
other left you. Either way, you WANT to disturb his total stranger's evening
that way, and you don't mind taking the consequences.

Well, that's you being an obnoxious idiot, but it's your decision. If a fight
ensues, it's just you and him -- though you have also shown intense disregard
for your fellow bar patrons, the feelings of a guy who has never done anything
to hurt you, and the owners of the establishment.

The point is that if he invites you to take it outside, it's just you versus
him.

Your idiocy doesn't rebound against anybody else.

So this, in the metaphor, would be a guy who prints up my novel, under his name,
using his own printing press and his own distribution network, not involving
any entities other than himself.

That's pretty rare. Most plagiarists are victimizing not only the author, but
also their provided market -- either a publisher, or in this case, a community
bulletin board.

Those plagiarists are asking others to share the responsibility for their crime.

So let's adjust the hypothetical.

Let's assume that you're drinking with friends and you go up to that same big
muscular guy and you say, "Me and my friends, OVER THERE, think you're a big
pussy."

That's something else.

In that case you are stupidly and inconsiderately requiring your friends to
pay the price of your idiocy. THEY are going to share the cuts and bruises that
YOU deserve.

In such a case you are being obnoxious to the big guy at the bar, the owner
of the establishment, everybody who went there to have a peaceful drink, AND
your friends.

If the end result of the fight that ensues is that the bar is closed down and
NOBODY gets to drink there ever again, then you have done your friends and an
innocent business harm.

Plagiarism is more than harmful to the author. It's dangerous to the plagiarist.
AND to others.

I can only repeat: this Lucius defecated in somebody else's living room, during
a family gathering. EVERYBODY there should be upset. Not just the guy whose
shoes were defecated on.
First off, I agree with everything Adam-Troy has put down in black and white. Coming from a journalism background, and working in a university setting, plagiarism is an issue that's been high on my radar screen for years, even before I was writing and selling fiction.

BUT...

I suspect his argument and carefully crafted points will be lost on this particular audience. They won't see any personal cost to the creator. Their reaction will be (and I'm almost willing to bet money on this one) more along the lines of "Yeah, but posting those stories was NO BIG DEAL. AOL was only hurt because Harlan OVERREACTED. The only way our boards, and by extension, us, will be hurt is if Adam-Troy is an ass and OVERREACTS."

I absolutely disagree with those sentiments, but such self-centered worldviews are all too common online and off. It's easy to blame such attitudes as "kids these days" but the easy access and anomymity the internet provides leads folks of all generations to embrace this sense of no-strings entitlement. I've seen it personally more times than I care to count. And if anyone steps in to interrupt this magical flow of manna from heaven, well, THAT person becomes the bad guy. Happens every time.
People still post on newsgroups? That's so cute! *g*
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