[DWJ] Plagiarism or homage? (was Big Bad Read)

Minnow minnow at belfry.org.uk
Fri Jun 23 16:07:19 EDT 2006


>  Paul wrote:
>
>> > 'The Man from the Diogenes Club', by Kim Newman. It's a collection of
>> > stories about a section of the British secret service tasked with
>> > dealing with rogue magicians, bloodthirsty ghosts, murderous voodoo
>> > practicioners, etc. (Also a Blofeld-type supervillain, a plot to take
>> > over the world by an advanced computer, and - just for a change of
>> > pace - an sf writer clubbed to death with his own Hugo award.)
>
>  And Minnow wrote:
>
>> Oh, if it's Kim it has *got* to be an /homage/, I think.  He knows DWJ,
>> after all, and I'm sure that he's read her books.

and that made EGH come allover Considering:

>  I've always wondered where to draw the line between homage and
>plagiarism.  This sounds like a clear case of an author who knows  the
>other author, was involved in a project with some other authors,  and is
>continuing a delighful idea with a nod to a friend who has cool  literary
>ideas.  But I've been thinking about other forms of  homage and/or
>stealing of ideas, and when I read this I thought I'd  solicit opinions.
>What if a newbie author uses her/his favorite  character name in her/his
>ms?  Is that an homage or is it  stealing?  Does it depend on whether the
>original character is  from a classic or from a newer work -- the classic
>being both possibly  in the public domain and also more "owned" by the
>public by being so  well-loved?  For example, if a new fantasy writer used
>the names  Romeo, Harry Potter, and Chrestomanci, I think the first would
>be  totally acceptable, the second would slip by, and the third might be
>plagiarism.

If you used Harry Potter the chances are you'd get sued, even if it were
the actual name of a real person you knew.  It's possible you might get
sued for using Chrestomanci, not because DWJ would necessarily want to, but
because her publishers would: it's not a name that could be said to be in
the public domain or common usage, and it's been used by them fairly
extensively to identify a "brand" that is theirs as well as hers.  Romeo on
its own wouldn't raise any eyebrows, because it has been used as a forename
lots of times and isn't uniquely associated with a particular writer's
creation.  ("Romeo Coates" was a well-known figure during the Regency, for
instance.)

That's for just names.  If it's recognisably the character as well, it's
more likely to be nasty, because other readers may feel very strongly about
someone messing about with *their* idea of say Lord Peter Wimsey, and the
new author would need to tread very carefully indeed.  There is a row going
on at the moment, I gather from the newspaper, because Alan Moore has used
Wendy from Peter Pan for something he has written, and the people who "own"
Peter Pan are not happy about the way he's depicted her.  Them being a
children's hospital one might think it was a bit tactless of him not to
ask, or offer them a bit of the profits, or something.  I gather he's
claiming that he has every right to do it, but whilst I don't myself
giveadamn about Wendy I can see that there are plenty of people who might
get upset if he's turned her into something involving sex even if not kinky
sex (as it were).

I've always rather felt that it's an /homage/ if the character used is a
minor one in the new book, put in just because the new author loves that
character a lot, and ideally if the original author is mentioned as well
somewhere as having used that named character first.  Similarly and
personally, I felt when I wanted to pinch Willie Garvin, change his name,
and use him in a comic, that it was only polite to ask Peter O'Donnell's
permission -- which once he knew the name was being changed he was
delighted to give me.  That was an /homage/; if I had done it without his
permission, or using a plot too similar to one of the Modesty Blaise plots,
I think that would have been plagiarism even if I *did* change the
character's name.

I know that quite a number of Regency Romance writers have named characters
from Georgette Heyer books appearing briefly, for instance in the Park or
at a party in their books, and I can't see anything wrong with that.  If
they took the hero or heroine of one of her books and had that character
playing a major part in the new book, I'd find that distasteful and I'd
think it plagiaristic.

>  These are musings and I'm interested in your responses.  I suppose  this
>comes from my stance as a reader but also as an aspiring novelist;  at
>times I've run into a name I love, but I do not to use other  authors'
>character names because I figure it would be stealing to do so.

I think you're right not to.  If nothing else, it would be confusing for
anyone who wanted to discuss your book in such a place as this, if they had
to keep saying which Rhett Butler they meant, yours or wossername's.
Though of course one might explain that the poor fellow's parents had the
surname Butler and thought it was cute to call their son Rhett, I still
think it would be a mistake for purely practical reasons!

>  (I know this discussion wasn't about names, so I admit to changing the
>topic....)

Maybe I'll change the subject line too just for the fun of it.   :-)

Minnow





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