Which of the following is right, or closest to right, and why? Is another answer better than any of these four?
Answers (and explanations if you want to give them) are welcome...I'll report responses back to all of us in RexVille sometime early in 2014.
The ethical constructor v. 1: It's not okay at all to "borrow" aka plagiarize a theme, but it is absolutely fine to submit a puzzle without checking to see if other people had your idea first. Ethics in what we do is a matter of being genuinely original, not of having to prove that we are original. If we have a duty to check at the end before we submit a puzzle, we'll wind up checking at the beginning--after all, we don't want to throw away the time we've spent constructing. Imposing a duty on us to check on other puzzles is really wrong--it will corrupt the spirit of originality that is the heart and soul of what we do.
The ethical constructor v. 2. You should check to see if other people had your idea first. If you find they did, it's fine to submit as long as you disclose the similarity. It's also fine to look in databases and to draw from other people's themes to create your own--in fact, better puzzles are likely to result from that. As an ethical constructor, you have a duty to check, to learn from others, to disclose, and to be guided by evolving community norms. The search for pure originality is a will o' the wisp that is not at the core of what we are ethically--goodbye to it, and good riddance!
The ethical constructor v. 3: You guys are both unethical! Don't rummage around in databases as a source of ideas--yuk! And of course you should check to see if someone had the same idea before submit. And no, don't submit your puzzle if someone else had the same idea first.
The ethical constructor v. 4: You're all too uptight. A theme is like an idea, which isn't patentable or copyrightable. It's not fine to copy specific fill, but it's AOK to borrow a theme.