fantasy writer corrects common misconceptions about plagiarism

Another in a series of interesting links & quotes from writers & creators about their ideas about ideas and information. Mercedes Lackey, a popular fantasy writer & protegee of Marion Zimmer Bradley, has this interesting essay on plagiarism. I’ve extracted relevant quotes:

… People tend to use th[e] term [“plagiarism”] incorrectly all the time. … When most people refer to “plagiarizing” however, they are generally saying that someone used someone else’s ideas. Now, you will almost never hear a professional author accusing another of this. The reason is simple; first, you cannot put a patent or a copyright or a statement of ownership on an idea. Second, every professional writer knows that no two authors will take the same idea and do the same thing with it. …

Now, how does it happen that authors have similar topics? There are many ways. First, and the simplest — coming from the same source. Fantasy authors are all getting their inspiration from the same mythopoeic well—the huge backlog of myth, fable, and legends from history. … Second, influence and tribute. Authors are influenced by what they enjoy reading, and often pay tribute to that by showing that influence in their own work.

Nevertheless, a professional author will be careful to avoid the charge of being a copycat by bringing something original to the party.

You can’t plagiarize ideas, only text. And a real, professional writer would throw themselves over a cliff before they did that — because the one thing we take pride in is our words. Our own voice. So to take someone else’s would mean we couldn’t come up with any of our own. Not a chance.