When Hellen Keller’s story The Frost King was published in 1892, she found herself accused of plagiarising Margaret T Canby’s The Frost Fairies. Keller explained that she may have read The Frost Fairies and forgotten it. She was 11 at the time.
We tend to incorporate in our work, many ideas and thoughts that are not our own, considering them to be inspirations. I was about the same age as Keller was when I wrote a short story inspired (to be honest, highly inspired) by the eternal story of the Snow White. In fact, I was about to send that piece of writing to a short story writing contest!
Wikipedia says, ‘Cryptomnesia occurs when a forgotten memory returns without it being recognized as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a song, or a joke, not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but rather experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration.’ Good that we have a word in place that aids in explaining something that could turn out to be criminal. Bad that it still does not help us save grace.
The year 1994 saw John Cameron Fogerty, the famous American musician charged with accusations of self plagiarism. Fogerty’s song “Old Man down” was claimed to be a musical copy of his previous song “Run through the Jungle” the rights of which were still with Fantasy Records, a company the musician had left to pursue a solo career with Warner Brothers. This was an amusing and important case from an artist’s perspective. Is your work your own after you sell its rights to someone else?
Some instances of plagiarism leave no room for contemplation. The movie ‘Black Swan’ was indeed a Japanese cartoon. However, there are pieces of work that are inspired by some other works or sometimes, incidences. This might make the nuances between plagiarism and inspiration finer. Take the example of Eyes without a face, the song and the movie.
Consider the innovations of Bollywood which has grown accustomed to accusations of plagiarism. You pick a song and begin humming it. Chances are that you will find yourself mouthing words of some other song that has the same tune. The most recent one in news is the song Pandeyji from the film Dabangg2 which has its tune lifted from the old song chalat musafir of the movie Teesri Kasam. Scrambling up of lyrics and music of some songs with an aim to create a fresh (read revised) one is not unknown.
To our delight, jokes have escaped this scrutiny. They can be used and reused for they belong to none and yet everyone.