About Plagiarising

 *If you are worried about someone plagiarising your work, scroll to the bottom of the page.
How do I come up with new ideas for a well-worn subject?
I don't and won't encourage you to literally plagiarise, but the reality is, everybody does to some extent. Plagiarise, according to Webster, means: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own.
Here is the question: Can you think of one idea or theme that someone else hasn’t already touched on? Probably not. Can you write about a common subject and make it more interesting, more challenging, more gripping or more thought-provoking? Of course you can. There will always be an angle no one else has thought of or a fresh new way to express an old thought, idea or concept.
Mark Twain expressed his thoughts on plagiarism in a letter to his friend, Helen Keller, who had been accused of plagiarising in a short story she wrote.
He said, Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that ‘plagiarism’ farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul — let us go further and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances — is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand, consciously and unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources….
He concluded his letter with the words: These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple, and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.  
THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN (not even in writing). 
Most of what I understand about life I gleaned from friends, family members, books, authors, songs, comedians, motivational speakers and a few of my favorite inspirational teachers and preachers. If you use someone else’s unique idea, give them credit, then add to it in ways that polish it with your voice and style. The wise man Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9 NASB). He was right but that doesn’t mean you can’t portray sunlight in a whole new way with a pen instead of a brush.
If you have written a book, don’t be afraid to reuse some of your own ideas. If you quote someone word-for-word, get permission and use it to make your point. That adds credibility to your argument. Don’t overdo it though, or you will produce just another potentially boring reference work with too many quotes. You have more fresh ideas than you realize. If it is your original idea, say so, even if it is quoted from a book you wrote.
If you quote an author who has been dead at least seventy years, it is public domain and you can freely use it. He won’t mind, but you should still cite your source. If you use someone else’s thought, give them credit and write your own take or opinion on the subject.
If you are a Christian writer you can quote from the King James Bible or other ancient writings to your heart’s content. Who are you going to ask for permission? I don’t think Solomon, King David, the Apostle Paul or Socrates will mind.
Quoting from most newer versions of the Bible requires written permission. One exception is the New American Standard Bible which allows you to quote up to five hundred verses without asking. Research these areas thoroughly. When using someone else’s words, it is not easier to get forgiveness than permission. It is unethical, if not illegal.
If you want to use a line from a song, you must get permission from the publisher and it will usually cost you. If you can’t get permission, don’t take the chance. You could get sued. Songs written a century ago are safe to quote because the author is probably seventy years deceased (unless he discovered the fountain of youth and is still writing).
Paraphrasing can be dangerous. You must do it right or it will be plagiarism. You can't just rearrange the words.
Many think if they paraphrase someone else's idea, it will not be plagiarizing. Think again. 
Check out this excellent reference site: Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism. Scroll about halfway down and you will read this: "Consult a handbook: when you paraphrase, you cannot use any of the same nouns or verbs and you cannot use the same sentence structure. Failure to observe the rules of paraphrasing will result in the penalties of plagiarism."
If you really like what someone else said, get permission and quote them word for word.
*Should I worry about parts of my book being plagiarized?
Rachelle Gardener has some asnwers in her article, Worried About Your Work Being Stolen?
Robert K. Merton, former professor at Columbia University said in jest, “Anticipatory plagiarism occurs when someone steals your original idea and publishes it a hundred years before you were born.”
Bottom line, I wouldn't worry about being plagiarized for one second. I'd be happy at least one person read my book and liked it enough to plagiarize me. The simple reality is this: everyone plagiarizes because there are no original thoughts left. Mark Twain was right about that.
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Updated August 23, 2015