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There has been a fair amount of tension hereabouts lately due to general misinformation and confusion surrounding what I would call authorial matters.  When you write and publish (web, print, photocopies, whatever), you become an author.  When you write nonfiction, you write from sources.  Those sources should be, indeed, must be given credit.  Drawing bright distinctions between what you've taken from other writers and what you've come up with on your own shows good manners and enhances your writerly credentials.

How you handle your sources reveals a lot about the kind of writer you are--how sophisticated, insightful, resourceful, deep-thinking vs. how derivative, shallow, uncommitted.  A productive writer doesn't try to invent everything anew and doesn't pretend that brilliance leaps full-born from the skull like Athena burst from Zeus' brain after one hell of a headache; a real writer recognizes the raw materials that she combines, refines and refashions into something new and significant.

In another life, I spent better than a decade teaching writing and literature while writing in my specialty for the five other people in the world who are interested in my subject.  In my current incarnation, I'm still practicing the craft.  Between these two lives I also did a stint as a copyright specialist advising academic departments in a state university.  

Those are my bona fides.  This is one general area wherein I'm an expert.  Because so many Kossacks aren't, and because there's been so much misinformation about authorial matters spread wide, contributing to the emotional distress of so many diarists, I wrote this primer about how "real" writers approach their sources, give them credit, and distinguish themselves from their source material.  This is not written in response to any single example or instance; rather, over the last months an accretion of unfortunate events and responses have suggested to me that this might be beneficial.  So please take what I write here in the spirit in which it's offered, and let's start on the other side of the orange croissant.

A specialist in computer law will tell you that a computer is only a tool.  Despite some foolish lawmakers' attempts to carve out special exemptions or prohibitions for the intertubes or alternate penalties for computer crime, most experts agree that crime is an activity, not a tool. Theft is theft, whether the object is a 52 Chevy, an obscure 1987 article from the now-defunct Civil War Historian, or a Wikipedia entry about huskies.  

It's the act that's the offense; downloading George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons that someone scanned and put up on a website is no less an act of theft than it is to swipe it from your friendly neighborhood Barnes and Noble.  The rules don't change just because it's bytes and not pages that are stolen.  And the downloader is no less a thief than the person who scanned and posted the book--both are culpable; both have committed an act of theft against the author.

The vast majority of Kossacks would not dream of stealing anything, not in the physical world, nor in the virtual one.  But clarity and distinctions help in illustrating what can be confusing.  One of the reasons there's so much misinformation about what is and isn't ethical use of information is because those distinctions are on the small side.  And in a world where sampling, fanfics and mashups are everywhere, where Photoshop can put your closest frenemy in a compromising position with your favorite Kardashian and yet Disney can buy a perpetual lock on ol' Micky, it does feel like the rules have, not only changed, but gone utterly out the window.

Here's a rundown on what's what.


Whenever you write non-fiction, you write from sources.  The articles and books you've read that inform your opinions, those niggling little details you turn to Google to nail down--they're all source material.  With two important exceptions, they should all be referenced.

Online resources should be linked directly.  If your sources are not online, you should include Author, Publisher, edition, publishing date, and page number.  It doesn't have to conform to MLA, APA, Turabain or any other formal style (although it's a nice sign of competence to pick a format and stick with it) for publishing online, unless the blog owner expresses a preference.

References do much more than give the copyright police things to chase.  Everyone who's done serious research knows that providing references is, ultimately, good manners.

If you're interested enough to read an article, you may well be interested enough to want to learn more about the subject.  The writer's references to both printed and online sources provide you with a gps for tracking down more information.  In real life as well as in scholarship, providing references enhances your credibility as a writer.  It demonstrates that you've done a thorough and fair job of researching your subject, you know what you're writing about, you're courteous enough to acknowledge your source and respectful enough to your readers to show them where else they can go to learn more.

Those Two Important Exceptions:  Facts and common knowledge.

