Now, I'm not an expert. And I haven't read the works in question, just the wank over it, so don't ask me for specifics.
But I am a writer. And I'm a little uncomfortable with the standards that seem to be being applied in the saga of alleged plagiarism in How Opal Mehta Got Her Groove Back. Which is also pursuant to the recent Dan Brown flap.
Here are some things that plagiarism isn't, in terms of writing fiction. (What it is in terms of nonfiction is very different. In that case, the idea and research are considered to be the object of value. In the case of fiction, the presentation and execution are presumed to be the object of value. Sometimes, with a certain generosity on the part of the one doing the presuming.)
Plagiarism is not copying a single sentence from another book-length work, or even a short story, or work of poetry, even completely unattributed. If it is, then I am in serious trouble, and so is half my reading list. There is a technical term for this. We call it an allusion.
It is only one kind of allusion. There are others.
(Blood and Iron alone would put me in the ground, if this was so. There are at least two sentences, I think, lifted entire from Zelazny. One is "His kind is the reason why there are no wolves in Ireland." Nevermind Hammered, which references everything from The Three Investigators and "Casey at the Bat" to Henry Reed.)
Plagiarism is not borrowing a scene structure, a literary technique, a thematic or plot outline, or a character from another work of art. Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (Les Miserables) is not plagiarism. Neither is West Side Story.
Plagiarism is not lifting ideas for fiction from nonfiction books or other works of fiction. Otherwise we'd be whipping Shakespeare around the tree for his abuse of Holinshead. And pameladean would be hiding her head in shame after a massive recall of Tam Lin.
Plagiarism is not riffing off another work of art. Nor is it shouting "I refute thee!"
That is conversation.
Here is what plagiarism is:
In the case of fiction:
"Copying someone else's work and then passing it off as one's own." (Morehead State University)
In the case of nonfiction:
"the act of appropriating the literary composition of another author, or excerpts, ideas, or passages therefrom, and passing the material off as one's own creation." (University of Colorado at Boulder.)
Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might
Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?