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Plagiarism and references:

 1 Morwen Edhelwen, Fri, 18th Jan '13 4:38:49 AM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
I'm working on a novel that needs some familiarity with the musical "Evita" to understand the plotline fully. You don't need to be familiar with the musical to know what is going on, but it does help. In one particular scene I have a reference to a song lyric from the musical. What I've found by reading threads on other forums is that plagiarism still counts even if you slightly alter the line, or plot or whatever, so what is the difference between plagiarism and reference, especially in the case of lines?

Another example is this: I'm planning to have a dwarf named Thorin in another (in first draft/idea stage) project, who is nothing like Thorin Oakenshield beyond being a dwarf and really good with a sword.

edited 18th Jan '13 4:39:37 AM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
 2 Last Hussar, Fri, 18th Jan '13 11:41:58 AM from the place is here.
The time is now,
Don't use 'Thorin', if only because of what everyone will assume, beyond any legal considerations- the assumption will mask your work. Tolkein took his names from Norse mythology- Gandalf was an elf- I'd suggest you do the same. Alternatively look into real Saxon/Norse names. When I was a re-enactor my Thegn's period name was 'Herewulf' (Hair-rare-wulf), which means 'Army Wolf'

edited 18th Jan '13 11:42:41 AM by LastHussar

Do the job in front of you.
 3 Leradny, Fri, 18th Jan '13 12:34:26 PM from Alameda, CA
You can't use another name? There are a lot of dwarven names in the Völuspá Edda alone.

Nyi and Nidi, Nordri, Sudri,
Austri and Vestri, Althjof, Dvalin, Bivor,
Bavor, Bombur, Nori,
An and Anar, Ai, Mjodvitnir,
Veignr and Gandalf, Vindalf, Thorin,
Thror and Thrain, Thekkur, Litur,
Vitur, Nar and Nyradur,

Fili, Kili, Fundin, Nali,
Hefti, Vili, Hanar, Sviur,
Billing, Bruni, Bildur, and Buri,
Frar, Hornbori Fraegur,
Loni, Aurvangur, Jari, Eikinskjaldi
...

...Draupnir and Dolgthrasir, Har, Haugspori,
Hlevangur, Gloi, Dori,
Ori, Dufur, Andvari, Skirvir, Virvir,
Skafidur, Ai, Alf and Yngvi,
Eikinskjaldi,
Fjalar and Frosti, Finn and Ginnar

edited 18th Jan '13 12:39:18 PM by Leradny

 4 Noaqiyeum, Fri, 18th Jan '13 12:36:13 PM from across the gulf of space Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
the it-thingy
The difference between plagiarism and reference is (a) the extent and accuracy to which you are copying another source, and (b) whether in context you try to pass it off as your own.

Most writers I've seen tend to grossly underestimate how closely you have to imitate the source in order to be plagiarising. Taking inspiration from the plot? No worries. Dropping an explicit reference or two just adds a bit of Genius Bonus - if anything, it's an indication to the reader that 'yes, those similarities you may have noticed were intentional'. You would have to get to the point of copying extensive parts of the text directly while contributing nothing yourself - no new ideas, multiple paragraphs nigh-verbatim, &c. What you're doing? Following in the grand tradition of Ulysses. You shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Simply having a dwarf named Thorin who fights with a sword is even less like plagiarism, so you have nothing to worry about in that regard. What you may be more concerned about is reader perception - anyone who is familiar with The Hobbit absolutely will notice the connection and assume it was an intentional reference in some way, and that will probably colour their awareness of both your character's actions and thereby the story in which he acts. The prominence of the character will be proportional to how important they expect this similarity to be - if a minor character, it will be passed off as just a shout-out, but if he gets more focus the significance of his name will draw increasing attention, and if you didn't really intend that to have a special meaning there will be a misunderstanding and your readership could grow frustrated.

Really, that's the same principle that applies to the plot reference situation, too. Referring to works that inspired you, even extensively, is totally normal and part of the Great Conversation. You just have to show that you're replying and or elaborating or in some way weaving in your own original ideas as well.
"I'm an odd person that likes to write odd people." - JHM
 5 Morwen Edhelwen, Fri, 18th Jan '13 5:15:24 PM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
It is an intentional reference.

