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Plagiarism in Fiction

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"If you copy from one author, it's plagiarism; if you copy from many, it's research."
Wilson Mizner

Plagiarism is essentially taking the work of others and attempting to pass it off as one's own. It's almost always considered an unforgivable sin in academia, but has also gotten people in disgrace in the broader creative world as well. In the case of copyright infringement, it may even land the perpetrator in some nasty legal trouble. There is a lot more to it than that. If you care about that, look it up on Wikipedia, WestLaw, or our Useful Notes page. Around here, we're more concerned with plagiarism showing up as the topic of a story.

The more complicated plots may involve Time Travel, with somebody discovering that William Shakespeare has been earning acclaim for years for the play he accidentally left in the past. A more common plot involves a Ridiculous Procrastinator trying to pass off a straight-A older sibling's report or assignment as their own, eventually getting busted because the teacher recognizes it.

Likely to end with An Aesop that Cheaters Never Prosper, or (more cynically) Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught. It may also end in a Stolen Credit Backfire.

Sister Trope to Stealing the Credit, which covers broader ways of wrongly claiming other people's ideas or accomplishments.


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • In an advertisement for chocolate chip Eggo Waffles, a man calls to complain that what he thinks is a chocolate chip waffle (really, actually covered in mud) tastes terrible. The complaints clerk says they don't make chocolate chip waffles... yet. As a result for suggesting the idea, he gets a promotion.

    Comic Books 
  • Avengers Arena: Arcade acknowledges that his plan (kidnap a large number of teenage heroes and force them to kill each other) was "inspired" by Battle Royale. The result: the supervillain circle considers him a laughable, copycat hack, making his efforts to impress them completely worthless.
  • She-Hulk: In She-Hulk (2004), it's revealed that tourists from an Alternate Universe without supers are sneaking into the main universe (gaining the powers of their counterparts in the process) and enjoying the lives of their alternate selves. When discovered and captured by S.H.I.E.L.D., we get to see a montage of attorney meetings, Beast is suing his counterpart for stealing and patenting his theories in the latter's universe. Apparently in the Marvel Universe intellectual property laws have interdimensional jurisdiction. Seriously!
  • The Simpsons: In one early issue, Bart and Milhouse create their own superhero comic book, which is so popular at Springfield Elementary that fights for an issue break out. They try to sell their comic to real artists at a convention but are turned down. Months later, a new comic comes out, starring a blatant expy of Bart and Milhouse's character with only the name changed. However, this shows the problem with stealing someone's idea—because the company isn't imaginative enough to create new ideas, the comic's stories become stale, and the publisher has to blackmail Bart and Milhouse into making new comics for them.
  • Spider-Man:
    • The Amazing Spider-Man (2018) kicks off with Peter being accused of this thanks to a program designed to figure out who has been plagiarizing their work in colleges. When Peter's is used, it's revealed that it's copied wholesale from something done by Otto Octaviusnote . Since Peter can't explain how it happened without revealing he's Spider-Man, he loses his diploma, his comfy job at the Daily Bugle, and his Aunt May's respect.
    • In one issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, a teacher berates her class for plagiarism after almost all of them try using the lyrics of rap songs to do a poetry assignment. Several of them even used the same song.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Lana Kurree's boyfriend steals her formula and research into cancer treatment, and then frames her for murder so that he can try and pass it off as his own. Given who her friends are this does not work out for him.

    Comic Strips 
  • A storyline in Funky Winkerbean has Les Moore dealing with a student who's buying essays of the internet, and pointing out that she's not learning anything this way. In the end, he says that if she's struggling with writing essays, she can write a song for her English assignment instead. Because that will help her learn... something, probably.
  • One Stone Soup story has Holly downloading someone else's term paper and passing it off as her own. She gets busted instantly because she forgot to change the original author's name with her own.
  • Zits:
    • In one story, a classmate strongly advises Jeremy to visit www.bootleg.com in order to get better grades and save time and energy. Her soulless eyes indicate the alleged price. Jeremy is tempted, but the end of the arc implies that he didn't give in — and a teacher's suspicion makes the inveterate cheater do a Loud Gulp.
    • In another story, Jeremy "borrows" his mother's credit card in order to buy an AP essay off from what is clearly a scam website. Not only does Jeremy get a zero on the essay and a twenty-minute lecture after he confesses to his teacher, but said credit card also ends up hacked and he's grounded for two weeks by his parents.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Reveal of Coco is that Ernesto de la Cruz, the true Big Bad of the film, the most famous musician of all time who was known to have written all of his own songs, actually stole said songs from his best friend, Héctor, after murdering him.
  • In Meet the Robinsons, Bowler Hat Guy tries to pass off Lewis' invention for his own. Unfortunately for him, he has no idea how it works, and after a series of disasters, the chairman kicks him out of the building and onto the street.

    Jokes 
  • A teacher discovers that one student's essay has been copied word-for-word from another paper they found on the internet. When they call them in and confront them, the student is aghast — they'd paid somebody else to do their paper for them, but had no idea they were hiring a filthy plagiarist...!
  • I made up a new word: "Plagiarism".