Facts: verifiable events that did or didn't happen, or things that do or do not exist.  A species of toad, a form of t'ai chi, the date of the Normandy invasion or the Beatles' first U.S. concert.  Facts don't need references; however, if a fact is obscure, it's good form to provide a source--again, so your interested reader can look at an illustration, map, photo, more complete explanation or definition than you provide.

Common knowledge: a little more slippery, but it comprises the body of information that we assume is possessed by the average reader who knows something about your subject.*  Here's a good rule of thumb for deciding whether or not something is common knowledge: if you can find the same interpretation of fact in three separate and unrelated sources (sources that don't derive from each other or depend on each other) it's pretty safely common knowledge.  For example:  Winston Churchill was a mediocre Prime Minister in times of peace, but during World War II, he was the leader best suited to keep Britain in the fight.  

That's common knowledge.  You might not know that if you don't care for history, but if you read even superficially about World War II, you'll see this interpretation just about everywhere.

Interpretations have to be cited.  Facts don't , but if they're obscure it does enhance your authority to provide that courtesy for the reader.  Any kind of interpretation, unless it's so common that it's common knowledge, has to be sourced, whether you're writing about Chaucer anticipating psychological profiling in the Wife of Bath, or the motivations of Bruce Wayne.  Doesn't matter.

What else has to be referenced?  Quotations, paraphrases, and certain combinations of words associated with certain subjects.  In other words anything that, left uncited, opens you to the charge of plagiarism.


If you're a beginning writer, I'll let you in on a little secret:  almost all writers plagiarize, at least in a first draft.  It's unavoidable.  

All writers, fiction or non-fiction, are subject to the influences of other writers.  Writers read, and read incessantly.  Most writers will read anything you put in front of them--magazines, novels, cereal boxes, diaries, poetry, etc., and will soak up words like sponges.  Not only facts, but words--cool words, the cadence and nuance of great phrasing, the description of rain falling on ice in winter , or dust crossing the sky in threads high in the air, the deep pang in the soul of remembering hurting someone.  We can't help it; it's in our blood to respond emotionally to the sound and meaning of word combinations.  If you're reading Joyce's Ulysses your writing will develop a stream of consciousness vibe, but if you're reading Harry Turtledove's The Guns of the South, it's more likely to take on a dialogue-driven shoot 'em up aspect.

Now, influence is not plagiarism.  Still, if you're not careful, if you don't revise adequately, you'll unconsciously plagiarize.  Say you're writing the Southern American style, a deeply-reflective meditation on the influence of the past; if your fictional world contains canny rednecks and exquisitely sensitive protagonists and is set in a rural Southern county, you're plagiarizing.

You have to work out of imitation and into a vision that is uniquely your own.  This is done in revision.  Again and again and again, chasing the vision that is uniquely yours.  Even if you will always retain the glow of Faulknerian prose, the glow is great, it's okay.  You're standing, after all, on Faulkner's shoulders, but your vision and scope should be substantially different from your Faulkner's vision and scope.

Plagiarism and Non-Fiction

Plagiarism is the theft of another's work.  There's nothing admirable about it.  In fact, it's despicable.

I've never understood what makes someone deliberately plagiarize.  It runs directly counter to the impulse that makes writers write, which is to leave something behind, a monument, a bid for immortality.  Part of it may be jealousy, or haste, or just plain intellectual laziness.  All of which are awful excuses for an unforgivable offense.  

Avoiding it involves different steps.  Know where you are in relation to your sources.  Change font type or color when working with sources.  Keep scrupulous note.  Version control (numbering your drafts so you know which version you're working on) helps to keep things clear.

You can expect that your first draft will contain plagiarized passages.  When you've read deeply in your research, you soak up phrases, keywords, essential ideas that catch in your brain and stick.  The way to make sure they're gone is to revise, again and again.  Revise: to see again, to see anew.  You check your notes, reread your sources, reread your draft and make sure you're either quoting exactly or paraphrasing completely, and either way, you cite the source.

Most plagiarism that people fall into is unconscious, where the writer has forgotten sources or where a particular detail or turn of phrase comes from.  It doesn't really matter how it happens, but the deal is that you will be found out and your good name, once gone, will never come back.


