META: Inspiration vs. Theft (was Re: META: Wish Fulfillment, WCs, and Mary Sues)

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Tue Mar 14 09:49:08 PST 2006

In article <1142318681.147020.311330 at>,
Tom Russell <milos_parker at> wrote:
>Is it plagarism to take a high concept (like Defending Your Life, or
>Clark Kent's College Days) and extrapolate from it? I think I'd be a
>bit miffed if someone created a character with Gregory Dingham's powers
>and wrote a story about said character's moral decline.  At the same
>time, what if they did it better?

     No, it is not plagiarism to just take the idea.  You have to actually
lift significant bits of text, either unaltered or insufficiently altered,
for it to be plagiarism.  That's the problem faced in the lawsuit over The
DaVinci Code right now.
     However, the larger question (which I snipped) of "is it ethical?" is
not so clear-cut.  At one extreme, you can take the position that there are
only so many truly original plots or premises, and therefore all writing goes
to the same well and it's perfectly okay.  At the other extreme, you could
say that if it takes more then N words (N=100, 50, whatever) to adequately
explain a plot or premise, it's original enough that the idea of theft would
be plausible.
     In general, I'd recommend citing inspirations in your end notes, but
don't worry about it being wrong to take the idea.  Synthesis IS a valid form
of creativity, and an unexploited or underexploited idea is fair game.

     Dave Van Domelen, "Always be sure to be calling it 'research,'" - Tom

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