jstallcup at jstallcup at
Wed May 14 22:41:11 EDT 2003

Those are good questions... I would say with folklore, it's anything goes
because they are not copyrighted and are in the public domain and they
make use of such basic story elements.  But if someone used something
specifically from Garner's use of a folktale, that would be a problem.  

Stickier issues for me are using ideas or passages that are in the public
domain due to the age of the text, but that an individual did come up
with themselves.  For example, there are passages in Joan Aiken novels
that are almost word for word out of 18th c novels (bits of Burney's
Evelina, for example appear in The Smile of the Stranger).  And there's
Colleen McCullough's use in the Ladies of Missalonghi of Montgomery's
basic storyline in the Blue Castle.  I've read both, and there's not a
single line that is the same, but the basic story IS the same.  So, is
that plagiarizing?  Hard to say. 


On Wed, 14 May 2003 22:38:36 +0100 minnow at writes:
> Jackie S wrote:
> >Anyway, I had so many students telling me in class that Rowling 
> >plagiarized (for whatever reason, students seem to assume that the 
> person
> >bringing the lawsuit must be correct) that I finally had to 
> investigate a
> >bit.
> Being fair to the students, it's possible they'd done what my
> then-fourteen-year-old did when she read the first Potter book: she 
> went
> through it saying "That's in X', "Y's got that in it", "I read that 
> in Z"
> and so on at regular intervals.  (I wish now I'd got her to make 
> notes, it
> would have been fascinating to see what a reasonably well-read 
> teenager
> noticed had been around before in other things.)  So they might 
> simply have
> assumed it was another example of a thing that they had spotted 
> somewhere
> else before they read Rowling, just an example whose serial numbers 
> hadn't
> been filed off very well.
> I have never been quite sure anyway where the line is drawn between
> re-using an idea that has been around for a while, and plagiarising. 
>  I
> mean, Alan Garner took a chunk of the Mabinogion for *The Owl 
> Service* --
> so is anyone else who uses the same Welsh story to write a book 
> round
> simply using the same source material, or are they plagiarising 
> Garner, and
> who decides, and how?  If Neil Gaiman writes something that owes a 
> lot in
> the way of ideas to his reading of some old fairy-tales, and someone 
> else
> does the same thing and happens to pick the same fairy-tales, is it 
> just a
> race to get published first?
> Minnow
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