I am going to try to keep this from the realm of ranting, but I will tell the story behind this post first. I found myself with nothing but write, clean and practice piano over the last week, so I asked a friend to issue me a challenge. Since she had read parts of Lest Ye Be Judged and The Other Half, she knew that I had experience writing legal drama. She issued me the challenge of writing the story of Katniss Everdeen's war crimes trial in Mockingjay.
I had fun writing this week as a result of this challenge. I reread the book. I researched law texts. I came up with arguments for the prosecution and defense. I have a story planned that will demand a lot of me as a writer because of its emotional range and ensemble cast.
I put up the first chapter last night and, because I suck at titles, I named it "The People vs. Katniss Everdeen" as it would appear on court documents. I posted it and went to bed.
I woke up this morning to four reviews, all of them telling me that I should be ashamed of myself for plagiarism. My story "totally ripped off" "The People of Panem vs. Katniss Everdeen" and it couldn't be a coincidence. I should change the things I had read in the original story so my story was "truly original." One person PMed me to say that I would be pissed off if "some idiot just copied and pasted my story and claimed they wrote it."
I went to the story in question and found that, yes, my title shared 5/7 of the words in the title. It also is going to deal with the war crimes trial of Katniss Everdeen. It uses the characters from the book. I wrote the first chapter from the perspective of Haymitch because there weren't many characters conscious during the scene that I was writing.
The author herself couldn't have been nicer. She PMed me around the same time that I was reading my morning dose of abuse. She said she gave me the benefit of the doubt. She did ask if I had read her story and when I confirmed that I had never heard of her or the story before this morning, she explained that she had posted on her Tumblr account to ask people to stop harassing me because I was innocent of ripping off her story.
She then made an excellent point that I wish I could just copy and paste to everyone who harassed me this morning. She said that there are hundreds of versions of the story between the final chapter and epilogue of Mockingjay and no one takes issue with that, so she had no problem with the idea that the trial could likewise have different versions. We agreed to read each other's stuff and parted ways amicably.
First off, let me say to the fanfiction community at large, if you're so obsessed with not "totally ripping off" someone else's work, don't write fanfiction. Don't read it because fanfiction is playing around with the characters, plot and world of someone else.
Second, let me give you some other examples of "plagiarism." In the '90's, a guy won a Pulitzer for ripping off La Boheme. It was called Rent. A few years ago, the Pulitzer was awarded to a guy who wrote Little Women fanfic and called it March. George R.R. Martin is making millions by ripping off the War of the Roses and replacing the Yorks and Lancasters with Starks and Lannisters.
I once saw a Pride and Prejudice fanfic in which Elizabeth became a governess to the ward of a bitter man who revealed on the day of their wedding that he had a wife locked away in his attic who had gone mad. Mr. Darcy's wife burned the house down and blinded him and Elizabeth reconciled with him. That's called ripping off Jane Eyre.
But the point of writing is that there is room for all of us. There is a place in the world for every story that a writer comes up with. Some of them are better than others. Some of them are more original than others. Fanfiction takes this to a whole new level.
To respond to the person who called me an idiot and a few other things that I won't post here, I would be pissed if plagiarism happened to me, but if creativity takes a writer in the same direction that my muse indicated, I say let them live and let live.