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On the Originality of Speakers - Words in the Heroes' Tongue
I have a variable-sword. I urge calm.
On the Originality of Speakers
There seem to be a couple of major kerfuffles going on in the Buffy fandom at the moment. I’m going to ignore them. I have Friends – and in fact friends – on both sides and I don’t want to get involved.

Outside this fandom there is the Cassandra Claire Plagiarism Affair and I have been thinking about it a lot recently. The article that the link leads to is very long and often tedious. To sum it up; a major figure in the Harry Potter fandom has been discovered to have been peppering her fanfic with quotes from other books, and to have taken major plot elements and monsters from a different published Fantasy series without any disclaimer or credit being given.

This is held to be plagiarism, and that worries me. If you have read my stories you will know that they are filled with quotes from other works. To me it’s a necessary part of writing Buffy fanfic; chop out the Pop Culture references and it just isn’t Buffy. I obviously don’t intend people to believe that the phrases in question are all my own work; I intend the sources to be recognised, and in many cases the jokes simply wouldn’t work if the reader doesn’t know the original. The creative element as far as I am concerned comed from my choice of quotes, and their placement; and of course I do frequently twist them. But I don’t annotate my works with explanations of where I am getting the quotes. If anyone picks one out and asks me I will tell them, certainly, and often the characters will say something to give away the source. But life’s too short to spend ages putting loads of footnotes after each of my chapters or ficlets. And I’m not going to start now.

However I am not certain that what I do differs from what Cassandra Claire has done. I don’t feel as if I am doing anything immoral. BtVS and AtS were absolutely littered with quotes. Hell, the very last line of ‘Not Fade Away’ is a quote from ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and Joss doesn’t give any credit. Well, maybe he does in the DVD commentary, but I never listen to those. So, is Cassandra Claire innocent, or am I guilty? And, if I am guilty, then isn’t Joss guilty too?

In other news, my story ‘Life, Resumed’ has been nominated in the Love’s Last Glimpse Awards as Best WIP, Crossover, and Future Fic. ‘Crossover’ there means between BtVS and AtS. I have also been nominated as Best Author. Oh, and ‘Merry Sport’ was nominated at the Serenity on the Hellmouth Awards in June, for ‘Best Joyce’, and I didn’t get round to mentioning it here. That category didn’t receive enough nominations and was held over until the next round. Thanks to whoever nominated me (and apologies for not mentioning the ‘Serenity in the Hellmouth’ nomination earlier).

And I am currently reposting a rewritten version of my Season 4 magnum opus ‘Pandora’s Boxer’ at seven_seasons. For the first time ever it is available on LiveJournal and is in my memories HERE. It’s about halfway through at the moment and I’m posting at a rate of a chapter a day or so. Of course it makes use of non-original material. Not only is it Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfic but it is peppered with quotes from songs and movies and TV shows. And one of the characters uses an idea taken from the ‘Modesty Blaise’ books by Peter O’Donnell. But she does talk about where the idea originated. I hope that is enough.

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46 comments or speak 2 me
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airawyn From: airawyn Date: August 10th, 2006 07:02 am (UTC) (Link)
Have you read the examples of plagiarism in the report? It's not just the quotes. She lifted entire passages from fantasy novels, rewrote them slightly and dropped them into her stories.

If quotes are used as a character quoting something, that's fine. If the lines are used for allusion/parody reasons, that should be okay. If you're dropping in a line that is so well-known that only people living under a rock would mistake it for your own words ("Use the force"), that shouldn't be a problem.

If you're frequently getting compliments on your witty dialogue or elegant prose or clever plot twist that you lifted from somewhere else - there may be a problem.
makd From: makd Date: August 10th, 2006 02:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

What you do, S2C, isn't IMHO, plagiarism: it's clever use of well-known materials to parody/satirize, etc.

Whereas, taking entire scenes, etc, from someone else's work to pad your own - that's plagiarism.

You're within the limits, as I see it.
jedibuttercup From: jedibuttercup Date: August 10th, 2006 07:06 am (UTC) (Link)
What I got out of the whole Cassandra Claire affair--mostly from reading all the wanky reports on the subject, though I actually was reading in HP fandom back in the day-- was that the flood of pop-culture quotes she used were put in there simply as a nod and a wink to her friends-slash-fans, rather than because it flowed naturally from the characters' dialogue. As in, their "character voices" were frequently OOC because of shoe-horning exact quotes in where they didn't precisely belong. And all the Pamela Dean issues were because she virtually copied entire scenes of action-- though in paraphrase-- without giving credit for it, not just borrowing ideas.

