There's been a story I've been following along with the folks at GalleyCat about a romance author who lifted quite a few passages from other works (including a work about ...ferrets. Let the bad puns continue!). That started quite an intriguing discussion on the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism.
According to Candy: "...plagiarism is an ethical issue. It’s concerned with what’s right and what’s not. Copyright infringement is a legal action...It’s concerned with what’s legal and what’s not."
That's the cut and dried interpretation. Personal ethics is a whole 'nother ballgame, folks.
When the Kaavya Viswanathan story broke awhile back, S.A.M. circulated a polite little letter around his circle of writers and told us that while our editors would make every effort to defend us in public if anything like this ever happened, we should know that if we ever made them -- or him -- look bad, we could really kiss our contracts goodbye. "DON'T even let it come up," he warned us.
My second novel is historical fiction, and you can bet I have an attribution list that will make it look like I've written a book report -- but it's important to me that everyone read the first books -- out of print, not widely circulated -- that sparked my interest in the topic. How could I do any less for those who wrote before me?
You never stand on the top for long unless you acknowledge the shoulders of those upon whom you are standing.