If you write it, you own it.  If you photograph it, paint it, compose it, it's yours.  Period.

One exception:  if you produce the written/visual/aural work as part of your job, if you get paid to create it.  Then it's a work for hire and it belongs to your employer.  

As copyright owner, you decide how your work get published, performed or displayed.  

At the heart of it, it's very simple: you own your writing (and although I refer specifically to writing, the general rules apply to all creative works).  The words, in their particular combinations referencing their particular subjects, are copyrighted as soon as you produce them.  

If your work is commercially published, your publisher will usually register your copyright.  A huge part of the publishing contract spells out the rights the publisher will own and ones you'll retain.  If you don't want to wait for that, if you want to protect your copyright now, the only one way to do it and is to register it.  In the U.S., you register at the Copyright Office.  It's simple.  In fact, the government's Copyright Office's user-friendly website will walk you through all the steps to register your copyright, if you decide you want to, and it'll also answer almost any question you might have about copyright.  It costs $35 to register a work.  Most people wait and register collections of work as opposed to individual pieces, because to register every piece of writing individually gets expensive fast.

Why might you want to do register?  Even though your work is already copyrighted and belongs to you, registering the copyright gives you certain advantages, like the right to recover damages and attorney fees if your work is infringed (that we might all be so lucky one day!)  

What doesn't work:

--Mailing a copy to yourself and leaving it sealed, using the postmark to prove it was  yours first.  This does nothing to enforce your copyright.

--Depending on your computer's digital timestamp.  Yes, it establishes ownership, but it's not a substitute for registration.

--Putting the little © symbol in front of your work.  All this does is piss off readers, especially in a forum like this , because it demonstrates your distrust of them.  

Your work is protected under your own copyright.  Automatically.  Registration gives you additional benefits, but really it's already yours.  You can give it to someone else, sell it, divide up the rights and assign them to different people or companies (when you publish this is essentially what you're doing, except lawyers are involved and the unwary writer has to be careful not to get screwed.)  

If you want to use someone else's work but don't have permission to quote it, the only way you can is to employ Fair Use, which is defined more fully here.  Fair Use is less a formula (less than 10% of the text and don't take "essential" parts of the work) than a guideline whose parameters the courts still have to define.  Some particularly well-done explanations of Fair Use (and Copyright in general) are:

--Teaching Copyright's Fair Use Frequently Asked Questions
--The Copyright Site: Fair Use Simply Explained
--Columbia University Library's Fair Use Checklist

And I would highly recommend anyone to check out the U.S. Copyright Office's eminently usable and comprehensible website.

Ultimately, Fair Use is not a workaround that gives one writer the right to use another's work (and, by the way, even if you're safely within Fair Use parameters, you still have to credit the original writer).  It's a carve-out to copyright that allows for critics, reviewers, scholars and other writers to quote legally without having to request and/or pay for the chance to quote someone else's work.

Good Use of Sources

Really good writing does more than reprise someone else's ideas.  It takes the source materials and synthesizes them, uses them to support your argument, your own unique position.  It takes time, it takes work and thought, it's labor-intensive; it's a combination of inspiration and sweat, craft and art blended together and made to look easy, as all writing is.  It takes revision, changing a word and seeing how that changes the thought, the paragraph, the section, the whole piece.  Again and again and again, until everything is right.  This particular diary, which boasts far more craft than art, has gone through six drafts over two weeks, and at least a dozen separate editing sessions.  I probably didn't have to take all this trouble and revision for what is essentially a technical diary, but to take any less care would risk wasting your time and showing you, a reader, sincere disrespect.

* Writing teachers hate passive tense, but it has its place.  In this sentence, what's important is not who possesses the information (the reader) but the kind of reader that possesses common knowledge in a given subject area.  To make this sentence active voice would separate the subject and verb so far apart as to render the sentence deeply confusing.

Originally posted to DrLori on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 06:16 PM PDT.

