Kay: Stealing Material: Is It Theft or Misappropriation?

Poster for Disney’s “The Lion King”

Today concludes the annual conference of the Romance Writers of America, in which the writers and publishers of romance fiction come together to discuss the latest trends in the romance publishing industry. It’s a time of celebration: goals achieved, books noted, writers and publishers rewarded. It’s a time to celebrate creativity.

Which was why I was particularly disheartened to read a couple of stories this weekend about plagiarism and the theft of creative ideas.

The big one is that there’s been a discussion that the plot and characters of Disney’s The Lion King were ripped off from Kimba the White Lion, a Japanese anime series created by Osamu Tezuka that NBC syndicated in the United States in the 1960s. The charges of appropriation, dating back to the film’s first release in 1994, clouded the American film’s release back then and have returned with the latest remake. According to the story in the Washington Post, the Japanese anime tradition is one of borrowing, but it’s the lack of credit or acknowledgement that is disturbing.

The second article is an op-ed in the LA Times by Douglas Preston. He and Lincoln Child write a thriller series under the name “Preston & Child.” He describes how plagiarists using the name “Preston Child” have ripped off their books, and how other scams are stealing copyright and income from hardworking authors. (According to Preston, author incomes have dropped 42% in the last 10 years.) In fact, I’ve noticed this Preston/Child discrepancy myself on Amazon.

Nothing Preston says in the op-ed is exactly new to the writing community, but he makes points well worth remembering.

And raises a question, as well: Aren’t there enough good ideas to go around? I think the folks at the RWA conference would think so.

5 thoughts on “Kay: Stealing Material: Is It Theft or Misappropriation?

  1. I think there are enough good ideas to go around, but like all other abilities and talents, they’re not evenly distributed. I also think that some people’s talent is for stealing other people’s ideas.

    (I’d have something more useful to say, but I just got back from the conference you mentioned and I’m exhausted.)

    • Your Instagram posts made me think that you had a great conference! You have every right to be exhausted—in fact, I’d be disappointed if you weren’t exhausted.

      You make a good point that some people’s creativity lies primarily in stealing the words of others. I just hate that that’s true

  2. I often wonder what new and creative stories there could be out there if the people who “appropriate” the work of others actually spent that same amount of effort on their own creations.

    • I think the same. Remember that plagiarist in Brazil, who took the work of Nora Roberts and Courtney Milan and a lot of other people and pasted long passages into books that she sold? It must’ve taken some work to connect those passages, so that the thing would read more or less like a regular book. You’d think it would’ve been just as easy and give her a whole lot more satisfaction to write the thing herself.

  3. I found your article in a recommended section that was connected to my review of Kimba the White Lion. Plagiarism is horrible and that Preston Child situation is just shameless. However, I can’t stand how The Lion King gets a free pass for blatantly stealing characters, plot points, and scenes. Disney still has never owned up to it despite the evidence, having Simba as a white lion in pre-production, trying to block Jungle Emperor Leo (1997) from North American viewing at the Fantasia Film Festival in Canada, and Roy E. Disney calling Sarabi “Kimba’s mother” in an old transcript. If Kimba came out AFTER The Lion King then everyone would mercilessly rip Osamu Tezuka’s creation to shreds. Don’t even get me started about the racist stuff with the hyenas, them culturally appropriating the Swahili-speaking parts of Africa by trademarking Hakuna Matata, and withholding credit and royalties to Solomon Linda who’s the real writer of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (see the Netflix documentary The Lion’s Share which covers that issue).

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