This guest post is by Dawn Walnoha of.
In all writing, blogging being no exception, there is a fine line between borrowing ideas and plagiarizing content. Since the issue is not clearly defined the same way everywhere, it is open to interpretation. And that means the line is somewhere in a gray area between the black and white of honest content and dishonest theft.
One area that has been a perennial gray zone is that of borrowing another writer’s structure or approach to their writing style, while not borrowing their content. This is absolutely, in no way shape or form, plagiarizing. But because of the nature of ideas and how they originate and propagate through society as memes, there are people who take this kind of structural borrowing as a theft of ideas.
So how does one evaluate the matter to be sure they’re simply using a reasonable approach, rather than stealing from another writer?
Let’s take a look at two very popular television series, two of my personal favorites in fact: ABC’s Castle and Fox’s Bones.
Castle, which first aired as a mid-season replacement in 2009, features a male and female partnership duo heading up an ensemble style cast of quirky police detectives. Rick Castle, an author who is tagging along on police investigations in order to do research for his books, often clashes with the experienced police detective Kate Beckett. Castle lacks any kind of police training and can’t protect himself like a cop could, but their personality clashes hide a growing and intensifying attraction to one another.
Compare that to Bones, which first aired in 2005. Temperence Brennan and Agent Seeley Booth head up an ensemble cast of quirky characters. Brennan (who is an author) is working with the experienced FBI field agent Booth. Booth often clashes with her over decorum in the field because she wants to get close to the action but lacks the training of an experienced officer. However, their clashes hide a growing and intensifying… you can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.
On the surface, these two shows look very much alike. Just looking at the facts as presented, you would probably excuse someone for making the initial assumption that Castle ripped Bones off. But looking a bit more in depth, you’ll see that it is not the case.
Bones is a show focused on forensic anthropology based out of a lab in the “Jeffersonian” institute (a Smithsonian analog) working with the FBI on high profile cases. It showcases the very real concerns of the interactions between specialists who are civilians and actual agents invested with police powers.
Castle, on the other hand, shows a rich playboy author who does a “ride along” with Detective Beckett and becomes fascinated with her. He decides to base a novel character on her, and uses his pull with the mayor to get assigned to her cases. This scenario is well into the realm of fanciful whimsy, rather than the situation in Bones, which at least attempts to illustrate the actual way two different agencies might interact.
Further, before Bones could make a claim against Castle, one has to remember that Bones is simply a retread of the tried and true “buddy cop” formula itself, which dates back much further than either series.
Both shows use a very similar format, but Castle is not a copy of Bones. They simply start from a similar premise, and follow the creators’ logic and own unique creative processes from there.
So it is with blogging. Perhaps one day you come across a format from a favorite blogger that you can see will work for you. Maybe the way they present their research and conclusions appeals to you in an organizational sense, and you borrow the format. This does not mean you’re borrowing the ideas, nor are you stealing actual content. Thus, it should not be considered plagiarism or intellectual property infringement.
Maybe it even goes further than that. A blogger could write about a specific topic you find interesting, and you decide to use the topic as a starting point. So long as you do your own research and do not simply take their article and rewrite it, again you are not plagiarizing.
Ideas are very fluid concepts. It is very difficult to demonstrate exactly where any one meme began in most cases. You should not be afraid of reading your favorite blogs and drawing ideas on what to write about from them. On their road to success, Bones and Castle weren’t afraid to revisit the buddy cop series idea, borrowing liberally from CSI and, yes, each other along the way. (The creators of Castle have even acknowledged that the relationship between Beckett and Castle has similarities to the one between Booth and Brennan.)
Don’t be afraid to look for ideas anywhere, so long as you are honestly willing and able to do the work yourself to flesh those ideas out.
Dawn Walnoha is the VP of Production at Brandsplat. Brandsplat creates blogs, articles and social media in the voice of our client’s brand. Click here for the Brandsplat Report or visit our blog at www.ibrandcasting.com.