Also republished by New Diarists, Readers and Book Lovers, Welcome New Users, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  ......Unless You Post A Diary Here (6+ / 0-)

    If you look at the lower left hand corner of the page, everything here is public domain.

    © Kos Media, LLC
    Site content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified

    “Kos” and “Daily Kos” are registered trademarks of Kos Media, LLC

    There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

    by bernardpliers on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 06:21:47 PM PDT

  •  Seriously, well done! (15+ / 0-)

    Could we have this appended to the FAQ please?

    I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
    but I fear we will remain Democrats.

    Who is twigg?

    by twigg on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 06:34:08 PM PDT

  •  when i write WAYWO (12+ / 0-)

    i include links, even i i already know everything, so that anyone else can look up the items or stitches . . .

    i think here on the internet, we need lots of links.  

    and for Overnight Night D., everything is linking.  

    Ted Kennedy: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die…”

    by jlms qkw on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 06:57:22 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for this comprehensive review (7+ / 0-)

    It's a valuable reference. I appreciate you putting it together for us.

    "Compassion is the radicalism of our time." ~ Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama -7.88, -6.21

    by Siri on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 07:36:11 PM PDT

  •  Superb. Thank you for posting (6+ / 0-)

    Much appreciated. :)

    Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.
    ~ Jerry Garcia

    by DeadHead on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 09:06:27 PM PDT

  •  We have needed this for a long time. Thank you (8+ / 0-)

    for all the work you've done in putting it together for us.

  •  You are a treasure! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jlms qkw, CroneWit, DrLori, commonmass

    Great diary and highly entertaining! I knew about some of them but I did not know about Ambrose!


    In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God ~RFK

    by vcmvo2 on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 09:59:56 PM PDT

  •  asdf (4+ / 0-)
    if your fictional world contains canny rednecks and exquisitely sensitive protagonists and is set in a rural Southern county, you're plagiarizing.
    Bugs Bunny?
  •  So, if I understand correctly, links and short (4+ / 0-)

    links and short quotes.

    Seems simple enough.

    since I'm possibly one of the best poets
    who ever wrote a line of free verse,
    glad to know it's all under copyright,

    Feels good.

    You forgot to mention,
    American copyright comes from
    Article one,
    Section eight:

    Article one  

     To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;  

    Links and quotes.

    Bringing a child into the world at this point in history is a crime, the crime of child endangerment.

    by bigjacbigjacbigjac on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 04:11:55 AM PDT

    •  Yeah, I didn't want to get too deep in the (8+ / 0-)

      copyright weeds, but to point you in the right direction if you're interested.

      I think it's yet another indication of how far Congress has moved from the original meaning of the Constitution (beyond the 2nd amendment contortionists) that copyright can be locked up, not by the creator but the creator's heirs, for some 240 years, so it can be used as a cash cow in virtual perpetuity.  How does this "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts"?

      "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

      by DrLori on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 06:08:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Lawyers at Disney seem determined to see that (3+ / 0-)

        Mickey Mouse never enters the public domain.  I think one of them even said their goal is for the copyright to run "One day short of forever."  (As I remember from writing a paper on infinity in high school, infinity minus one is still infinity; so to me what the lawyer said means he is admitting he's trying to circumvent the Constitution.)

        I view patents and copyrights as a contract between the public and the inventor or author.  The creator gets exclusive rights for a limited time in exchange for the creation clearly being in the public domain after that time expires.  For Congress to change the duration of a patent or copyright already issued is analogous to unilaterally changing the terms of a contract after it's signed, sealed, and delivered.  Congress represents the public but Congress isn't the public.  Congress is like the lawyer who negotiated a contract for me.  The lawyer can't modify that contract later without my agreement.  You'd never get 'the agreement' of every member of the public to anything, but delegating that power even to Congress ought to require a Constitutional amendment.

        We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

        by david78209 on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 10:32:57 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent diary, DrLori! Thanks for this very (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    vcmvo2, commonmass, Brecht

    reader-friendly, information-packed, one-stop-shop for faq.

