Thursday, November 18, 2010

Filipino Book Bloggers' Filipino Friday November 19, 2010

Through Chachic--and I hope others won't mind--I'm this week's host for Filipino Book Bloggers' Filipino Friday. :) Filipino Friday is Chachic's idea, and what it is is a question every Friday which others can answer by leaving a comment, with the hopes that an interesting discussion will follow. So, here we go!

Plagiarism, and it's relative, copyright infringement, are big issues nowadays. Internationally, there is the Cooks Source magazine matter, which may lead to the closure of the publication and has resulted in the notoriety of its publisher, Judith Griggs, so much so that her last name is now a verb for having your copyright, um, infringed (to be "Grigged", so to speak). The issue seems to be settling down (well, more or less), and not without a little help from the "Internets".

Not yet over is the local plagiarism issue, where the Supreme Court has exonerated one of its own of the accusation despite the fact that, despite all evidence, it is clearly a case of unintentional plagiarism. The Supreme Court decided so because, for them, it was accidental and there was no "malicious intent". Many have spoken against the SC's decision. In fact, plagiarism may not just be of texts, but of music, film, and, to add to our local issues, even perhaps the artwork for a country's international tourism campaign.

Related to us as readers: granted that none of us like plagiarism or copyright infringement, we must also keep in mind that old saying, "There are no more original stories". Some even go so far as to say, "Nothing is original anymore". To many, especially those who are well-read of stories from the present, past, and way-in-the-past, all stories can find their roots in some older tale (the number of original stories varies, depending on the theorist); what changes is the treatment of and approach to the tale. Taking the popular Harry Potter story, for example, we find this page, detailing where some parts may have been influenced by other, older works.

So, on this issue, here are some questions: Can you recognize in your favorite stories any familiar elements in an older book, and if not, do you think you can find one? And what are your opinions on the Cooks Source issue, as well as the local ones with regard to the Supreme Court's decision, and the Department of Tourism's logo for their planned advertising campaign?

12 Comments:

Anonymous Blooey said...

I do subscribe to the saying that "there are no more original stories." I don't mind shared elements in the stories I read as long as the author puts his or her own spin to it. In fact, I tend to enjoy books with elements common to books I've read and liked in the past.

For instance, I liked Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games, but I also enjoyed reading Koushun Takami's Battle Royale and William Golding's Lord of the Flies... And just recently I read Shannon Hale's Newbery Medal book Princess Academy and while it did not involve kids killing off one another I found it shared some elements with Hunger Games too, and that made me enjoy the novel so much more.

But I totally disagree with the whole "no malicious intent" shebang as it's such a handy excuse. Give people an inch and they'll take the whole mile: everyone will claim to have no malicious intent in committing plagiarism.

And that DOT logo -- shame! Now that is the icing on a half-baked cake.

11:17 AM  
Anonymous narj said...

Hi Kenneth!

If you're familiar with Joseph Campbell's books (The Hero With A Thousand Faces, The Mythic Image, etc), there exists a basic formula on the success of a story especially on its psychological and cross-cultural validity ever since the first known/discovered story of the Epic of Gilgamesh. I'm still looking for a copy of the book myself but based on online research, I think Joseph Campbell's theory on mythmaking is surprisingly accurate. This may be one of the reasons why stories we love today are seemingly just reversions and allusions of past stories, and writers may end up with less and less originality/uniqueness of their stories in the future.

Regarding the copyright infringement issue and also as a blogger, I am guilty of copying and googling photos to use in my blogposts but if I know that the copyright owner assumes his/her right, it should be considered seriously. To request permission of usage is good, and to cite the ownership is the least you can do. To gain from it is another thing, and it's clearly unlawful. This is actually one of the reasons why I don't put ads on my book blog, since part of it (online photos) are just borrowed. But everything I wrote unless stated otherwise, I own them. And it would piss me off if somebody steals my idea without my consent. Who wouldn't?
That proposed DOT campaign logo is a complete violation in my opinion. Bakit nila nagawa yun? Because the implementaion of our copyright law sucks. As a country, we may have the most progressive and updated law and brilliant lawmakers but the implementation and the execution is still, another story.

Thank you for the links and happy Friday Pinoy Bloggers!

11:20 AM  
Blogger Russian said...

For the originality issues, I think Pinoys are just afraid of showcasing their own talent. We tend to follow the social norms and be in trend instead. As a simple work-around, learn to love your own and be proud in every single simple milestone.

On the DOT logo, it will take a lot of time and skills to create an eye-catching figure and slogan. The department should get in touch with the Filipino artists, marketing specialists and applicable sectors to come up with a unique one.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Mina said...

Hi, Kenneth!