@Hussar: Really? I thought Gandalf was a Dwarf.

edited 18th Jan '13 5:21:19 PM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
 6 Leradny, Fri, 18th Jan '13 5:39:13 PM from Alameda, CA
The difference between a reference and plagiarism is giving the original author credit. As long as you put some variation of "Thanks to Tolkien whom I honored by naming one of my characters after one of his characters" in the afterword/foreword/notes/whatever, no one will mind.

I'm not familiar with the etiquette for referencing song lyrics, however.

edited 18th Jan '13 5:39:57 PM by Leradny

 7 Morwen Edhelwen, Fri, 18th Jan '13 11:45:28 PM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
[up]It's a Tolkien homage, an urban fantasy about "how would people cope with orcs, dwarves, hobbits and trolls in the city?" Anyone know of any folklore creatures similar to hobbits? What about naming my hero in that story Frodo or Froda, an actual Norse name? here.

edited 19th Jan '13 7:54:55 AM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
 8 Leradny, Sat, 19th Jan '13 10:27:52 AM from Alameda, CA
Then give credit to Tolkien for the entire book.

I would avoid lifting absolutely all of the names, however. You will run into problems with Legolas and Aragorn.

As for hobbits, the nisse or tomte is a Scandinavian household spirit. It lives in mounds, becomes attached to a certain house and family which it protects while they sleep, engages in mischief when offended, and prefers food as a gift. Though hobbits don't have the attachment to humans.

And isn't it much easier to get a homage in without it coming across as plagarism if it's a classic or public domain? Like making a reference to Shakespeare or Charles Dickens in contrast with making a reference to J.K. Rowling or Joss Whendon

 10 Morwen Edhelwen, Sun, 20th Jan '13 3:41:38 PM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
@leradny: Eikinskjaldi is translated as meaning "with an oak shield."
The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
 11 Leradny, Sun, 20th Jan '13 3:49:00 PM from Alameda, CA
Ah, forgot to cut that out.

 12 Morwen Edhelwen, Sun, 20th Jan '13 6:39:02 PM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
[up] It wasn't used in It's original Norse form by Tolkien though grin @noaquiyeum: thanks

edited 20th Jan '13 11:20:47 PM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
 13 szaleniec 1000, Mon, 21st Jan '13 5:28:23 AM from Manchester, UK
[up][up][up][up] Plagiarism has nothing to do with the public domain: you can plagiarise Shakespeare or Dickens, however unlikely you'd be to get away with it. You're thinking of copyright and trademarks, which are also not infringed by simply referencing another work, as the size of our Shout-Out pages testifies.

 14 Morwen Edhelwen, Tue, 22nd Jan '13 12:21:53 AM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
So, naming my dwarf supporting character Thorin Eikinskjaldi ("Bold-one-with-an-oak-shield"), the warrior, in an urban fantasy novel called Perilous Realms* (gee, I wonder what that title could be a reference to) is fine? And writing ''Dice are rolling, knives are out, would-be presidents are all around" in Cuba Libre also counts as a Shout-Out?

  • Yes, I am working on an urban fantasy novel called "Perilous Realms". [[hottip:*: Tales From The Perilous Realm

edited 22nd Jan '13 3:16:28 AM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
 15 Leradny, Tue, 22nd Jan '13 7:40:56 AM from Alameda, CA
If Quentin Tarantino can make a successful career out of stringing multiple shoutouts together, you'll be all right.

Responsible adult
As has been noted, the defining factor between plagiarism and referencing isn't what you reference or how big the reference is, it's whether or not you try to pass it off as your own. And there's more to it than just accrediting sources. Song lyrics, especially if quoted in dialogue, are usually fairly "safe, " especially in that their rhythm and meter make them stand out from regular dialogue. After all, we have a whole page on Waxing Lyrical. A simple acknowledgement for those is generally fine. It doesn't even have to be out of the text—the characters could mention it in the story: "That was lyrics, from 'Awesome Song' by Good Name For A Rock Band. See?" The important point is not pretending that you invented something.