    "In politics stupidity is not a handicap." Napoleon Bonaparte

    by citylights on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 04:29:02 AM PDT

  •  Since you seem to be an expert, I'll ask a (6+ / 0-)


    Recently, I had to do a project, in which a general relationship that is well known in the literature, to the point that none of the sources in which I read about it bothered to point out their sources.  Early on, I twice stumbled across graphs that showed that relationship, both looking very similar, but when I went to try and grab one of them to use, I couldn't find either again, (couldn't figure out my original searches) so I redid my own version from memory  (and neither the originals (as far as I could tell) nor mine used exact numerical data).  I couldn't cite either, since I couldn't find them, but as I said, the general relationship was fairly well established across a wide range of the literature.

    Since I used a graph that thus approximated those I'd seen in several other places, that represented that general relationship, where did that fall on the 'plagiarize-o-meter'?

    Should I have spent further hours trying to recreate my search to find one of the original graphs, so I could cite one of them?

    •  If I understand you correctly, the information (7+ / 0-)

      you were using was common knowledge.  The graphed relationship was also common knowledge.  It's the graph itself that you're unsure of--you want to make sure you didn't plagiarize the graph by reproducing something like it?

      That you're asking at all makes me think you already know the answer, that you fell on the shady side of the plagiarize-o-meter, strictly speaking.  But the real question to give you a definitive answer is this:  would you have made a graph to illustrate the relationship if you hadn't already seen it?

      On a practical level, if you were working on a graded project and under deadline, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to search for hours to find the very graph that you could reproduce from memory because it involved well-established common knowledge.

      In the future, keeping careful track of your notes and sources will spare you that uneasy feeling that you might have appropriated someone else's work.  Once you establish the habit of recording sources for everything, it becomes second nature and you'll feel uneasy not doing it.

      "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

      by DrLori on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 06:19:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I would have, because I (4+ / 0-)

        wound up being forced to make a powerpoint (which I generally don't like doing) and it's a medium to which graphs are better suited.  Had I been strictly doing a paper, I wouldn't have bothered with any graphs.

        And, tbh, I have the sneaky feeling that both of the graphs I saw (especially the hand drawn one) were also merely copies of something somewhere else, and neither was citing the original either, which would make me queasy about citing them either.  I really wish I could have found someone bothering to reference an original study.


        •  That's a serious problem with some general sources (6+ / 0-)

          and one of the reasons I think Wikipedia is a good resource as a starting point.  

          Some writers think references get in the way of readers or put them off because visually they're too "scholarly."  It really does a disservice to researchers.

          Good information is really a question of "garbage in, garbage out," meaning if your sources suck, there's not much you can do, except find better sources, if possible.

          But that's a diary for another day.  :)

          "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

          by DrLori on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 07:13:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Even news sites fail in basic usage of quotes. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DrLori, vcmvo2, commonmass

    I've noticed an increase in use of quotations without either quotation marks or a block quote. You know where the quote begins, but unless you pay close attention to context and/or style, it's impossible to determine where it ends.

    As for discussions like this one, the most vociferous arguments against proper crediting are usually repetitions of the mistaken notions about copyright law, fair use, etc., that proliferate endlessly on the net.

    So thanks for this very useful diary. (Not that it will make a dent.)

    "They think if people can possess enough things they will be content to live in prison." Ursula Le Guin

    by Catana on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 06:14:28 AM PDT

  •  plagiarism (4+ / 0-)
    if your fictional world contains canny rednecks and exquisitely sensitive protagonists and is set in a rural Southern county, you're plagiarizing.
     This strikes me as an overly broad definition of plagiarism. Per Wikipedia:
    Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions," and the representation of them as one's own original work
     It seems to me a work of fiction could be set in the above setting and yet be completely different from any work of Faulkner.
  •  Thanks for this clear explanation (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DrLori, commonmass, samddobermann, Brecht

    I'm going to point some of my e-book publishing friends over here. There's a certain amount of discussion as to our rights, even among people who were and are traditionally published in addition to publishing their own works.