I got to read the controversial How Opal Mehta Got Kissed... recently (thanks, Booksale!) and now am of the opinion that some types of stories have become so specific that only the words make them at all different. It's not a bad thing -- I was raised on Sweet Dreams novels, and there are only like 3 kinds of stories there, but they still managed to produce over a hundred titles.

Another issue I think is how external pressures make authors want to be just like someone else. I wasn't familiar with the books that Opal Mehta was supposed to have been plagiarized from, but instead I saw how hard it was trying to be "the next [YA or chicklit hit here]". I could almost see where the editor might have given a note, encouraging the author to be hipper or trendier or where to namedrop labels and brands. (Gossip Girl may have been successful but in that way kind of crass.)

4:56 PM  
Blogger Fun and Fearless said...

Hello Kenneth!

I also agree that nothing is original anymore. However, I believe that it’s the development of an idea that matters. As long as the presentation is artistic enough to at least give the work its own, unique personality, there won’t be any problems.

I remember writing the introduction of a research paper (which was never finished) about plagiarism. And I couldn’t believe writers in our weekly papers could be that shameless. Now this DOT issue gave me another “Oh my God!” moment. Sad. But I wasn’t very surprised about it knowing that even some of our television programs were just remakes. It seems that what my boyfriend said was right. We are mastering the art of imitation.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Chachic said...

Hi Kenneth, great post! Thanks again for volunteering to do this.

I was really surprised by the Cooks Source incident because didn't it ever occur to Judith Griggs that her reply will be forwarded and blogged about because she insulted a blogger? I really don't get why she thought she could get away with something like that. Plagiarism has always been a big issue. Even when we're in school, teachers hammer into our heads that it's bad. It's just sad that it keeps happening and I hope that none of us become victims. Imagine if a fellow blogger or a student copied your reviews... the horror!

As for the idea that there are no longer original stories, I'm fine with that. I'm actually a huge fan of retellings because I like seeing where an author with go with a story using the framework of an older one. For me, it all boils down to execution. There are a ton of similar stories out there, especially in the genres that I love reading (like fantasy) so it doesn't really bother me as long as I like what I'm reading. I even mention in my reviews what stories the book that I'm reading remind me of.

7:12 PM  
Blogger dementedchris said...

Hi, Kenneth! Thanks for jumpstarting this discussion and I've really enjoyed reading everyone else's comments.

Sharing yet another (albeit old) plagiarism issue here because your question reminded me so much of this case.

To answer your question, yes, I've read quite a few stories that reminded me of something else. But I'm not accusing anyone of plagiarizing someone else, though. :)

Vladimir Propp, a Russian formalist, once broke down the themes in Russian folktales and concluded that there are 31 steps to a fairy tale's narrative. I mentioned that because if we are going to talk about similar themes (let's take romance as a genre, for example), then a catchall narrative structure sometimes isn't too far behind. Sometimes we can even sum up romance novels as boy-meets-girl.

Does this mean that the elements were directly copied from a source? Was the author/suspected plagiarist inspired by/researching from different sources only to come up with something extremely similar to someone else's work? It's very hard to say. I hope I'm not misinterpreted as defending plagiarism but sometimes it may not be as clear-cut as lines directly lifted from an existing work.

With the Cooks Source, though, I'm dismayed that despite the obvious, the magazine still remained defensive about their actions. (Again, it reminded me of that Malcolm Gladwell account and the issue of his work being considered as 'news'.)

Looking forward to reading what everyone else has to say.

10:43 PM  
Anonymous Paolo C. said...

Having familiar elements in stories are inevitable. Prose stories use language, which has its own rules, structure, and order which will lend all but the most experimental stories some commonality. Many of the best stories are about people and their motivations and dreams and weaknesses, and those really haven’t changed much at the basic level. Many of the best authors have studied the same texts, and those in the same genre will have read many of the same books and will know the same conventions, whether or not they play them straight or subvert them.
However, the phenomenon of having familiar elements doesn’t, by itself, make a story “unoriginal”. That’s akin to looking at a child formed from the combined genes of its parents, and not seeing him or her as a unique being. I think the idea of influence in the arts needs to be clearly distinguished from the idea of plagiarism in the arts. Every artist has influences. As Chabon said, taking a stand against Bloom’s concept of the anxiety of influence: “All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.” A good story is like good food--the fact that you’ve eaten the dish/recipe before isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
As for the plagiarism decision, as I’ve mentioned on other blogs, while I disagree vehemently with the Court’s handling of this case, it’s not going to result in legalizing cheating in schools or in the arts. Schools will always have the right to define plagiarism as they see fit, and the Court is unlikely to simply apply the “malicious intent” aspect to the arts. (Historically, judges and lawyers make their living by drawing fine distinctions on a case-to-case basis, not by making over generalizations. They are also less likely to err on the side of lenience when the respondent is not one of their peers.)
In any event, blatant plagiarizing doesn’t really benefit anyone who wants to be taken seriously as an artist, especially not when it’s as easy to detect as it is now. What of the more subtle copying, as when ideas, not the words, are being copied? In most cases, that’s just influence, as mentioned above. And at worst--even the law recognizes you can’t copyright an “idea”. I don’t have much sympathy for people who claim that Rowling or Meyer etc “ripped off” their plot/book idea. A good book will find an audience whether or not it’s similar to another book. And if for some reason it doesn’t, a good writer just moves on to the next book. Ideas are a dime a dozen, and there’s always more than one way to develop it.

