29 May 2013 - 6:14 pm

Theft and other disgusting habits

Get the message? Respect it. (Picture by no3rdw)

Get the message? Respect it.
(Picture by no3rdw)

Or, be awesome, don’t plagiarise

Creators put their work out into the world to share them with everyone. Some charge for it, some don’t. For some, it is a matter of course, a profession, or an act full of enthusiasm. For others, it’s an act of bravery, a moment of daring, or something done with a held breath and tightly-squeezed eyes.

Whatever the motives or feelings that accompany art into the public sphere, I think I speak for the majority of artists when I say that the least they expect is to be acknowledged as the owner of the piece.

Plagiarism is theft. When you plagiarise, you take ownership of something that isn’t yours and pass it off as your own. You take credit for it, you rob the legitimate author of their work and reputation, and you leave an artist who feels violated and wronged in your wake.

Plagiarism has real consequences: it ends careers, gets people expelled from school, and can even lead to court proceedings. It destroys reputations and livelihoods. It’s lying, and fraud, and unacceptable in every circle I can think of.

Whichever way you slice it, plagiarism is a shitty thing to do.

Lately, this came up in writer-type circles that touch the periphery of my awareness. I came across a link, clicked through and read… and then read and clicked and read and kept reading, with a growing sense of anger and frustration.

I won’t recount the whole tale, but here’s the short version: a series of stories posted on a blog by Lilith Saintcrow were plagiarised on Daily Kos (a diary/blog site with a large community); Skyla Dawn Cameron spotted and reported it; a huge furore erupted; the culprit ‘apologised’ (more later on why that is in quote-marks) and removed most of the plagiarised material (but not all of it); and Kos admins banned her from the site. If you want the full tale (and evidence), click through to the links above.

This is a good example of why plagiarism isn’t good for anyone involved. When something like this is reported, there’s an immediate backlash against those who make the crime public. People naturally want to support their friend, who would never do such an awful thing. In this case, the Kos community rose up to defend their friend and gave Lilith a hard time. Later, when the evidence was circulated, they realised that their trust and loyalty had been violated and (largely) moved to support the wronged writer.

Lilith and her supporters had to fight to be heard and believed, and it’s a rare person who enjoys a situation like that, no matter which side they’re on. I have respect for those who stand by their beliefs and fight their corner, and for those involved who were mature enough to change their stance when the truth became apparent.

Let’s be clear: there’s no doubt that there was plagiarism at work here. The culprit’s posts were clearly copies of Lilith’s with the character names and a few words changed. It was blatant and deliberate.

Doing something like this is an insult to everyone involved. It’s lying to everyone who reads it by making them believe it’s your work when it’s not, and abusing the trust of those who call you a friend. It’s an offence to the real creator, who spent time and energy and love in making this thing that you’re so cavalier about passing off as your own. It damages and sours everything it touches.

Let’s face it: you’re incredibly unlikely to get away with plagiarism, particularly on the internet. You are going to get caught. Between search engines like Google and web archives, it’s very easy to find and prove. I know writers who set up Google alerts for phrases in their work to pick up someone misappropriating their material (and have been tempted to do so myself; one day I’ll get around to setting that up). There’s even a website set up specifically to help artists protect themselves and act upon plagiarism. Not to mention that the internet is a pretty small place and word of mouth will bite you in the ass if you’re trying to hide something.

So, if you’re caught, what should you do? Remove the offending material at least, yes. Immediately, in full, and permanently. Apologise to the (rightful) author, and deal with whatever fallout comes your way. And never do it again.

In the Saintcrow debacle, I’ve seen two attempts at apologising, and they don’t count as apologies. These two missives are nothing but lists of excuses about how the plagiarism wasn’t her fault: it was inadvertant, caused by her children, second or third or fourth hand, or accidental. What? No, I’m sorry: you don’t produce verbatim text by accident. You don’t try to hide behind your children (I can’t articulate how low that particular move is). You don’t make excuses. You accept that you’ve done wrong and you apologise for it. At the very least, don’t insult the intelligence of everyone involved by assuming that they’re going to swallow yet more bullshit and lies (as if the plagiarism itself wasn’t bad enough).

I am pleased to see that no-one appears to accept the culprit’s apologies as anything other than excuses and a pathetic attempt to wheedle out of the situation (check the comments on the apology links for the overwhelming sentiments). Because that is just appalling behaviour.

Honestly, the whole subject makes me feel sick. I dread the day when I find someone has done something like this with my work (I’m not saying it’s likely or anything, but it’s a fear that I have). I suspect that it would sour my feelings for the work, knowing it had been abused (from the looks of it, this was Lilith’s response, too). I’d probably also want to blast it out to the world that hey, this is mine, it belongs to me, that’s my name on it because I wrote it, and it’s mine all mine.

I really can’t fathom why someone would want to plagiarise something. Why would they throw their own reputation away like that? Destroy their own credibility with everyone that touches it? And for what? Riding on the back of someone else’s glory? How would that feel good? Don’t they realise that no-one will respect them or their work again? That everything they’ve ever written will be in question?

I really don’t understand the motivations behind something like this. As someone who values honesty highly, it offends me on every level, and makes me so sad.

So I’ll stop here and just say: don’t. It doesn’t do anyone any good.

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