    A weapon that is also a treasure is certain to be used. Hero for Hire.

    by wonderful world on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 06:52:12 AM PDT

    •  Thanks--that's kind of you. (5+ / 0-)

      Every agent I've ever talked to stressed the need for a writer to also have a lawyer who's acquainted with publishing law and copyright go over a publishing contract.  There are too many publishers who will take advantage of an author's desperation to publish and offer the worst possible terms.

      A good place to go to evaluate publishers (and agents) is SFWA's Preditors & Editors.  

      "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

      by DrLori on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 11:24:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •   Copyright your genes (0+ / 0-)

    That is the only thing legally we can protect these days ,since the US Supreme Court rule against Big Pharma,patenting people DNA sequences

    •  your parents could sue... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      If your genes were copyrightable.

      The genetic material is almost all identical by descent from them.  Even the recombination points were determined by each parent at time of meiosis.

      Only the mutations are original to you. IIRC that would be 10**-9 per generation per site, which leaves you with little.

  •  Is linking considered sufficient citation? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, samddobermann

    I personally prefer to see the source cited by name when work is quoted, without the reader having to leave a web page.

    But I would appreciate your view, considering the insight shown by this excellent diary.  

    There's no such thing as a free market!

    by Albanius on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 07:50:34 AM PDT

    •  Can't answer for the diarist (6+ / 0-)

      But I would think the platform might make a difference. Online a link gets the job done without a lot of extra verbiage, which can be distracting, and in a less formal one like a blog it's probably sufficient. However, there's also the issue if a piece is printed to be shared with someone, at which point the links no longer assist in knowing the source.

      A linkage issue that bugs me is when the linked source is not really the source. Someone will post a link to another blog, say HuffPo, and that one links to another blog, and then finally at the last blog the link goes to NYTimes or whatever. IMHO, the NYTimes is the source link that should be used.

      “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

      by Catte Nappe on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 08:25:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Catte Nappe said it all. (4+ / 0-)

      She must be a researcher.

      I, too, prefer to see proper citation, but in informal formats, links do get the job done, and a link beats nothing.  If you don't want to leave the page, of course you can mouse-over the link and note the source to decide whether or not you want to follow it.

      "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

      by DrLori on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 11:20:59 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Object to equating copyvio to theft (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The rest of your summary may be facually accurate, but the equation of copyright violation with theft is misleading and unfair.

    1. Copying a text is just not the same as stealing your Chevy. For one thing, the Chevy does not remain if I steal it. And you lose the full market value of the Chevy if it is stolen, whereas it could be a negligible loss or even a gain if I copy a text. And the applicable laws are different.

    2. Equating copyright violation with theft is an unfair attempt to take the high ground in an argument with someone proposing to repeal or restrict copyright laws. It implies that your opponent is condoning theft and trying to overthrow one of the ten commandments.  In actuality, the arguments for and against copyright are subtle and there are tradeoffs. The arguments for and against grand theft auto generally are not.

    •  We'll have to disagree. Theft is theft. (3+ / 0-)

      The sense of being robbed is the same in either case.  

      I'm not making a case for what I think copyright should be; I'm just explaining the rules around copyright.  The law is clear--what you write or create belongs to you and is yours as much as any physical possession.  

      If it weren't so, the public condemnation and shaming of even inadvertent plagiarism wouldn't be so severe.  The loss of reputation is something that can't be recovered--that black mark will follow you everywhere, be you Colley Cibber, or John Gardner, or Doris Kearns Goodwin.  

      "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

      by DrLori on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 10:58:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is a diary to read on a weekday morning (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DrLori, commonmass

    after I've had several cups of coffee.  

    We're all pretty strange one way or another; some of us just hide it better. "Normal" is a dryer setting.

    by david78209 on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 09:56:22 AM PDT

  •  Great diary, thanks. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    As a composer and as a performing musician, I deal with copyright issues all the time, including every time I perform a piece of music in public. There are lots of misconceptions about basic copyright protections and I thank you for correcting some of them here.