11:32 PM  
Anonymous Jef Menguin said...

There are original stories. And these are those that surprise us.

Many authors think that they write original stories, and I am ready to believe them.

It is possible for inventors to come up with the same device although they do not know each other... although they come from different sides of the world. It is also possible for writers to discover the same truth and write about it although they have not heard of each other.

We experience life and discover its truths. Then we write stories to communicate those truths. It is possible that someone has discovered the same truths two thousand years ago, but that does not make the truths we discovered unoriginal.

Plagiarism, however, is another thing. It is dishonesty.

8:06 AM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi, everyone!

Thank you so much for sharing your comments, all well-thought out and well-expressed! I learned a lot from each of you on this matter, much more than if I had just kept my own opinions to myself on this matter and not brought it up via Chachic's Filipino Friday question. I am particularly grateful for the references some of you left; more books and readings for me to look for! Thank you very much.

So, we all agree that the plagiarism/copyright infringement issue was terrible. Paolo C. did say that schools still have the right to police their own papers, but I talked to a teacher recently, and he said that if they do accuse a student of plagiarism, the thinking is that now a student can take the school to court and cite not just innocence, but even, no malicious intent. It's not so much what happens in the school that matters to this teacher, as he believes that the school he is connected with is against plagiarism; he's more concerned at the power to fight against any of the school's judgments by the students, with a solid chance to win, or at the very least, tie up the school in the courts. Of course, it does take money and time on the student's part to do this, but it could happen.

Nevertheless, we're all in agreement that the plagiarism/copyright infringement issues, local and foreign, left a bad taste in all our mouths.

As for the originality of stories, my thanks to Fun and Fearless for saying:

"I believe that it’s the development of an idea that matters. As long as the presentation is artistic enough to at least give the work its own, unique personality, there won’t be any problems."

I agree with this, though of course, the subjectivity of it all in the eyes of different people does open a creator to comments similar to those that were made of J.K. Rowling's story.

And in the end, we can all take pleasure in what we read in the same way Chachic does, by "seeing where an author will go with a story using the framework of an older one. For me, it all boils down to execution."

Thank you, Chachic, for letting me be the host last Friday!

10:04 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

Hi, everyone!

Thank you so much for sharing your comments, all well-thought out and well-expressed! I learned a lot from each of you on this matter, much more than if I had just kept my own opinions to myself on this matter and not brought it up via Chachic's Filipino Friday question. I am particularly grateful for the references some of you left; more books and readings for me to look for! Thank you very much.

So, we all agree that the plagiarism/copyright infringement issue was terrible. Paolo C. did say that schools still have the right to police their own papers, but I talked to a teacher recently, and he said that if they do accuse a student of plagiarism, the thinking is that now a student can take the school to court and cite not just innocence, but even, no malicious intent. It's not so much what happens in the school that matters to this teacher, as he believes that the school he is connected with is against plagiarism; he's more concerned at the power to fight against any of the school's judgments by the students, with a solid chance to win, or at the very least, tie up the school in the courts. Of course, it does take money and time on the student's part to do this, but it could happen...

10:05 PM  
Blogger pgenrestories said...

...Nevertheless, we're all in agreement that the plagiarism/copyright infringement issues, local and foreign, left a bad taste in all our mouths.

As for the originality of stories, my thanks to Fun and Fearless for saying:

"I believe that it’s the development of an idea that matters. As long as the presentation is artistic enough to at least give the work its own, unique personality, there won’t be any problems."

I agree with this, though of course, the subjectivity of it all in the eyes of different people does open a creator to comments similar to those that were made of J.K. Rowling's story.

And in the end, we can all take pleasure in what we read in the same way Chachic does, by "seeing where an author will go with a story using the framework of an older one. For me, it all boils down to execution."

Thank you, Chachic, for letting me be the host last Friday!

10:05 PM  

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