Borrowing Vs. Plagiarism: A Very Thin Line Argumentative Essay Example
Borrowing ideas, themes and characters is as old as fiction. Shakespeare based his plays on traditional oral storytelling that had been passed down thorough generations. Famous writers like Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson learned important writing concepts from repeatedly typing out entire novels (Widdicomb). Defining when this literary becomes plagiarism is hard. However, when a writer simply steals entire lines of a book, paragraphs, settings and everything else, it is much easier. Ultimately, a writer should not try to take credit for other peoples talent and creativity.
In “Something Borrowed” Malclom Gladwell tells the story of a British playwright named Bryony Lavery who wrote “Frozen,” a play about a psychiatrist who specializes in studying serial killers. The play was a success, the only problem was it stole huge chunks of the life of a real life psychiatrist named Dorothy Lewis.
Gladwell examines the issue of plagiarism from both sides of conflict. Lavery believes she was just borrowing ideas, using “news” and inspiration from real life. The psychiatrist Lewis was upset not just that her writing, ideas and life story were being used without citation or her approval, but there was a extramarital love affair in the story. If so much of the character in the play was based on Lewis, she was afraid her friends, colleagues and family would think that it may have actually happened in real life. The line between fiction and reality had been blurred. Lewis said it was more than appropriating ideas, it was taking “things from my own life, and that is the part that made me feel violated” (Gladwell). Lewis said she had many aspects of her research find its way into crime shows on television, and she did not have a problem with that. She just did not like her own identity being so intertwined with a fictional character. She had no control over the process. Lavery felt bad after her “borrowing” was discovered. However, Gladwell also had his words used by Lavery and believes that Lavery was not a real plagiarist. In fact, he felt his words had been used to construct something “grander” (Gladwell). In this instance, the author believes there was no stealing, it was more sampling, or utilization of ideas and words, in the manner of Shakespeare. This is a valid point, however, Lavery could have easily asked for permission to use the words, ideas and life of others. Like academic writing, it is only good manners and honest methodology to attribute words and ideas to their owners who are the people who have the intellectual property rights, no matter how had that may be to define. In Shakespeare’s time, everyone had general knowledge that his stories were based on folk tales originally created by someone else. He was not trying to trick anyone, to pretend they were his original ideas. He added his own original ideas and beautiful words on top of the old folktales. Gladwell believes plagiarism is difficult to define and prosecute because the “thing” is not physical, like a table, when you take it, the other person does not “lose” it. However, there a multiple methods a writer can use to let readers know he is using someone else’s words, ideas, themes, settings or style.
In “The Plagiarists Tale”, Lizzie Widdicomb investigates a much more blatant and audacious plagiarist. Quentin Rowan is a poet and writer who runs a bookstore in New York. He wrote a spy novel that was “constructed” using a pastiche mash-up of other peoples novels, from James Bond novels to Robert Ludlum. Rowan is a huge fan of the Cold War spy novel genre, who “sampled” others works to make a more modern version of a novel with classic spy archetype. Rowan admitted to the plagiarism, and his reasoning behind his decision to publish other people’s writing as his own is rather weak. He said he wanted “to make the best spy novel I could” (Widdicomb). Unlike Lavery, who based her work on a real life person and her experiences, Rowan copied a whole genre that he had absorbed over the years. However, he did much more than simply copied a formula, he plagiarized entire books form hundreds of sources. When suspicious people investigated his background, they discovered he had been a serial plagiarist for years. He did have some writing talent, and had some poems published before he took up plagiarism. He started integrating other peoples writing and got published, almost accidently, and it got much worse from there. The internet, readers forums, blogs and sophisticated plagiarism checkers may have played a large part in Rowan getting caught.
Ultimately, like Laverly, he did not attribute any of his work to others, which is what got him into trouble. The old saying is “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, however, if Rowan really wanted to make some form of “fan fiction” that cobbled together his favorite writers into a new and interesting form, he could have said that, instead of taking credit for other peoples talent and creativity.
Gladwell, Malcolm. "Something Borrowed." The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.
Widdicombe, Lizzie. "The Plagiarist’s Tale." The New Yorker. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2015.
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