    I resent that. I demand snark, and overly so -- Markos Moulitsas.

    by commonmass on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 01:45:18 PM PDT

    •  Thank you. Copyright law is complicated (0+ / 0-)

      (as a composer and musician, you know that better than I do!)   and I'm not a lawyer, but a writer, so I gave it my best shot.  

      If you feel so inclined, would you add what I overlooked?

      "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

      by DrLori on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 06:12:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Judge Posner wrote on the subject (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, Brecht

    I found the book helpful.  He poses a pretty simple test, similar to a fraud analysis: It's plagiarism if the writer (1) knows he is using someone else's work,  and (2) knows the reader probably won't recognize it as someone else's work, and (3) deliberately seeks to mislead the reader into thinking the work is the writer's, and thereby to enhance his (the writer's) standing in the reader's eyes.  Well, I knowed that; but I forgot it.

    •  Thanks for the reference. I'll have to check (0+ / 0-)

      it out.  

      Of all the dumb sins a writer can possibly commit, plagiarism is the dumbest.  It's always found out at some point.  So foolish and so easy to avoid, with a little sweat and elbow grease.

      "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

      by DrLori on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 06:15:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It's late so you might not see this. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      But I'd disagree with his second point. Instead of the writer knowing the reader won't recognize the work as coming from another source, I would claim that the writer hopes or believes that will be the case. Using "knowing" seems to me to set too high of a bar for calling out a plagiarist.

      Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

      by peregrine kate on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 08:11:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, I'll go along with that nt (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        peregrine kate
        •  So will I. But I would also add a small (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          peregrine kate, RiveroftheWest

          subset: unconscious plagiarists.

          The mind is tricksy.  Helen Keller wrote a beautiful passage about her memory of being in the woods before she lost her sight and hearing, the quality of the breeze, the dappled greens, the sounds....  Just lovely.

          And reproduced from memory from a story she'd read year before called The Frost Fairies.  She was mortified, and we still talk about it today.

          "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

          by DrLori on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 10:57:52 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It really is (3+ / 0-)

            Mark Twain wrote a letter to the gas company once saying something about how they had moved him almost to the outer edge of the penumbra of annoyance, or something like that.  Now that isn't so much a creation as a technique of layered sarcasm.  I used it in a lot of blog posts and comments--not the words, but the idea, e.g.,"the book occasionally almost approaches the possibility that it may one day argue a point. "  Well, one day someone responded that he'd read MT's letters, too, and I wasn't as clever as I let on.  I was mortified.  And unlike Helen Keller, it wasn't even unconscious. I just thought that was an OK thing to do.  Until I got called on it.  

            Now when I think I may be coming a bit too close to the line, I do this.* If it's a bigger piece I'll put it in an endnote. I'd rather be paranoid.

            *Line may be plagiarized.

            •  I'm the same. When I started (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              peregrine kate, RiveroftheWest

              writing fiction, I wrote with a story set in a little agrarian town.  Later, much later, I realized I'd modeled all the architecture and layout on a book I'd loved as a kid.  I, too, was mortified.

              And a lot less arrogant thereafter.

              "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

              by DrLori on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 11:56:24 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you DrLori. There are many (0+ / 0-)

    that need this more than I do but it will also be helpful to me.

    Query, nit picking to be sure but:

    In this sentence, what's important is not who possesses the information (the reader) but the kind of reader that possesses common knowledge in a given subject area.

    Link, darn it.

    Shouldn't that be who in that sentence?

    I have always done relatively poorly on the English or grammar part of tests, unless it is on definitions of words, so AI would really like to know.

    Again, thanks.

    I'm asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about real change in Washington ... *I'm asking you to believe in yours.* Barack Obama

    by samddobermann on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 04:04:12 PM PDT

    •  Yes, of course, it should be. (0+ / 0-)

      You're right--it should be who.  I decided to go with "that" in this passage because I had written it properly and confused myself with all the who's.  

      Some aspects of formal English are not all that user-friendly, and there are times when strict propriety is off-putting.  I'd rather be a little improper and unstuffy.

