Monday, 11 August 2008


Plagiarism is the act of using someone else’s work without their permission, and passing it off as your own.

It’s fine if you refer to other people’s work in your own: if you’re reviewing a book or writing an essay, for example, you’re allowed to quote from other works so long as you acknowledge your sources fully, the essay or review consists mostly of your work and the quotes are only a small part of it, and the quote you use is short enough to be considered fair use.

It is not acceptable for a writer to take another writer’s work and pass it off as their own. It’s no defence if you put the piece through a cursory rewrite; nor is being unaware of the plagiarism laws. That’s plagiarism, and publishers and courts take a very dim view of it.


Marian Perera said...

That’s plagiarism, and publishers and courts take a very dim view of it.

Other writers may not be too forgiving either. I don't pick up books by writers who have been proven guilty of plagiarism; it's too much of a risk that whatever I'm reading isn't their own creation.

Jane Smith said...

Marian, to underline your point, I keep meaning to drag out some of the plagiarism stories that I've read just this past year, to post about them: do you remember the one about the romance writer and the gophers (I think)? It was wonderful, and discussed over at Absolute Write at some length. Give me time. I'll get to it. But yes, plagiarism not only costs in Court, it ruins reputations and puts readers off.

Marian Perera said...

That would be Cassie Edwards and the black-footed ferrets?

Jane Smith said...

Yep, that's the one. Gophers, ferrets, Cassie Edwards... they're all the same to me. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Plagiarism is theft: the property that's being stolen is intellectual property.

By definition, plagiarists are trying to earn a living, or artistic status, by producing intellectual property (albeit some elements of it stolen), just as the rest of us writers, musicians, designers all are. If they want to take part in the intellectual property market, they have to operate by its laws. Is a jeweller's shop going to employ a jewel thief, or even let them through the door?

Jane Smith said...

Emma, I've become increasingly concerned lately about the way that so many writers cut-and-paste work from the internet into message forums without attributing it correctly: often, whole articles appear with only the briefest citation.

I've not seen it at Write Words (although I'm not a member there), but I have at just about every other UK-based writers' forum. I'm not sure just what can be done about it, and find it worrying for all sorts of reasons.