On Plagiarism and What It Means in the World of Fan Fiction
Moderators frequently receive reports of one user stealing another user’s story, but what is considered plagiarism? In itself, plagiarism is a hard term to define. However, when moderators ask users to report plagiarism, it soon becomes clear that users do not have a good grasp on the concept of copying works. The definition that the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary gives is as follows:
The act of stealing and passing off the ideas or words of another as one's own;
Use of another's production without crediting the source.
Yes, it is an extremely vague definition, in case anyone was wondering. If copied words and ideas are considered plagiarism, then everything we think and write is plagiarized. In the fan-fiction world, plagiarism is a tricky topic; in the legal terms of the word, authors of fan-fiction cannot claim their work as their own; the characters and their backgrounds are the property of their creators—in essence, the original authors/writers/artists. (This explains why people such as Anne Rice actually threaten to sue any sites that harbor fan-fiction of their novels and characters.)
In the world of fan-fiction concerning artists and actors, it gets even trickier. How can a person be considered property? Can a copyright be placed on a living, breathing object? The answer to that is the topic of many forums and message boards. To some, it is the concept of the bands, songs, and/or companies behind the artists—meaning that once a song or group name is mentioned, copyright comes into play, and the entertainment company holds all rights. To others, the very name of the artist is copyrighted by the companies. Whatever the opinion, one thing is clear: plagiarism and copyright where sites like AsianFanfics are involved is extremely complicated.
WHAT TO CONSIDER IF A SITUATION ARISES
Still a little confused on the whole idea? Maybe this list will ease some frustration.
Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to:
- posting part or all of another user’s story without the original author’s consent
- stealing another user’s story, replacing character names and claiming it as original work
- paraphrasing someone else’s work without crediting the original source* (see below for more details)
(Note: Do not report another user being plagiarized. This is due to the fact that what you think is plagiarism can actually be a permitted repost. I once handled a case like this and was very embarrassed when it was made clear to me that the original author had given the person permission, but the readers were unaware of it. Be concerned with your work; if the original author wishes to register a complaint, they will do so.)
First and foremost, users are encouraged to confront the accused with the…accusation before seeking moderator intervention. If he/she becomes obstinate and/or ignores any inquiries, consult one of the moderators.
Keep in mind that similar titles could be purely coincidental. Almost any title will have been used before, or will be used in the future, by another user. Again, the best advice is to speak with the other author first before going to a moderator.
The same policy applies to plots. If a plot is similar to your story, chances are the author is blissfully unaware of it. Originality in writing is a rarity. Somewhere out there, someone will have the exact same plot as someone else. It may not revolve around the same characters, but the story will play out in a similar fashion. Creating a truly original storyline is almost impossible—plots are recycled through communities, characters are reused, themes are repeated, etc. After all, how many romantic vampire stories are in circulation today?
This has to be stressed—an accusation of plagiarizing is a serious issue; in the worst cases, it can lead to a user being banned from a site or kicked off a community. “Crying wolf” about someone copying your story is unacceptable. Screenshots and/or links as evidence of plagiarism are preferred; do not fling accusations around, especially if there is no solid proof. Tangible evidence (not circumstantial hearsay) makes the process smoother.
ON PUBLISHED WORKS
Due to a few stories seen on AsianFanfics that seem to have been lifted straight from the pages of a published, copyrighted book, this will be elaborated on. To anyone who wishes to use an actual publication, it is encouraged that you credit the source and stay as original as possible. Using actual copyrighted material as an inspiration for a story can become a liability for you and the site. Some published authors can and will threaten legal action upon anyone caught with an illegal use of their work. Therefore, if you are going to use a book as a source of inspiration, do be sure to credit where you are drawing said inspiration from.
To quote our admin:
I just want to remind everyone that we have to take plagiarism seriously on Asianfanfics. It's unethical and against copyright law so we have to abide by the DMCA or we lose our safe harbor provisions. Please note that providing disclaimers that it isn't yours or changing minor wordings does not exempt you from copyright unless you have the express written permission of the copyright holder. Citations are considered citations if enclosed in quotes with the proper author attribution. Citations are not citations if the entire story is copied (even with an author attribution).
