Only occasionally do I discuss current events — that’s what my YouTube channel is for — and, thanks to Crime Junkie, I’m going be doing it again! And be sure to read the whole thing. I’m not excusing what they did, I’m suggesting that they were ignorant — which isn’t an excuse, but it is a reason I understand.
Right off the bat: I’m not upset with Flowers and crew.
Before I tell you why I’m not, before I share why I’m 100% giving these women the benefit of the doubt, let’s look at the definition of plagiarism.
Deliberately passing off somebody elses original expression or creative ideas as ones own. Plagiarism can be a violation of law IF copyrighted expression is taken. Often, however, plagiarism does not violate any law but marks the plagiarist as an unethical person in the political, academic, or scientific community where the plagiarism occurs. — Cornell Law School
I used to run a podcast call the Legends Myths and Whiskey podcast and we EXCLUSIVELY worked with public domain material. These works were 1800’s stories, generally part of a larger tome, of forgotten cultures — the purpose of the show was to bring these stories out of obscurity and remind people they existed.
Let me tell you about a position I CONSTANTLY found myself in:
“How do I retell this story if the only resource I have for the story is, itself, a retelling of the original story?”
I was working in the public domain and, clearly, there’s no copyright infringement on a piece of literature from 1836 but, from the text above:
Often, however, plagiarism does not violate any law but marks the plagiarist as an unethical person
So the concern for most podcasters isn’t legal action, it’s being framed as a lazy, POS creator, that is intentionally stealing from others in order to make ourselves look smart and make money. And that might be worse than legal action.
I wound up reading these texts verbatim instead, and I always credited the original author and publisher, because I felt a tinge of discomfort when I started to try to rewrite the stories — it always felt too much like I was doing the literary version of tracing. Sure, in the end, my story would use different words and would have a unique flair, but there was no denying I wouldn’t have been utilizing the best parts of my creativity and I would have been… copying.
When I look at all the True Crime podcasts out there I feel for them because I know FOR A FACT that they are in this same position but they don’t have the benefit of obscurity or the public domain to protect them.
John murdered Bob, the events of that murder happened in a certain sequence, there were certain facts, there were a limited numbers of interviews, and eventually the case of John murdering Bob is closed.
How many ways can you tell this story? How many times can you, while keeping it a work of fact-based non-fiction, retell the facts and events of John murdering Bob?
It’s a finite amount, it has to be.
So what do you do when you’re the 30th person to tell the story of John murdering Bob? How do you create a work that isn’t, in some way, an exact replica of 30 different sources?
The answer is that you don’t. The answer is that only a few people have the dedication and resources necessary to create a truly original take on a story that’s already been done (no pun intended) to death.
And therein lies the rub.
I’m not upset with Flowers and crew because this was inevitable and someone had to be the example.
This is going to signal one of two things. Either:
A. Many many many more accusation of plagiarism against true crime podcasters or…
B. A massive decline in the number of true crime podcasts because the effort needed to create truly original content will raise the barrier to entry into the genre so high that most people won’t bother.
The True Crime genre is just the start, too. I promise you this is happening, unbeknownst to the droves of creators doing it, in many genres of podcasting.
The increasingly high profile of the medium will serve to thin the herd, it’s inevitable. And that’s without the bomb the FCC is getting ready to drop on us (what, did you think they’d stay out of this medium forever?).