Twice in my life that I know of, I’ve had original creative material stolen by others.

Once I drew a cartoon of a peacock for a friend.  He knew I had been a caricaturist while I was in grad school and asked if I could create a certain image for him.  I didn’t ask him why he wanted it.  Imagine my surprise when the cartoon I drew ended up being printed on hundreds of t-shirts for a corporate event.  The really galling thing was that the t-shirt shop took credit for the design.  I thought long and hard about how to handle it, and finally just decided to forget about it.

A year or so later, I opened a monthly newsletter from another branch of the outfit I worked with and began to read a column written by a younger friend, a protégé of mine.  His column was word-for-word exactly what I had written the month before.  There was no attribution to me anywhere in the article.  Indeed he went to pains to make it appear he had written it.  Once again I wrestled with what to do about someone using my original material without my permission.  And once again, I chose to do nothing.

There was eventually a third occasion in which I encountered plagiarism—the attributing of creative work to oneself that is actually the work of another.  While I was researching my doctoral dissertation, reading mountains of books and articles—everything in print, it seemed—about one minute topic, I found a quote in a newly published thesis that I had read and annotated several weeks before in an old book.  I sat staring at that unattributed quote, wondering what would happen to the “scholar” who used it as his own creative work if I pointed out to the right people what he had done.  In the long run, partly because the thief’s dissertation was pretty lousy anyway, I did nothing.

This past week I’ve been revisiting those three experiences and asking myself if I did the right thing.  Not pointing out the use of my cartoon on the t-shirts probably cost me a couple hundred bucks at a time in my life when I could have used it.  Apart from that, those instances of plagiarism seemed to me to do no harm.

Last week, however, I encountered plagiarism again and this time it could not be ignored.  To make a long story short, it was brought to our attention that an individual had entered a short story in our Murder in the Wind anthology contest.  The story was quite excellent, a finalist for inclusion in the anthology.  The only problem was, the purported author had not written the story at all!  The story had been published by its true author on the internet.

When we discovered what had happened, we immediately 1) removed the story from the “visible” part of our blog (we’ve kept the illegal submission and accompanying emails should we ever need to document what happened); 2) apologized profusely to the true author; and 3) banned the person who submitted the story from submitting to or participating in any Second Wind process or contest.  This was a case where real personal and financial harm could have been done to the author and also to our new publishing company.  Had Second Wind published this story in one of our anthologies, in addition to the financial nightmare it would have created, there would have been a stigma associated with us indefinitely.

For these reasons, as the Publisher of Second Wind Publishing, LLC, I want to affirm it is our permanent operating policy that only original material can be submitted to Second Wind for publication or for inclusion in any of our contests or promotional events.  Should any person be found to have submitted plagiarized material, that person shall be banned permanently from participating in any Second Wind literary process or event.

There are so many wonderful, unpublished authors out there, so many delightful story ideas and possibilities yet to be created.  Why on earth would anybody take something that belongs to someone else and represent it as her or his own?  —Mike Simpson


Filed under books, Mike Simpson

11 responses to “Plagiarism

  1. Plagiarism is never okay and there should be no exceptions to that. It’s stealing especially if the person that perpetuates the plagiarism makes money off the work.

    What people fail to realize is the publishing field is really a small world. These things tend to get around. No publisher will touch someone who steals another’s work for their own. I give you the example of Janet Dailey. She was a popular author in the 80’s. She wrote some good stories. She let the pressures of meeting a deadline persuade her to steal a section of another’s works and put it in her book and it was published. The author in question was still establishing herself and both of these authors wrote for Harlequin and Sillohette and were branching out to single title. The plagiarism was discovered. She lost her contract and was persona non grata for many years. In fact, it’s only been the last few years that I’ve seen her work reissued. I don’t know if she has actually written and published any new work and if she has, I haven’t seen it. No one would touch her. It was deserved. The other author she ‘borrowed’ from? Nora Roberts.

    Another situation was Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America. It made a bundle at the box office. Come to find out, someone had submitted an screen adaptation to his company. It was given a pass. Then somtime later, the movie came out. It was tied up in court for some time. Murphy’s company made money off someone elses work. This sort of thing does happen in Hollywood, which is why people are cautioned to protect their submitted work with a copyright.

