In my novel, the MC goes to a resort and at the resort, they offer two types of Buddhist meditations. Those meditations are from another book and I cannot fiddle with the meditation steps without taking the main point of the meditations away.

I want to include these steps in my book, and I can't change them, but I don't want to plagiarize the original author. What can I do?

  • 1
    Possible duplicate of How can I make the plagiarism detector "Ithenticate" identify "θ-continuous" as a single word? While that one is about a specific software I analysed general plagiarisation software when answering it. In general it's really, really hard to do and it would be better to just cite your sources properly. Also, helping people to cheat is not really a good thing, so don't expect too many answers helping you with this request.
    – Secespitus
    Aug 2 '19 at 12:45
  • Asking How do I hide plagiarized work? seems counterintuitive. If plagiarizing is wrong, then (depending on the cause of the plagiarism) quote it exactly or provide accurate attribution. But what are you actually asking? Changing it to make it less obvious simply makes the matter worse. Nobody is going to give you advice on how to plagiarize and get away with it. Aug 2 '19 at 13:02
  • @ChrisSunami I can think of a legitimate scenario—but it's not what's being described here. People who work in the field of detecting plagiarism need to be able to identify when something is or isn't plagiarism. As such, material that they study would need to contain actual examples of plagiarism as a form of training material. Aug 2 '19 at 13:13
  • 1
    Presumably the meditations will go in quotes anyway, because the characters in the story will be reciting them, right? Are they taken from a sacred text? If so I'd think you could reference the book somehow in-story before giving the quote. Having a priest read a passage from the Bible doesn't sound like plagiarism to me, and I don't think this would be either. If not from a sacred text, that's a problem, but maybe you could replace it with one. Aug 2 '19 at 14:58
  • 1
    AFTER OP EDIT: Buddhist meditations are probably public domain (not copyrighted and not anybody's intellectual property); you can still avoid plagiarism by have a character reference the book, "From the X Y Z", or in prose, "the instructions were given by the X Y Z:" For many ancient works, if you can find the instructions unattributed in multiple sources so it isn't possible to know who was original, then you do not have to cite any of them.
    – Amadeus
    Aug 2 '19 at 15:52

Don't plagiarize, paraphrase. Take the paragraph, figure out the main idea, and express it in your own words. If it's important that it be exactly as it was in the original, quote it and cite it. In fact --as mentioned by Jason Bassford in the comments below! --even when paraphrasing, you typically need to cite your source unless you're changing the passage substantively, and not just restating it. Most conscientious writers will even go so far as to credit the original source of a distinctive idea, even if it has been completely altered in the process ("inspired by...", "loosely based on...", etc.).

I've seen books where there is a small note at the beginning or the end to the effect "The passage on page 127 about Buddhism was taken from Mindful Living by..." and so forth. This allows you to correctly cite your source without breaking the flow of the work.

It's always best to (1) ask permission and (2) cite correctly. Even outside of any and all legal jeopardy, it's the right thing to do, it's the polite thing to do, and it builds goodwill (instead of destroying it). It often doesn't take that much effort either. When I wrote my book Hero For Christ, I included over fifty direct quotes, and it wasn't difficult, overly time consuming or expensive to get proper permissions and citations for all of them.

  • 5
    Even with paraphrasing, you should state that you're paraphrasing and provide attribution. If all you do is paraphrase, and not make it clear that you are doing so, it remains plagiarism. (Unless it's so far removed from anything specific that nobody could accuse you of simply changing some words and word order, but acknowledge that you were expressing your own original thoughts as inspired by one or more people.) Aug 2 '19 at 13:09

Real Buddhist meditations are probably public domain (not copyrighted, or in current USA law copyright lasts for the lifetime of the author plus 70 years).

Presumably they are very old meditations and thus not intellectual property of any person or entity.

You can still avoid plagiarism by having a character reference the book, telling people a meditation "comes from the X Y Z".

Or in prose, you can say

The meditation they used was first written in the scroll X Y Z.

For many ancient works, if you can find the instructions unattributed in multiple sources so it isn't possible to know the original source, then you do not have to cite any of them.

If your book claims a copyright, read to see if it allows limited copying. It is legal to copyright a translation from the original language, so if you are presenting the English version of a meditation originally written in Chinese, then you have a copyright issue, but the author may allow copying of a single meditation. That is often done for copyrighted Bible verses (because the original was not in English). The King James version is public domain, but not the NEW King James version or many other recent translations (recent being in the last century or two).

