Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Ominous Charge of Plagiarism.

Sometime in the life of a writer, there will be an accusation of Plagiarism. This fact is as certain as night follows day. The charge might be levelled for any number of reasons; but is more likely to manifest itself as the passages or factual information as a result of Internet research... especially in the context of Historically-based novels such as the one I'm writing at the moment.
The usual get-out is to use a system of footnotes or endnotes where the source of the information is listed.
However; this is not always possible within the context of a fictional work.
There are also different types and  degrees of plagiarism - and it is often difficult to know whether the rules are being broken.

Plagiarism proper can be defined by the following examples:

Copying directly from a specific body of text, word-for-word.
Using an attractive phrase or sentence you have found.
Creating a supposed original piece of work by cutting and pasting various sections of text and/or images found on the Internet into a document without referencing the sources.
Paraphrasing.the words of a text very closely.
(Paraphrasing is  the rewriting of a text or passage in another form or by using replacement similar words.)

Plagiarism is easy to condemn but often extremely hard to define. In a historically-based novel such as The Vanavara Protocol; a historical novelist is responsible for creating his own colourful descriptions.
A historical novel, to be accurate, must borrow those words needed to accurately reproduce the historical facts, even when the facts were uncovered by others. Writers who strive for factual accuracy must thus remain free to closely paraphrase the factual accounts of others.
If a book is based on historical fact, then the author has to be able to research and use the actual historical facts in his novel. Problem is, that where does researched prose end and plagiarism begin?

Here's a really useful tool for sniffing out what could be deemed as plagiarised passages in your masterpiece:
Its a freebie called Viper. You can download it here:

If Viper has detected any suspect content then it will show you exactly where it has found it. This will either be a website, or a document in your local folder.
You can order the list of websites to show the highest offending sources first by clicking on 'Filtered PR' at the top right.
You can highlight the plagiarised text found in a website by ticking the box to the left of the websites in the list.
You can compare the scanned document side by side with the website by pressing the 'compare side by side' button the right of the website address in the list
If you click on any highlighted sections, it will jump to that section on the opposite side of the page; ie: where it was found on the website.

Here's a screen-shot of the Viper search for a specific phrase:

For example:
From the Vanavara Protocol passage:

"The Gestapo also had the power to imprison people without judicial proceedings."

"the power to imprison people without judicial proceedings." was highlighted by Viper as a plagiarised passage found on the Answers site. In fact, this phrase is available in 9,250 places on the net according to Google. I've tried; but I cannot pin down the original source material. The closest I could get (after extensive research) was:

Goering, in a book entitled "Aufbau Einer Nation" and published in 1934, sought to give the impression that the new concentration camps originally were directed at those whom the Nazis considered "Communists" and "Social Democrats". At page 89 of this book he stated:

"We had to deal ruthlessly with these enemies of the State. It must not be forgotten that at the moment of our seizure of power over 6 million people officially voted for Communism and about 8 million for Marxism in the Reichstag elections in March.
Thus the concentration camps were created, to which we had to send first thousands of functionaries of the Communist and Social Democratic parties."

From this reference; research led on to the notorious "Das Gestapo-Gesetz"... The Gestapo Law of February 1936 provided  for "Protective Custody." As early as 1935, however, a Prussian administrative court had ruled that the Gestapo's actions were not subject to judicial review.
This seems to wrap it up. This information is firmly in the public domain and thus, is not plagiarism.

The total "suspect" incidents found by Viper in the body of the novel amount to 3%. The word count stands at 146,000. Therefore, Viper suggests that 4.360 words could be construed as plagiarism... but, this is not necessarily the case!

The application is actually so thorough that it highlighted a phrase:

"Vadim sensed a presence behind him"...

The segment it targetted is: "Sensed a presence behind him." A common enough phrase.
With a Google search, this phrase was found no less than 33,000 separate times in the Internet. Thus, it cannot possibly be construed as Plagiarism.

Here are a few terminologies: (referenced from University of Alberta Library Guides Home  »  Guide to Plagiarism and Cyber-Plagiarism.)

Common Knowledge: can be defined as facts known by a large number of people. These "facts" do not need to be referenced.
Deliberate Plagiarism: The wholesale copying of another's paper with the intention of representing it as one's own. In addition, the definition of deliberate or intentional plagiarism includes the theft of another person's ideas. Plagiarise: to steal or pass off as one's own, the idea or words of another; use a created production without crediting the source; to commit literary theft; present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
Public Domain: a work in the public domain is free for everyone to use without asking for permission or paying royalties. The phrase "public domain" is a copyright term referring to works that belong to the public. Works can be in the public domain for a variety of reasons: because the term of copyright protection has expired; because the work was not eligible for copyright protection in the first place; or because the copyright owner has given the copyright in the work to the public domain. The owner must specifically license all or certain uses of the work. This is done by stating on the work what uses are permitted such as, for example, that the work may be reproduced, communicated, or performed for educational purposes without permission or payment.
Cyber-Plagiarism: copying or downloading in part, or in their entirety, articles or research papers found on the Internet or copying ideas found on the Web and not giving proper attribution.
Unintentional Plagiarism: can be described as "careless paraphrasing and citing of source material such that improper or misleading credit is given."

So; something of a minefield.
It’s worth noting that historical facts cannot be plagiarised, only the manner in which they are presented.(But, Historical Documents must be referenced.)
In normal circumstances, something can be regarded as Common Knowledge if  the same information can be found undocumented in at least five credible sources.
Ideas in the Public Domain, which are considered common knowledge, can be mentioned without citation, provided that the language of the original document is not plagiarised in any way.
Public domain information involves facts and ideas that every reader in a particular field would be familiar with, facts that are readily available in reference sources, and well-known sayings.
Apart from researching (very carefully)... and ensuring I haven't lifted a specific style of phraseology; this plagiarism business is one of the reasons I haven't read anyone else's book since I began writing... just in case I am influenced by them.

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