I've been thinking a lot lately about plagiarism, and the line between the legal definition and ethical definition. I have to admit that I'm finding myself torn. I understand the most blatant form of plagiarism, copying word for word, or very nearly, is obviously, and inarguably wrong. However, what if I read a poem, and want to use a particular image from it? What if a single word of it inspires me to write a poem? No one would accuse me of plagiarism if I use one word of another poem, or we'd all be plagiarists.
How about two words? Three? Five? When has the line been crossed? How far into the grey area is still ethical, and how far is too far?
I read a poem by someone today, someone I've "known" for years through Moontown Cafe. The lines are good, but the thought behind them are even better. I read it, and my mind rewrote the particular line in question, and I immediately began to consider the ethical ramifications of doing so. Of a nine word phrase, my (re)write would have used only two words, and her idea.
Now, I'll never write the poem my head is presently wrapped around, because I don't feel comfortable with the foundation of it, but I'm honestly unsure what the etiquette here would be. I, personally, would feel as though I'd stolen something she'd written, regardless of the fact that we'd only be sharing those two words. And I'm positive that there wouldn't be any issue of actual plagiarism involved, but in my guts, it would feel wrong.
What's your opinion?