Friday, 28 September 2012

Copyright, plagiarism and all that stuff....

Tired-ness and Elated-ness
We have just come to the end of the first week of teaching in Semester 1 and I have to confess to being a little tired. However prepared you are it still takes you by surprise. One of the delights of this week for me has been that every group of students I have had have been enthusiastic and engaged. It has been an absolute thrill to teach them. Add to that that yesterday we found out that Creative Writing at the University of Winchester had been voted number one in England for overall satisfaction by the students in the National Student Survey. This is a big deal for us. And, I admit, we are elated.

As lecturers we are always told to keep an eye out for plagiarism, luckily in creative writing examples of it seem very rare. In fact, in the five years that I have been lecturing I have not come across any but I know others who have and we do come down hard on them. Do they really think we don't spot it? But I have been watching with interest an email conversation that has been going on in one of the elists. I am not going to be specific and you will see why. It has been about a book that was self published and reviewed by what appears to be a very reputable source. What apparently has come to light is that this book bears more than a slight likeness to another book published many years ago (but still within copyright).To the extent that some of the same phrases, plots and themes etc have been used and are definitely recognisable. Plagiarism and copyright infringement- who knows?

The person who wrote the self published book does not appear to be being malicious, it was more a case of naivety. They wanted to produce the book so that they could share the story with others and apparently also thought it was a fable not an actual book. This made me ask myself several questions - if we are contemplating self publishing do we also need to do a quick Google check to make sure our perceived original idea is not a direct copy of a book we loved as a child? I have not self published anything so am not sure of the processes. Do the organisations that self publish assume you have checked all copyright issues? Where does the responsibility lie? The other thing that came out of this was it was suggested that reviewers should consider checking books to make sure they are not infringements. It seems to me that something quite  apparently innocent has taken on all new proportions and to  a certain extent quite rightly so. It took me back to some discussions held on facebook recently about images that are used on blogs if you don't own them, what actually gives you the right to use them if you have not sought permission?There was in fact a legal case about it. Someone also quite rightly pointed out would we be so dismissive if it was our writing that someone had taken and used without permission.

I have no answers to any of this, am just really thinking out loud.

And just because I am in a Paul Buchanan type of mood....


  1. As Roland Barthes said, "text is a tissue of quotations. A tissue of quotations from the same source is plagiarism", or something like that.

    As a person who likes to do textual intervention, I do wonder how far you can take it before it becomes copyright infringement.

    1. We even run a module called textual intervention but I think it comes down to how you use and how open you are. The Barthes quote is a good one

  2. Vanessa, the self-publishing author is responsible for checking for breach of copyright. An organisation such as Lulu acts only as a sort of printer, with no responsibility for the content. They don't have to have anyone read it at all.

    It is tricky, though - it is perfectly possible to have read a book so long ago you are not aware that you are taking anything from it, at least in terms of plot ideas. I'd be a bit more suspicious of quoted phrases, though.

    1. Thanks Anne that answers one of my questions. It is not a route I am planning at the moment but wasn't sure how it worked. It was the quoted phrases that rang the warning bells for me too. It has been quite an interesting discussion to watch.