    Now, there will be works that are similiar. Maybe a theme, a premise. This can legitably happen. It might raise a flag, but in essence may not have been plagiarism at all. But when the story is not only similiar but word for word the same, as was the situation here, that’s stealing. As far as I’m concerned, I could never trust a writer who did this once.

    As the author whose work was stolen and entered in 2W’s contest said, ” How funny that she’d try it in this age of instant information. Sad.”

  2. Mairead

    Plagarism seems a bit mild. Wasn’t this actually copyright infringement?

    • Of course it is copyright infringement, but you also have to weigh the cost of filing a law suit against the loss of income over whoever violated your copyright. There are excellent intellectual property attorneys, but fighting these things at trial can be financially prohibitative.

      Bottom line is if someone steals your words, they are stealing a great deal more than just a story and they are damaging their own reputation in the process.

      Ya just have to know when to pick your battles.

      • A good thing to do if you think you have something that looks familiar; run a sentence through your browser and see if it appears anywhere on the Internet. There is also a program, too, that can research these things. Gut feelings tell you a lot.

  3. Wow! It seems amazing that anyone would do that. I know I’m over the moon about the thought of being published. But if it wasn’t my stuff, what would be the point?

    • I found out the hard way that there are, in some areas of the country at least, few protections against plagiarism. My etchings were copied without my knowledge and a friend told me he’d seen them in a gallery in Chicago. That was news to me. The Chicago Artists Coalition got me a lawyer. There was no precedent in law about how this practice might be bad!! We took the woman who copied and sold them to the gallery to the only court that would take the case, Chancery Court–yes the same one famous in Dickens’ novel Bleak House. No “criminal court” would take such a case. We did win in that the case set a precedent and she had to give up the money she made from sales.

  4. Glad you folks managed to catch this needle in the info haystack. We’re so inundated with words these days, perhaps the perpetrator imagined he/she would not be caught. Plagarism is an author’s worst nightmare–and it happens–especially to the unknown writer.

    • In my opinion, they did it to sabotage your business. No one is that stupid. Watch everything that comes in through submissions. If anything looks like it is too good to be written by the same writer, rings a bell, or sounds like it was said before; copy and paste it into your browser. It is quite easy to plagiarize if you are a new writer. They oftentimes do not understand what defines a plagiarizer. Repeating what someone says but in a different style is one thing but sometimes photographic memories will replay an exact remark from something published. If your comment sounds too familiar, check it out. Use your Internet browser to make sure the manuscript is not loaded with stolen lines or even an accidental line or two. It’s one thing to quote Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” and another to say “Scarlett O’hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when captured by her charms as the Tarleton twins were.” Both comments made by Margaret Mitchell but one of them is an expression that anyone could use (and did before Margaret wrote it) and the other is an obvious copyright infringement, and if you remove the name Scarlett O’hara and replace it with Juanita Banana, and change, Tarleton to Tarrytown, you still have plagiarism. How much plagiarism is what determines if you take serious action. (BTW that is probably a misquote of Mitchell)
      People that know me very well, also know that I was a victim of an infringement.

  5. A few years back I was working as an assistant editor for Healthy Living magazine. It was a great job until the owner handed me an article written by someone else and told me to copy it WORD FOR WORD and put his name on it!! He didn’t even try to find the original author, or contact the magazine he was going to re-print it as if HE wrote it. I refused to do it.

    I later found other articles that were not original in back issues of the magazine. I no longer work there, but I’m certain there are other employees who wouldn’t have any problem if it came down to stealing another’s work, or losing their job.

    Integrity costs, but at least I can sleep at night!

  6. dellanioakes

    We had a good friend whose scientific research was stolen from him twice. Were the theives punished? No. They were college professors who “needed to publish” so they assembled a team & got them to do the leg work for them, then used the team effort and published it under their names.

    I had a professor who assigned us each to write about a specific author and story. I wasn’t wild about the idea at all, especially when he said he was putting them in a book. “I might give you credit,” he said. I had to laugh – at least he warned us that he might steal it. Only some of us actually made it into the book. According to him, the majority of the essays were not only unreadable, but unprintable. I’m not sure if he used our names or not.

  7. christinehusom

    It is sad such things happen. The good and bad thing about the internet is it makes info so easy to access and hard to completely protect. You did the right thing when the discovery was made.

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