Get Your Premium Membership

Plagiarism versus Being Inspired By

by Suzette Richards

‘To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.’*

The Internet is awash with ideas and information that are susceptible to being ‘borrowed’ and internalised. However, there is a fine line between paraphrasing existing text and plagiarism—to avoid this faux pas, think of original ways in which to express yourself. We daily ineluctably absorb and process facts against a background of existing information. This fusion of existing information into new combinations is a largely unconscious process named cryptomnesia. The cognitive psychologist, Ronald T. Kellogg, defined it as: ‘[T]he belief that a thought is novel, when in fact it is a memory.’ In her book, Lady of Hay (1986), Barbara Erskine interprets cryptomnesia as memories that are completely buried and hidden.

There is a huge difference between quoting other authors (with due recognition) to support a point that you have made, or to lend interest to your piece, and misrepresenting other’s ideas or text as your own. Most commonly plagiarism is seen as where another author’s work (including titles, headings, or a brand name such as a designed poetic form, clothing range, etc) is passed off as one’s own—this includes rewriting an extract or blog in your own words. Hence me penning my own examples of poetic forms. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but it is still plagiarism!

When is something in the public domain? When the word(s) is in everyday use. However, if the components of the statement are in the public domain, but the combination is recognised as unique, for example, Animal Farm (the book by George Orwell), then it would be considered plagiarism to use this as a title for your book. Similarly, as in the case of the designed poetic form The Tesla 3–6–9, the separate components are in the public domain, but the unique combination is copyright protected. For further reading regarding this issue see the following link:

It seems to be standard practice to use other poets’ work in blogs to enhance the post and generate interest—you might Google your name and find these backlinks [sic]. It is a common misconception that if a blogger does not make money out of his blog, it is not plagiarism to copy another author’s work. Simply tagging the original photographer in your blog, for example, on Instagram, is NOT enough. Even translating the work of a writer without his/her prior consent is considered plagiarism, and it is advisable to first get that person’s written permission to do so.

However, being inspired by the work of another poet is common practice. It is permissible to emulate a poet’s voice, ie copy his style of writing and even adhere to his particular use of vocabulary, for example, idiom, but never to be used verbatim! At the end of your poem, add ‘Inspired by:’, followed by the details of the piece that had inspired you, or you may place the quote at the beginning of your poem. However, it is not necessary to acknowledge the author’s copyright where it is a well-known quote, for example: ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’

In closing, I would like to quote Nikola Tesla:

‘I don’t care that they stole my idea … I care that they don’t have any of their own.’ 


For further reading and a list of the different types of plagiarism, please see the following link: