Plagiarism… It Effects the Family

Posted: October 25, 2010 by ajbrown in Uncategorized
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The writing community… it’s a small group.  Really, it is.  It’s also a very large family.  I know, it’s a contradiction, but really, it’s not.  This is simple math.  The writing community is a small group, when you base it on the number of people in the world (over six billion) as opposed to the number of writers in the world.  There are probably less writers than doctors or attorneys, but maybe more than pro athletes.  Who knows?  It’s a small group, comparatively.  This is also taking into consideration that we’re not counting folks who write, but never send their work out.  They’re not ‘out there,’ trying to get published, trying to make a name for themselves.  I’m only referring to people who are active within the business.  As I’ve said, the writing community is a small group.

On the other hand, the math is also there for it to be a large family.  Of the folks who are writers, regardless of which markets they toil in, someone knows someone who knows someone else and within those seven degrees of separation it always comes full circle.  How about an example:  Someone may get published by Dark Recesses and could get to know one of the editors with DR.  That editor just may know someone who works with Cutting Block Press, who may know someone who works with The Horror Library.  The folks over at The Horror Library may know someone who does one of those Blog Talk Radio shows.  It could be possible that the host of the BTR show is friends with someone who works with Necrotic Tissue.  But, wait, that person also could be a friend with someone who works for The Library of the Living Dead Press or Liquid Imagination.  Say one of those people knows folks over at Shroud and a couple of those folks work with someone who is with Morpheus Tales.  Maybe one of them could know Brett Savory or a member of his staff over at Chizine.  It’s also possible that the folks with Chizine may know someone who has been published by Dark Recesses and we have come full circle.  To add to that, there are bound to be several folks within all of those links who know some of the bigger names, might even be friends with them, share a phone conversation or a dinner table with them.  Their spouses may be friends and shop together.  Their kids might kill bugs together.

That scenario isn’t so farfetched if you think about the writing community as it really is:  a tight-knit group… much like a family. 

In relation to families, there is joy when one of us does good, sadness when one of us does not.  There is also jealousy and frustration and anger and every other emotion that you can think of in relation to people in general.  We also help each other—more so than most professions.  Do we want to get ahead?  Yes.  Do we want to make a name for ourselves?  Absolutely.  Do we want to make money?  Umm… yeah.  But, do we also help folks if we are able to?  For the most part.  It’s just like a family.

When a member of our family dies, we mourn.  When a member of the writing community passes on, we mourn, especially if that member is young and his or her potential was never fulfilled, the dreams dashed…

If a member of our family is on drugs or is getting hurt by someone, we try to intervene, to point them in the right direction.  The writing community is the same way.

And this brings me to what this writing is really about:  stealing from a family member.  If a family member steals from us, we get outraged… or rather enraged… When I was a teenager I had a job.  I saved my money.  Then one day some of it came up missing.  I didn’t know where it had gone and I calculated all I had spent and I was still missing money.  Hmm… A couple of days later, more money came up missing.  I got an inkling that a family member was taking this money from me.

So, what did I do?  Well, I baited this person.  And, sure enough, the person took the bait and I caught him in the act.  The results were bad and, yes, there was a little bit of bloodshed.  There was also a broken glass door and two people falling off the front porch, fist pounding, legs flailing, curses being cursed. 

Sadly, I’ve never been able to trust this person again, even now, over twenty years later.

In the writing community there is a form of stealing that some writers do:  It’s called plagiarism.   Honestly, I think this is a bit worse than stealing.  How is that so?  Again, this is a simple answer.  Good writers pour their hearts and souls into their works.  We spend hours upon hours creating our characters and scenes and plots.  Then we spend hours and hours editing, tweaking and finding a market for these stories. We send them out into the world with our hopes on our sleeves. Months are spent waiting for a response that may or may not be favorable.  It’s a long, tedious process.  Our stories are our babies.  Yeah, it’s cliché, but it’s accurate. 

When someone plagiarizes our stories, calls them their own, has them published, makes money off of those pieces of works… it’s stealing.  There’s no two ways about it.  It’s not just taking possible income out of our pockets, it’s taking part of our hearts and souls, its stealing so much of our effort and time.  It’s taking a piece of us…

Here recently—I’ll say over the last two years or so—there have been several instances of this thievery.  Sadly, this is something that we can’t completely get rid of.  Sure, we can call out those who have stolen from us.  We can make them look bad within the community. We can drag their name through mud and even sue them…  But, does that really stop it from happening?  No.  Time passes and we forget about Joe Shmoe who stole Angel Zapata’s work a little over a year ago ( http://arageofangel.blogspot.com/2009/10/plagiarizedthree-days-later.html ).  In a few months folks will forget about the not so Iron man who stole Ferrel Rick Moore’s short story, Electrocuting the Clowns and Lisa Morton’s The Death of Splatter [more information about this can be found all over the web, but most notably in the following places: The Rusty Nail ( http://therustynail.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/electrocute-this-clown/ ), The Writer and the White Cat (  http://thewriterandthewhitecat.blogspot.com/ ) and Lisa Morton’s Live Journal page ( http://cinriter.livejournal.com/194408.html )].

Normally, I wouldn’t do this, but this is getting a little ridiculous.  Not too long ago a friend of mine had her poetry stolen.  Besides having the poetry removed from the various places we found it at, there wasn’t much she was able to do.  Contacting the person proved fruitless and once the work was removed from the sites there was no way of contacting the person, who apparently used a pseudonym. 