So, in short, you should be fine. =)
speakr2customrs From: speakr2customrs Date: August 12th, 2006 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)
I certainly believe that what I do is okay - but I have a feeling that the person who recounted the Cassandra Claire Affair would probably have a problem with my work too.
bogwitch From: bogwitch Date: August 10th, 2006 07:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I seriously think you don't have a problem.
speakr2customrs From: speakr2customrs Date: August 12th, 2006 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you!
ffutures From: ffutures Date: August 10th, 2006 07:36 am (UTC) (Link)
The trouble, which a lot of people seem to be missing, is that what she did went far enough into plagiarism that the sites that carried her work could find themselves in serious legal trouble, of the "cease and desist order" variety.

If you want a really crass example, someone once posted a story to TTH which was the novelisation of a moderately well-known film, with the name of one character replaced with Willow, otherwise completely unchanged apart from typos where the "author" didn't copy it properly. As it happened I'd started to read the book a couple of days earlier and spotted it, and TTH pulled it before any real harm was done. If that had gone unnoticed and the publisher had spotted it they might have demanded compensation for "unsold books" based on the number of hits.

Off to look at Pandora's Boxer...
hesadevil From: hesadevil Date: August 10th, 2006 07:42 am (UTC) (Link)
Heck, even Shakespeare 'borrowed' stuff. If you take the criticism of using allusions and dialogue from other sources to its logical conclusion, only geniuses would write anything original.

If you're guilty, then so are most of the fanfic writers I know.

PS - I've bookmarked 'Pandora's Box' but haven't had the time to srart it yet.
verboseartistry From: verboseartistry Date: August 10th, 2006 07:46 am (UTC) (Link)
I think the issue stems from two major factors that differ from your work; the maturity of the readership and the method of delivery.

I may be unjustified in saying this - my only evidence is my experience, and that was shallow at best - but the Harry Potter readership is, by and large, a less mature one. While one doesn't have to be immature to appreciat the Harry Potter books for what they're worth, Buffy tends to draw a more sophisticated/mature audience due to its subtleties. I'm sure this spills over to fanfiction. I'm sure this would lead to a greater chance of things being viewed in a more black and white light.

The other, and I feel more prominant, reason your work is rarely - if ever - viewed as plagiarism is the way you use quotes and ideas. Most often it is for comedic effect; the humour works because you know it's from somewhere else, like you noted. People tend to view things taken for comedy as okay but when a more dramatic piece or quote is lifted whole then they get shirty.

Myself, I'm not too fussed when things are taken so long as it's not unreasonable. If someone is pretty much just telling me someone else's book or story, I just stop reading and don't think about it. This is fanfiction. We're not published authors and we're not writing academic papers. I don't think plagiarism is a massive issue - there's no profit in stealing other peoples' work to be made in internet fanfiction. It's just distasteful.
reddwarfette From: reddwarfette Date: August 10th, 2006 07:56 am (UTC) (Link)
The issue was far more involved than borrowing a few simple quotes from the original text [in this case, HP books] or referencing pop culture in a fan fiction. As far as most of the fandom is concerned, directly quoting from the original source [a line or two] isn't that shocking when the fan fiction is based in that conceptual universe. As you say, BtVS and Ats would become almost unrecognisable if they didn't use pop culture references, the same holds true for many BtVS/Ats fan fics. It's when writers lift large chunks of texts and dump them into their fics without any acknowledgement to the originator/original source, that's people start getting restless. I really don't think you have anything to worry about :)
elisi From: elisi Date: August 10th, 2006 08:01 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmmmm. Having actually read a bit of that HP post, I don't think you (or any writers I know of) have anything to worry about. We all use quotes the way they were used in the show - as in-jokes to those who recognise them, and as a way of referencing particular film/events/books whatever. From what I can see, this woman was 'borrowing' rather than quoting, using the quotes not for reference but in place of her own prose. There is a vast difference.