    Music 
  • The title track of Cledus T. Judd's album I Stoled This Record is "Stoled: The Copyright Infringement Incident", a parody of a John Michael Montgomery song that talks about plagiarizing a song and being taken to jail for it.
  • "This Song" by George Harrison may or may not count as fictional, given that it's a semi-autobiographical song about a real-life incident of plagiarism that also went before a judge: Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music, the "My Sweet Lord" case.
  • "My Iron Lung" by Radiohead. "This/this is our new song/just like the last one". It isn't literally a retread of any Radiohead song before or since.
  • An Oscar Wilde quote, "Talent borrows, genius steals", was etched in the run-out groove of The Smiths single "Bigmouth Strikes Again".
  • Parodied in Tom Lehrer's "Lobachevsky", from Songs by Tom Lehrer, which describes how the protagonist plagiarized their entire textbook from other math texts, right down to copying the index from a Vladivostok phone book.
    I am never forget the day I first meet the great Lobachevsky.
    In one word he told me secret of success in mathematics:
    Plagiarize!note 

    Tabletop Games 
  • A sample character in the New World of Darkness book Asylum is "The Fraud", a member of the mental hospital's facility who made his career by stealing a colleague's work. Now he's screwed, because in order to keep his reputation, he has to keep stealing from the other researchers. Sometimes he wonders whether to kill himself or commit Suicide by Cop when they finally catch him — he can't imagine surviving the scandal.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Hotel Dusk: Room 215, one of the supporting characters is a novelist named Martin Summer, who is unable to write another successful novel, despite having a strong debut work. It turns out his first novel was actually plagiarized from a former friend's manuscript.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice features a popular Khura'inese TV show called The Plumed Punisher: Warrior of Neo Twilight Realm, which is a shameless knockoff of The Steel Samurai: Warrior of Neo Olde Tokyo, complete with its own off key version of the Steel Samurai theme song. Prosecutor Miles Edgeworth, a huge closeted fanboy of The Steel Samurai, has to use every ounce of self-control in his person to not call The Plumed Punisher a total ripoff while in court, eventually setting on simply commenting that it is "very similar" to The Steel Samurai. Privately, he's right down outraged, specially at the fact that people from Khura'in think it's a completely original show. The other Steel Samurai fan, Maya Fey, however, loves it just as much as The Steel Samurai and wants to pitch a crossover between the two when she gets back home.

    Web Comics 
  • Hark! A Vagrant depicts a simplified version of the real life theft of Rosalind Franklin's research and innovations by male scientists in "Every Lady Scientist Who Ever Did Anything (until recently)".
  • The Order of the Stick: Vaarsuvius gets Zz'dtri dragged off by the lawyers by realizing he's a rip-off of Drizzt Do'Urden. Eventually Z returns because he declared himself a parody of the character rather than a copy.
  • Penny Arcade: Played for Laughs with one of Gabe's later Dungeons & Dragons games, which is simply Dragonlance. Not even the campaign setting—the novels.
    Tycho: So you're just running Dragonlance? Are you switching it up at all?
    Gabe: No way. Actually, I'm just reading directly from the book. Every couple of pages I ask them to roll some dice. Then I just nod and keep reading.
  • In XY Adventures, The outfits that Xavier and Yvonne wear when trying to meet Diantha look like Palette Swaps of each other. Yvonne's convinced that Xavier stole her design.
  • Yumi's Cells: After Isabelle reads Yumi's manuscript, she takes one of the ideas for her own story and publishes it first. Yumi is initially devastated but is able to learn from the ordeal and make a new manuscript. By that point, she's no longer upset, but she still wants Isabelle to face the consequences. Meanwhile, Isabelle is wracked with guilt over her actions.

    Web Original 
  • In Oxventure Presents Blades in the Dark, Edvard Lumiere accuses public innovator Amadeus Astor of stealing his ideas and not having a single original idea in his life. It turns out this is Not Hyperbole and Amadeus stole a lot of Edvard's research and most unknown inventors in the city.
  • The Castlevania episode of Third Rate Gamer uses the title character lifting material from The Angry Video Game Nerd as a gag. Audio from the AVGN's review is used throughout the video, and at one point, TRG even overlays audio of them both asking "What's the point?" and cries out "You Know Whats Bullshit" as a pop-up then flashes exclaiming "What I'm saying is so completely different than what the AVGN says. Honest!" This parodies The Irate Gamer, which was accused of lifting material from the AVGN.
  • Played for laughs in the Nineteen Years After live-reading sequel to Puffs the Play, where Megan Jones has become a "famous wizard author." Since wizards have no clue about Muggle fiction and pop culture, she essentially just steals popular Muggle books, adds the word "wizard" to them, and presents them as her own work.
  • Text Theater: Leonard took Marcus's book and published it as his own even though all he did was add illustrations to it. Marcus fell into a deep depression after that but he decided to write another book about it and people soon found out about Leonard's plagiarism even though Marcus didn't mention any details about it.


 
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Wondur Showzun bootleg

The original show was decided to have been out-done by bootlegs and piracy that the budget was cut off, so they decided to watch a bootleg themselves. "Children's program, children's program, lordy me it's a children's program, children's program, children's program, change the channel for children"

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