Home > Random Musings, Writing > Plagiarism: The Refuge of the Cowardly and Talentless

Plagiarism: The Refuge of the Cowardly and Talentless

 

“If you must write prose or poems, the words you use should be your own. Don’t plagiarize or take ‘on loan.’ There’s always someone, somewhere, with a big nose, who knows, who’ll trip you up and laugh when you fall.”
Steven Morrissey

Writing is hard work. You don’t always sit down to write and have the words come out, easily and perfectly. Sometimes, you ponder. You write the wrong thing. You change it. You have an epiphany while doing the dishes. And then maybe you’ve got the scene right.

There are so many analogies about the act of writing. It’s painful and beautiful. It’s frustrating and liberating. It’s like trying to breathe underwater, sometimes. Whatever it is, though, if you’re a writer – you can’t walk away from it. It’s part of you.

Which is what brings me to the subject of today’s post: plagiarism. Yesterday, I was reading a familiar blog site. There was an author on there I liked, but something always felt off in regard to her writing. The style was never entirely consistent. So, I did a little digging (as simple and wonderful as Google and copyspace) – and found out that the Blogger in question is…a thief. An unabashed, brazen little thief. Do I sound harsh? Angry? Indignant? Well, I am. An act like that is cowardly. It’s classless. And it makes me think you have no talent of your own.

Because that’s like stealing someone’s blood without asking. It’s wrong.

So, I did what someone did for me once, when my own writing was stolen – I notified the original author. I reported it to the administration at the blogging site. But the first thing I did on the most recent piece of stolen writing was comment that it wasn’t an original article and link to the source. The post in question was deleted. But at least twelve more remain. I stopped counting, because I found it infuriating and distasteful.

I’m a writer. I’m not famous. I regularly send out submissions. And I have this blog. It never would occur to me to pilfer someone else’s writing and use it as my own. Ever. Because that’s dishonest. It’s shameful. It’s just shitty.

I wonder, though, what makes a person do that. What is the impetus behind it? What makes a person think that it’s okay? If it were me, I’d be wracked with guilt. I’d feel like a fraud – because it IS fraudulent. I would be ashamed. (Obviously, that’s why I’d never do it. That, and I like to write my own things, thank you.)

I forget who said, “A poem doesn’t spring out of a hat.” No writing does. It comes out of a person. Sometimes, it’s an easy as singing a song. Other times, it’s as bloody and terrible as giving birth. (Or so I’d imagine.) You take this piece of you, and send it out into the world. You have hopes for it. You worked hard at it. It’s a reflection of you, like a mirror-box.

And then someone else takes it. Thieves it. Not like a changeling. There’s no recompense it its place. This person says, boldly, “I made this!” And it is a lie. It is a lie that has the potential to be believed. Because we tend to take things at face value, until proven otherwise.

And then, once the person’s been unmasked, the story changes. At least, it does for me. It’s impossible to eradicate internet plagiarism. I know that. Because people are often shameless when they assume they cannot be caught. But I know that every time I see an instance where it has happened, I will do my best to shine a baseball stadium sized light on it.

I’ll say, “I’m on to you.” I’ll report you, if I can. And maybe that’ll be enough to deter the next person. I urge you to do that same.

ETA: On a somewhat related note, check this out. A magazine stole a woman’s blogpost, gave her credit, but didn’t a) contact her or b) compensate her in any way. In fact, upon finding out and making a small request (an apology, for one thing), she was told that SHE should pay the MAGAZINE for the honor. Don’t believe me? Go here.

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  1. November 4, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    I’m amazed that anyone would take other’s work as their own, especially in this information age. Quite naive to think she wouldn’t get caught.

    If this person ever got published, the whole literary world would have come crashing down on her shoulders sooner or later. No one is immune. Just ask Rowling (though I doubt she did anything wrong. Similar ideas in a narrow subject will get cross-over characters and concepts).

    Copyright protections place the responsibility and expense on the author to defend their work against theft. It’s a gamble that some seem willing to take, that what they steal will not be challenged.

    • Ali
      November 4, 2010 at 9:25 pm

      In the instance I was referring to, the blog owner ended up shutting her site down this morning. So, that’s something. Also, the people who run the site do take that kind of thing very seriously — so that is good. But as to your point, yes, it is really naive that someone would just brazenly assume he/she wouldn’t be found out. You bring up a good point, too, that it is up the author to prove ownership and/or guilt. A lot of authors don’t have that kind of money to waste, especially if he/she is just starting out. You’d think that the law would be adjusted.

  2. Andrea
    November 4, 2010 at 3:55 pm

    In addition to the fact that I don’t understand how someone could live with themselves for stealing another person’s writing, I don’t understand WHY someone would steal another person’s blog posts. If it were for money, or fame, I could at least understanding the reasoning, however wrong it was. But there are millions of blogs out there. The odds that yours is going to become the next Perez Hilton over your stolen work are not so great. So what is the point? Good for you for taking a stand and reporting the biotch.

    • Ali
      November 4, 2010 at 9:27 pm

      I don’t really understand the WHY either. In regard to a blog, it’s largely personal — or it’s for marketing. Or whatever. It’s not for profit. Like you, I just don’t understand the justification. I think, in the end, it’s for attention. It’s so someone else can say, “Man, this person’s a good writer!” Also, she shut her site down, but the site admin was going to do that, if she did. Good riddance!

  3. November 4, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Could I get your opinion on something? My blog 3 purposes:
    1\ links to articles or blogs I like or found interesting.
    2\ My own gabbles on different things
    3\ plugging new blogs to get them exposure

    I have no advertizing, so I don’t make money on “Views” or anything else. Am I breaking any law or social covenent that I’m unaware of? If so, It was entirely unintended. I did worry and tried to contact Tawna Fenske when I linked an older post of hers about her cat MATT, and put his picture under the link.

    DougM

    • Ali
      November 4, 2010 at 9:29 pm

      Doug, I’m not a lawyer or anything, but I don’t think that you’re breaking any kind of law. You’re not trying to pass off the works as your own. You’re not stealing things from others. You’re sharing things you like, find interesting, or what might seem useful to others. It’s the same principle of retweeting something on Twitter. You’re not saying “I made this.” You’re saying “Look at this! It’s interesting.”

      So, personally speaking, I think that you can rest easy.

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