On Plagiarism

When most people hear the word “plagiarism”, they think of verbatim lifting of sentences, paragraphs, or even entire documents. That kind of copy/pasting is the most common type of plagiarism, and it’s the type that plagiarism checkers are built to catch. But it’s not the only type of plagiarism.

Plagiarism.org offers a fuller definition of plagiarism that includes stealing not only words but ideas, and it specifically references literary theft.

Identifying plagiarism that doesn’t involve word for word copying is tricky when it comes to fiction. After all, “there’s nothing new under the sun” is a cliche that gets bandied around quite often. “A restless and special young man longs for something more than he finds in his mundane life and jumps at the chance for adventure when an unexpected mentor arrives.” Am I talking about Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter?

Using such broad plot points isn’t considered plagiarism because it’s generic enough that you can tweak the details in any original direction you want. But when your details are similar to someone else’s work, well, then you’ve got a potential problem.

Especially when someone can go through your work and find about 20 plot and character related similarities while just skimming. I can’t imagine what might turn up if a close reading was involved, but I’m willing to find out if I have to.

Why yes! We’re dealing with a case of idea plagiarism. We’re not going to name and shame (yet) because we’re trying to reach a resolution through Amazon, which involves generating a lot of documentation to create a solid paper trail. Kristi at Torquere has been really helpful during this process, and we’re grateful for her assistance in this upsetting matter.

I think it’s important to remember that the gay romance novel writing world isn’t that big. We found this person because their work was reviewed, and the description jumped out at us as being similar enough to warrant further investigation. This author is self-published, so perhaps they thought they’d avoid detection because they aren’t affiliated with Torquere Press or Dreamspinner Press, where our work has been published. Or perhaps they weren’t aware that stealing details and specific concepts is considered plagiarism along with stealing words.

I don’t know. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they acted out of ignorance rather than malice, but either way, we aren’t going to let it pass unchallenged.