There was an incident a few years ago where a fairly prolific romance novelist got caught plagiarizing, and the whole incident that started it (along with the linked new articles later) is well worth a read if you want to get in to the nitty-gritty of what makes plagiarism, well, plagiarism. Long and short of it: With proper attribution, in this case, you have little to fear (except maybe copyright, but I think a single line falls into fair use). Plagiarism really starts to get dicey when you start getting into reference materials, and in this case from this news story, "rephrasing" lines and trying to pass them off as one's own.
"Proto-Indo-European makes the damnedest words related. It's great. It's the Kevin Bacon of etymology." ~Madrugada
On a related subject to the Thorin question above, does anyone know the legal restrictions around using the word 'Hobbit'? For instance, is it safe for a short character to go by the nickname 'Bob the Hobbit' or some such as a deliberate allusion to Tolkien's fictional race? The issue here is that as it's a normal, modern day setting and so, the guy is clearly human and not a Hobbit/halfling at all?

Likewise, what about the name Sherlock? Can it be used as the nickname for a guy who is good at finding things, again as a reference to Holmes?

edited 23rd Jan '13 12:52:14 AM by peasant

 
 18 Morwen Edhelwen, Wed, 23rd Jan '13 1:03:04 AM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
Ha ha ha - "Bob The Hobbit". No, I think those are fine. Tolkien's hobbits are human, just a smaller type of human.

edited 23rd Jan '13 1:03:47 AM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
 19 JHM, Wed, 23rd Jan '13 7:36:16 AM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up] Well, Sherlock was just a name originally; only after the fact has it gained any particular connotations (extreme Britishness excepted). Same goes for Romeo or Lolita. Sherlock could very well be a family name, for instance.

This being said, I would advise against that particular kind of obvious meaningful name. Unless you're going for outright comedy, the coincidental stretch there is guaranteed to break the willing suspension of disbelief.
 20 chihuahua 0, Wed, 23rd Jan '13 7:43:48 AM from Standoff, USA Relationship Status: I'm in love with my car
Writer's Welcome Wagon
Wasn't the reason why the term "halfling" is used because of disputes over the term "hobbit"?
I was going for direct reference; i.e. the guy earned the nickname 'Sherlock' after the literary figure because of his talent for finding things. Likewise, the one who gets called 'Hobbit' after the Middle Earth race due to his shortness relative to everyone else.

[up] Yeah. That was the basis of my concern. As far as I'm aware, the Tolkien estate owns the rights to the word 'Hobbit', or something to that effect. So, would it possible to use the word such that it was directly derived from, and meant as a reference to, Tolkien's works?

edited 23rd Jan '13 7:51:24 AM by peasant

 
 22 Morwen Edhelwen, Wed, 23rd Jan '13 2:56:47 PM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
Tolkien Enterprises controls all the rights to Hobbit and LOTR. The estate controls the Sil and other works.
The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
Terracotta Soldier Man
As far as Sherlock Holmes goes, I believe the original canon stories are in the public domain. Not sure whether anyone still controls the trademark on the character himself, though.

 24 Noaqiyeum, Thu, 24th Jan '13 1:18:42 PM from across the gulf of space Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
the it-thingy
[up][up][up] You're not using hobbits as a race or species (which is why everyone else uses 'halfling' instead, they want to use the race but have to avoid the name). You're fine.
"I'm an odd person that likes to write odd people." - JHM
 25 Morwen Edhelwen, Thu, 24th Jan '13 1:57:47 PM from Sydney, Australia
Tolkien freak
@peasant: Tolkien Enterprises is not going to sue you! Also, another question:

My project that I'm drafting (the one with the dwarf named Thorin) is along the lines of this, except with fantasy instead of fairy fiction. The basic plot is that there is a world that Tolkien is said to have visited and gained inspiration for his stories from before it became modernised, and that in the 20th and 21st centuries, there have been millions of refugees from that world to ours. But the "dark lord" has also come to our world to get his minions to destroy fragments of a magical ring that used to belong to a noble family in the other world, because he thinks their descendants' will misuse it, since he's a Well-Intentioned Extremist. I'm aiming at a similar very comic, lighthearted tone with bits of seriousness and creepy aspects. (eg some "evil" Orcs joined for the pay and benefits, like medical insurance ("Hey, being evil pays too!")

Could I publish it if it contains references (in passing) to Bilbo Baggins and an explicit reference to The Hobbit? (Also, the hero is named Frodo, and the dwarf in question is named Thorin Eikinskjaldi, "aka Thorin Withanoakshield, or if you like, plain Oakshield or Oakenshield, like in The Hobbit." (paraphrasing exact quote from my draft.) Now that line is obviously intended to be funny.

edited 24th Jan '13 2:55:15 PM by MorwenEdhelwen

The road goes ever on. -Tolkien
Total posts: 35
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