So I realize that a lot of you are unfamiliar with the way copyright law actually works and it's understandable. We do still try to be proactive since I really dislike getting official take down notices from published (book) authors. One even sent the DMCA notice directly to my domain registrar instead of to our support team and almost got the site taken down if I hadn't called them in time to dispute it. Anyway, thanks for understanding the position that we're in.
If you really want to post your re-telling of a particular story but you're unsure of which side of the copyright line you're on, at least mark your story as friends-only so only your friends and no one else can view it.
The difference between “fair use” and “needs permission” concerning copyright can be easily Googled or found on the Purdue University website. Should your plot look eerily like the plot from the book, a moderator will request the removal of the part you copied/paraphrased or the entire story, should it all be the work of another.
There is also a list of published authors who outright refuse to allow fanfiction that deals with their characters, plots, storylines, etc. For more info on that, please see the MediaMiner blog concerning that list.
REPORTING TO THE MODERATORS
It’s unfortunate that this even has to be addressed, but due to recent circumstances, I feel that users should be made aware of a few things. Currently there are a handful of mods and a single admin for a site consisting of roughly 200,000 registered users—that number could be higher or lower since people with multiple accounts do get counted in the total. The site may not be as big as, say, Livejournal or winglin, but it’s still very busy with traffic compared to most other sites for fan-fiction. The moderators do their jobs voluntarily; they do not get paid for what they do (unlike the staff at Livejournal or fanfiction.net). As far as I know, the mods are all extremely busy and that will only get worse since some are enrolled in school and others, like our admin, have jobs.
The least users can do is be courteous when they file a plagiarism complaint and give the moderators time to deal with the situation. As a writer, I understand how irksome and irritating it is to see someone copy your hard work and claim it to be their own. I know how fast you would like to see justice done. Been there, done that. I know how angry you can get. Please don’t take your anger out on those who can help you.
I’ll repeat myself for the nth time—it is clearly stated on the moderator page, the FAQ page, as well as the Terms of Service page that the original author must be the one to file a complaint. Since it’s posted in three different places, one would assume that it’s important to know…or that the admin wants it to be known. As Nichiren stated, “Otherwise, I would just be taking the word of one stranger over another and it really does take a lot of time to investigate these things.”
Because I like linking stuff oh so much: Nichiren's blog on how to politely complain. It is really sad that he needed to say anything at all, but the world is full of people who believe that they have some sort of power over others online.
If you think someone is plagiarizing your story, please speak with him/her first. Many users will find that confronting the author with the problem is actually less troublesome than going immediately to a moderator. If you see a story that appears to be copying a published book or text, please inform a moderator at once. You'd be surprised at how fast some people will issue a take-down notice. Be polite, respectful and tactful, either when confronting the user or when reporting the situation to a moderator; swearing and bashing solve nothing and only lead to more problems.
For another opinion on plagiarism in the fan-fiction world, please visit: Fan Fiction Plagiarism.
This article’s purpose is to clarify the definition of plagiarism, what plagiarism is/is not considered, and what a user should do if they encounter a problem with plagiarism. Should anyone have any questions/comments/concerns, feel free to ask the administrator (his profile can be found here).
Author: Andi (hanichan_1812)
Contributors: Alex (staticdream), Karlo (DarkHybridx), Jen (rockabyebaby), Bea (heroslilbit), Carly (carlyxoxorenee), Phebs (aethia321)
Revised on: February 2, 2012
Originally posted on my blog...God knows when, I can't remember, but it was a long time ago and before I took a hiatus from the site. I reposted this for convenience of anyone who is confused about plagiarism and how it is handle here on AFF. If you wish to make any suggestions or complaints about how it is run, please leave them with the site's creator, though do be polite. I can't stress this enough. I have seen him genuinely pissed off at impolite users. Nichi works so hard just to keep us ducks happy; annoying him will not make matters any better.
This is my own take on plagiarism as well as added contribution by other authors and users on AFF. It does not reflect the ideas and opinions of Asianfanfics.
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