Say Xander wants to comfort Buffy when she has to do something really difficult (Slayer-related). He'd be likely to say "With great power comes great responsibility." Which everyone can identify as being a Spiderman quote. We all know that Xander likes Spiderman and it's perfectly in character.

But what this woman seemed to do was to borrow a whole scene from Spiderman (including dialogue) to boost her own storytelling.

The point of quoting is that people recognise it...
speakr2customrs From: speakr2customrs Date: August 11th, 2006 05:39 am (UTC) (Link)
I borrowed heavily from 'Spiderman' in 'Sunnydale Passions'. Parker is bitten by a radio-active spider and develops spider-powers, and says "with great power comes great... rewards."

But I depend on people knowing that Peter Parker is Spiderman and knowing the original version of Spidey's famous saying. It wouldn't be half as funny to people who don't.

I do see the difference but I'm worried about humourless people (including the person who wrote the Cassie Claire report IMO) not seeing the difference.
sammywol From: sammywol Date: August 10th, 2006 08:19 am (UTC) (Link)
Congratulations on the nominations!

That is not plagiarism, neither by the legal nor the aademic definition. Does this come from so many fans being college level people where all quotations and direct references have to be acknowledged in academic work? Well fiction is not an academic essay and different rules apply. These inserts are called 'allusions' and indeed part of the point of using them is to have readers figure them out for themselves. Greater artists than Joss have done the same thing you describe here, and will continue to do so. Dorothy L. Sayers springs immediately to mind. Also Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Sometimes fandom gets into serious wank over what is and is not plagiarism. Borrowing ideas isn't plagiarism either, although it can occasionally be rather rude when stealing another author's thunder. OTOH I have seen kerfuffles over Oz having blue hair in one fic that wasn't credited to the first person who ever had that idea before.
magic_wanderer From: magic_wanderer Date: August 10th, 2006 08:28 am (UTC) (Link)
It's one thing to homage, quote or pastiche (OK, three things); another entirely to rip-off, lock stock and barrel. You're not guilty. :)
megan_peta From: megan_peta Date: August 10th, 2006 08:35 am (UTC) (Link)
That is a really thought provoking point. I'm not sure where the jury would come on that one.
(Deleted comment)
speakr2customrs From: speakr2customrs Date: August 13th, 2006 04:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you!
booster17 From: booster17 Date: August 10th, 2006 09:15 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you're safe.

The trouble with the CC affair in my understanding is that she didn't rip off just quotes and one-liners that were clearly recognisible, but entire passages only slightly altered. When you take the words describing actions, appearences and events, that's crossing a line for me.

Not to mention the sheer quantity of them.
gamiila From: gamiila Date: August 10th, 2006 09:16 am (UTC) (Link)
As I see it, pop culture references (such as "Me Tarzan, you Jane", "May the Force be with you", or "E.T. home phone") or allusions to well-known quotes from the past (e.g. "To be or not to be" or "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity") are part of the public domain. They're used quite frequently in the real world too as a kind of shorthand, and no one in the Western world at least, upon hearing them or seeing them written down would ever make the mistake of assuming they were the author's own expressions. They don't need to be credited - in fact, they'd lose much of their appeal and practicality, if every time anyone said "Et tu, Brute?" to someone they believed had stabbed them in the back (figuratively speaking, of course), they'd have to add "as Julius Caesar is reported to have said as his last words" or even "as the character of Julius Caesar says as his last words in that play by Shakespeare".

So like everyone else has already said, I don't believe you have to worry about pop culture referencing in your work. The way you use it to comedic effect or to clarify a character's position, and as long as it isn't OOC for that character to use that phrase at all, is fine.
gillo From: gillo Date: August 10th, 2006 09:28 am (UTC) (Link)
Congratulations on the noms, especially the well-deserved "Best Author" one.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you have nothing to worry about in terms of plagiarism. You write sophisticated, witty stuff chock-full of allusion and reference, much like Joss does. You assume your readers are sophistcated enough to recognise most of the provenance, and the jokes often depend on their having done so. Oh, and you're a damned good writer with a clearly recognisable style of your own too. I don't read HP fic, but all the suggestions I picked up about this affair convince me that this particular writer was going a very long way beyond anything you, or any of the other fic writers in the Buffyverse whose work I read, ever do. So keep up the good work!
46 comments or speak 2 me
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