When A Scandal Isn’t Really

December 6th, 2006 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

What is plagiarism? We do not ask out of idle curiosity, we ask because, well, it seems that everyone is doing it. Or at least being accused of doing it. Or something. This week’s offender is reputedly Ian McEwan — though his actual crime seems to be mired in the magical world of “Huh?”

McEwan is accused of plagiarizing from the memoirs of the recently deceased romance author (and former war-time nurse) Lucilla Andrews. He clearly acknowledges that he used her source material. But what he quotes are historical facts from an eyewitness — is the wholesale lifting and stealing that comes along with plagiarism charges? If so, we must confess to stealing dates from source materials without proper attribution. We apologize to the person who first wrote July 4, 1776.

Writers are always encouraged to “steal” from others. All artists borrow from the past and build new structures. They say there are only seven plots in the fiction; if that is true, then we’ve been stealing and refining for centuries. Who hasn’t been inspired by the work of another writer? Who hasn’t said, “Great idea, but I can do it better?” Or, “I can do it my way?”

Plagiarism is a real thing — there are people out there who think nothing of picking up whole paragraphs and pages and passing them off as original thoughts. But there are also people who are paying homage to previous works or using these works as historical research. Logic needs to prevail on some level, or there will come a point when accusations of plagiarism are as common as lawsuits for recently released motion pictures. Which is to say the novel and accusations will walk hand-in-hand.

When that happens the real cases of plagiarism become lost as the literary world has heard “Wolf!” too many times.

File Under: Square Pegs

2 responses so far ↓

  • Kirsten // Dec 9, 2006 at 5:37 am

    We apologize to the person who first wrote July 4, 1776.


  • Maximum Persuasion // Jul 18, 2007 at 7:41 pm

    Plagarism gets worse with automated software. You know what I’m talking about.

    Feed an article into the software, and it comes out in ten totally unqiue forms. So unique, that plagarism detectors can’t identify the original source.

    Thing is- the quality suffers and you feel like you’re reading the works of a man who just recovered from a marjuana overdose.

    What’s next- plagarism of Youtube videos?