I don’t know Lisa or Rick or Angel personally.  I’ve read some of their work and have enjoyed what I’ve read.  They’re good people who have worked hard to get where they are in this business.  And, we writers—those of us who are members of this great family—have to stick together and oust those uncles we wished would have remained in the closet.  The Rusty Nail has done a wonderful job of getting the news out there.  As have the people at Shocklines and other online forums.

Plagiarism hurts us all.  I go back to that trust issue with my relative.  It’s something I have lost and probably will never get back.  Here’s the thing:  Even though I caught him taking the money, watched him with my own two eyes, confronted him with the money in his hand, he denied doing it.  To this very day, he denies doing what I saw him do.  There was no admission to committing the crime.  There was no apology.  I didn’t even get the money back.  After everything was said and done, I was blamed for setting him up and no punishment was doled out.

Trust…

With the likes of these folks stealing the writings of others, it makes it harder and harder to trust folks.  If you’ve taken the time to follow the links, you can see what one shady person has done to numerous writers and publishers alike.  What are we to do?  What are editors and publishers to do?  It’s not like they don’t have plenty on their plates with putting out magazines, books and e-zines.  But, do we expect them to Google key parts of stories to see if they were written by someone else before they accept a piece?  They could, in order to protect themselves, but why should they have to? 

So, what do we do?  As a family we look after each other.  We try and warn folks of the thieves and parasites and all of their aliases.  But, is that enough?  Probably not.  There are a few things that can be done.  It may not completely eradicate plagiarism, but it could slow it down a little.

Rick Moore is going after the individual who stole his work.  If you read Rick’s blog (linked above) you will see he is taking extensive steps to right the wrong that has been done against him and several others.  There is legal action on the horizon.  Good for you, Rick Moore.  But, why should he have to do this?  It takes away from time that could be spent doing what he does very well:  write.  Why?  Maybe, by Rick Moore taking the step’s he’s taking, not only will a plagiarist—a thief—get punished, but maybe that will deter others from doing the same.  It may not.  As I stated earlier, with time comes forgetfulness and someone is always trying to make a name for him/herself on the backs of others.

Lisa Morton wrote a terrific article on plagiarism and how to protect yourself against it.  There are steps in her article that I didn’t know about and that I encourage folks to take.  Remember, this is your work and as Morton states, no one is as interested in protecting your work as you are.  You can read this article here:  http://horror.org/writetips-morton.htm .  Take the time to read it word for word.  Don’t just skim it for things you feel are important.  Every word she uses within this article is critical (especially the information about Google alerts). 

I would like to state, for the record, that though I have followed these recent cases, I have not had an opportunity to talk with Angel Zapata, Ferrel Rick Moore or Lisa Morton.  I’ve never had anyone steal any of my stories that I know of (however, I will be doing an extensive search on this soon). 

Protect yourself and each other.  If you think someone has stolen someone else’s work, don’t just let it slide.  Do a little digging, inform that person so they can also do a little research.  Wouldn’t you want someone to do the same for you?  And always remember, we writers are a large family and family will do what it has to do to protect one another…

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Comments
  1. Annemarie Bogart says:

    Well said, AJ…great post.

  2. Sue Babcock says:

    Well said, indeed.

    And it’s not just the stories that are being stolen, it is artwork, photographs, poems and all sorts of creative works. Some, as AJ noted, is deliberate and malicious ripping off of whole works. This is the worst.

    Other times, it is smaller stuff. A paragraph and a stanza here, a picture and a sketch there – who will notice? Who will know?

    You will know. And someday … so may someone else.

  3. Good article, AJ. It is a sad thing indeed. But what goes around, comes around. Eventually, the stealers will pay the price.

    John

  4. Lisa Morton says:

    Many thanks, AJ, for helping to spread the word.

    Amazingly enough, I heard from a writer friend who was contacted by this plagiarist and asked for material YESTERDAY, so he’s still out there trying to work his schemes. If she hadn’t talked to me about him, her story might well have shown up in a month with someone else’s name on it. My watchword for the day is “vigilance”!

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Michelle Garren Flye, Publisher Guide. Publisher Guide said: Plagiarism… It Effects the Family « Type AJ Negative: They're not 'out there,' trying to get published, trying to … http://bit.ly/9qR5j6 […]

  6. Angel Zapata says:

    AJ,

    Trust…you’re right. It does boil down to this. For writers, it’s trusting our work will always remain our own. For publishers, it’s trusting the work submitted by thus stated author actually belongs to them.

    But trust must be earned. I trust my children, but on the other hand, I know what I was like at their age. So as a parent, I find it necessary to snoop around their rooms and ensure all is well, all is as stated by the angelic voices of my sons.

    Since the theft of my work last year, I periodically search the internet and printed magazines I subscribe to for any sign of plagiarism. This not only includes work I’ve written, but also the work of fellow writers I know and respect.

    This community is very small. The reality is, our fellow writers are probably our biggest fans, and vice versa, we may in fact be their biggest fans. Ultimately, the responsibility to safeguard against such actions falls into the lap of each and every writer/author. We can’t expect editors/publishers to do this on their own.

    Plagiarism will never cease to happen. And as writers, we can’t live our lives oblivious. Must of us will never make enough money to support ourselves and/or families by creating fictitious worlds. We do it because we must. We do it because we love it. And what we love, we must protect.

    Thank you for writing a fantastic article. I hope all who read it take it to heart.

    -Angel Zapata

  7. Excellent post, AJ. I’m a big believer in karma. We reap what we sow.

  8. Great article. You raise a huge number of valid points. To referance someone’s work and give them annotated credit is one thing, to completely steal it and use it as your own is completely something else. It is a problem in writing. I wish there was more trust, and more reliablity in the publishing world.

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