OP#7—In Hollywood, There is a Fine Line Between Plagiarism and ‘Recycling’

I recently discovered Dorothy Parker and was struck by her dry sense of humor and the jarring truth of her witticisms. Parker was regarded as one of the wittiest minds of her time and had an opinion on everything. One of these viewpoints, I found interesting: “The only ism Hollywood believes in is plagiarism” (Parker).

Plagiarism: An NPR broadcast (and transcript) regarding a relatively recent accusation of plagiarism in Hollywood

Singin’ in the Rain: A brief overview of the musical, with a mention of its plagiarism

225px-Singing_in_the_rain_poster

It is true that Hollywood has a history of cases of accused plagiarism, in fact it has been said that you haven’t really ‘arrived’ in Hollywood until you’ve been accused of plagiarism, but I had never really thought about it beyond: “Oh, this movie was really similar to that other one about World War II.” One quick Google search later and I had thousands of articles regarding the subject of plagiarism in movies. But the results I had only raised more questions for me. ‘What is plagiarism, really?’ was the foremost of them, as it seemed to me that what many of the articles referred to seemed less plagiarizing and more—for lack of a better term—’recycling’. Plagiarism, according to Merriam-Webster Online, is the act of stealing and passing off another’s ideas or words as your own. This really clarified some things for me as it included the word ‘idea’, whereas I had had the impression that plagiarism was word-for-word copying without crediting the source. This understanding of the true definition cleared up my misinterpretation of many of those articles, but a question still remained: ‘Then what do you call situations like that of the Singin’ in the Rain song, Make ’em Laugh?’ Make ’em Laugh was largely plagiarized off of a song called Be a Clown in the musical The Pirate. Be a Clown was written by Cole Porter in 1948, but when Singin’ in the Rain was released in 1952, Porter made no complaint. So what was that? Plagiarism or the recycling of an idea that fell flat the first time round, but with a few tweaks looked like a good idea? Strict definitions won’t tell me that.

Proposition: A word’s definition is not always applicable in every situation.

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