      "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

      by DrLori on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 04:55:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you! And republished to (0+ / 0-)

    Welcome New Users diary list.

    Oh, I used to be disgusted
    Now I try to be amused
    ~~ Elvis Costello

    by smileycreek on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 04:18:32 PM PDT

  •  What a useful and well-written diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Dr. Lori, this is going to be a tool on which I'll lean heavily.  Am saving it to my hard drive too. Thank you so much!

    One thing I wonder about:  in my fiction, I sometimes use names of actual products or apps, such as the iPhone. Not sure whether I need to put a copyright or trademark symbol by the name of an app or product and if I do, should I keep repeating the copyright symbol when the app or product is subsequently mentioned in the story.

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 04:54:45 PM PDT

    •  Great question--I don't know the answer. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diana in NoVa

      That's trademark law.  But I've seen lots of products mentioned in published fiction and I've never seen a trademark symbol beside the name.  It'd get in the way of the reading experience.

      If I were you, I'd just write and let the editor worry about it when it gets accepted.

      "I speak the truth, not as much as I would, but as much as I dare, and I dare a little the more, as I grow older." --Montaigne

      by DrLori on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 06:27:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Another exception (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, Wee Mama

    You give a good general guideline, "Whenever you write non-fiction, you write from sources." There's an obvious exception. If you write non-fiction strictly from your own experience, there are no sources to cite. A lot of the diaries here on Kos are autobiographical: they describe the writer's experience and perspective on an event.

    Thanks for putting together a well-thought-out essay on this subject.

    Join the 48ForEastAfrica Blogathon for the famine in east Africa: Donate to Oxfam America

    by JayC on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 05:55:42 PM PDT

  •  Great diary - hot listed. I recently told Springer (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JayC, OllieGarkey, RiveroftheWest, DrLori

    to take a long walk off a short dock. They wanted my permission to electronically publish my book (first published in 1984). Apparently my publisher had been sold to Kluyver, and then that publisher was sold to Springer.

    I asked Springer if they could find out the original contract and what rights I had retained, and they told me I had complete copyright to the work. Somehow in my early thirties without a lawyer I had had the smarts to insist that Chapman and Hall could have first print rights and all the rest remained with me - no idea how I had that savvy.

    Since Springer wanted to charge people $100 for the ebook, and since I had already allowed Google to put the whole thing on the web, I told Springer no. I also told them why - that I thought on the whole their policies adversely affected academic research. A small victory but worth it.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 06:54:55 PM PDT

  •  Thanks DrLori (0+ / 0-)

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 05:24:25 AM PDT

  •  I'm here late but very much appreciate and admire (0+ / 0-)

    this diary, DrLori. Thanks for the effort it took to present some complex information with clarity and freshness.

    I would add one more observation from my years as a writing instructor. Yes, it is quite true that a fair amount of plagiarism is inadvertent and unintentional; many of my students appear to have never encountered the full scope of the rules (or, more importantly, how to properly cite their sources).

    But--those students I have had who plagiarized deliberately had no idea how insulting it was for them to do so. As if I would not recognize the disparity between their other work and the plagiarized work! (Here, of course, I am talking about entire essays, not passages.) That was probably the most mind-boggling aspect of it all to me.

    I do hope that this diary becomes part of the standard site resources; it's needed.

    Some DKos series & groups worth your while: Black Kos, Native American Netroots, KosAbility, Monday Night Cancer Club. If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 08:17:50 PM PDT

  •  Thanks for this, and thanks to nomandates (0+ / 0-)

    for promoting it, as I'd missed it earlier. The fair use/copyright discussion could be a diary of its own, and an excellent addition to the FAQ. Nice job.

  •  Ohmygosh... (0+ / 0-)

    here's a really useful and informative diary, on the Great Orange Satan (tm)...who'd a thunk it?  

    This is clear and helpful and the discussion in the comments just expands on the ideas and info from the diary.

    What a pleasant reading experience.

    Thank you, DrLori.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Sun Jun 23, 2013 at 04:09:10 PM PDT

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