If the authors don't say they allow copying on the copyright page, then you are getting into legal territory, and I am not a lawyer.

  • Hi, I have to ask this question to you. pardon me for I am a novice writer, I have to agree that I have plagiarised 10-15% of my novel. There's a part where I have paraphrased from a movie and a part taken verbatim from a book which is not a novel. I was going to proofread it but reading the answers to my other questions here, I have the feeling that Plagiarism is a no-no. I want to ask you that should I still go forward with publishing it on amazon or keep that aside as a learning experience and move on to my second novel which I won't be copying from anywhere. Aug 8 '19 at 14:06
  • @cool_bodhi I am not a lawyer, but personally I believe 10% is way too much; it would probably count as "fair use" in a non-fiction analysis of something, but I certainly wouldn't publish it as a novel. The "movie" part, paraphrase or not, if a normal person recognizes it I think you can be liable; and verbatim from a book, if not public domain, likely makes you liable too. I would move on to a 2nd novel. You might be able to rewrite without any plagiarism and save the essence of the story; develop a synopsis of your completed story (<1500 words with zero plagiarism) and then re-imagine (cont)
    – Amadeus
    Aug 8 '19 at 14:44
  • the same story beats and plot. The characters can remain the same. A synopsis should preserve the emotional journeys of the chars, along with the plot but the plot takes a backseat to the emotions. Usually you can find another way to accomplish the same emotional journey, with a similar plot, but with different settings and culture. I can take a modern romance and set it in the 1800s, or 1500s, or on another planet! It requires adjustments but how the characters feel and are motivated can be preserved. As a learning experience, learn to write your same story without plagiarism.
    – Amadeus
    Aug 8 '19 at 14:52
  • Thank you very much for your reply. Aug 8 '19 at 15:18

Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Forest House is a lose retelling of Belini's opera Norma. Several hymns were taken from the opera verbatim, something done as tribute to the source material. Zimmer Bradley states all this in a short author's note in the beginning of the novel. As @CrisSunami states in a comment, this is common practice. The author's note can be located in the beginning or the end.

However, it is important to note Norma is in the public domain. The situation is somewhat different for texts which are still copyrighted, as @Amadeus states.

In such a case, you would need to obtain permission from the author to use his text. Write to the relevant copyright holder, get the permission. Unless you're putting the thing in very negative context, it's extra publicity for them. That's always good. As an example, in the Acknowledgements section of Olympos, Dan Simmons writes:

I would like to thank Jean-Daniel Breque for his permission to use the details of one of his favourite walks down the avenue Daumesnil and the rest of that Promenade Plantée. A full description of this delightful walk can be found in Jean-Daniel's essay "Green Tracks" in the Time Out Book of Paris Walks, published by Penguin.

Note that in this case nothing is quoted verbatim, but nonetheless permission has been obtained, and credit is given. This is not to say that a verbatim quote could not have been used.

It is for you to find out whether the work you wish to quote is copyrighted, and to obtain permission to use it if it is. Then, just provide accreditation in the beginning or the end.


Older meditations are almost certainly in the public domain. In the United States, anything published before 1924 is in the public domain as the copyrights have expired. Newer works may also have expired copyrights, depending on the circumstances.

While copyright law varies from country to country (and you should check in the country you're publishing in), it's a fairly safe bet that anything 100+ years old is fair game. This is true even if someone has reprinted them in a book they have then copyrighted. The specific portions that are quotes from older works can not be copyrighted (though commentary about them can be).

If the meditation is newer, it may be protected under copyright, in which case you need to get permission from the author (or copyright holder if different).

And here's the twist...

Translations are derivative works and they may be copyrighted as such.

For example, say you wish to quote a meditation written down nearly 2000 years ago in the Pali language. There's no question this is in the public domain. But the English translation of the specific one you want to use? That could be from 10 years ago, and copyrighted. Ditto for translations in to any other language, if it was in the last century.

Many texts have multiple translations into the same language and they will have been done at different times, by different authors, with different copyright status. And yeah, you have to check them one at a time. Sometimes the endnotes of the book (or elsewhere) will give more specific sources and offer thanks for reprint rights. Other times you just have to search.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.