liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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If You're Going to Plagiarize, Here's How to Do It.

First off, an apology for not being online and responding to the comments in my journal. RL has been busy as hell. Plus, this weekend got taken up by a shift at Borders, cleaning the apartment, watching Babylon 5 Season 2, and kicking the crap out of the next part of Water Hold Me Down. I'm not happy with it and I keep wrestling with it.

The big problem is that it's something of another information dump, and it involves Rupert vs. Giles with Xander caught in the middle for most of it. So, the part is mega long. Plus, I have to keep it interesting.

Now, the source of my current fury.

Ye gods! I'm so angry I'm shaking.

whiskyinmind allowed me to judge a plagiarism case for her over on I Need a Parrot.

Now, it's true, I was asking for it and I did volunteer. However, upon seeing both fics, my hate buttons were pressed:

  • Fucking Xander-centric 'Halloween' stories. *stabbity stabbity stab stab* Haaaaaaate! Have I mentioned that seeing 'Xander' and 'Halloween' and 'costume' in the summary is enough to make me run the fuck away? Do you know what I want to see? Do you? I want to see a Halloween story where Xander DOESN'T wear a costume and he and Ghost!Willow are stuck running all over town trying to keep a lid on things. But noooooooo. The power of Power!Xander! compells you. GAAAAHHHHH!
  • Obscure crossover involved. Fucking anime. Fucking bad crossover. Fucking Halloween stories.
  • Bad grammar, painful grammar, the kind of grammar where you have to walk away from the keybobard because you're thisclose to sending a nasty note to one or both authors. Hey, here's a hint: Buy Strunk and White's Elements of Style. It's cheap (less than $8 new). I'm a professional writer in RL and I've got multiple copies at home and at the office. If I'm not above having multiple copies that all look like they survived World War III after 15 years as a professional writer who makes a damn good living at it, than you sure as hell aren't.
  • Spelling that makes you weep. I'm not the world's greatest speller. I make typos, sometimes multiple typos in one chapter. But CONSISTENTLY BAD SPELLING makes my eyes bleed. Fine. You don't want a beta. You don't like pulling the dictionary down off the shelf. BUT DO THE WORLD A FAVOR AND SPELLCHECK!

Now comes the cream in the coffee, so to speak.

Within the first 15 pages of both fics, I found at least five instances of a direct cut and paste from Story A to Story B. This cut and paste involved preserving the bad spelling and grammar from the original in many cases.

Because this can't be said enough: What. the. Fuck?!?

whiskyinmind has removed the offending story and warned the plagiarist in question. Since she has not revealed the name of either the wronged author or the plagiarist, I can't do so here, simply because the author's and plagiarist's names were blinded.

Now that I've calmed down from volcanic to merely furious, I thought I'd offer a Plagiarist's Guide to Plagiarism for whatever ignorant fucker decides that it's easier to stand on the shoulders of people who actually put a little thought into their work instead of earning the right to post fanfic the hard way.

Here's a thought: DON'T DO IT!
I've pointed out in other plagiarism forums that this shit has happened to me three times professionally and in RL.

Do you know what happened in all three cases? In all three cases, my employer at the time sicced a lawyer on the other publications. In one case, the radio station in question was forced to start acknowledging the source of the story whenever they "re-worked" a story from the local newspaper. In another, a publication printed an apology. In the third case, the offending writer was fired and I got an apology with a promise that they'd watch the other people on the staff more closely in the future.

In RL, plagiarism has consequences.

In fanfic, we don't have a lot of legal recourse, since we are playing with other people's toys. Buffy-verse fandom is lucky in that Whedon and his pack of writers give fanfiction a wink and a smile, along with many disclaimers that they don't read it (hell, they claim they don't even read the tie-in novels ). So, although there's shaky legal ground, it's semi-sanctioned by the creator and FOX is willing to turn a blind eye to it.

The only thing that surprises me is that plagiarism doesn't happen more often in the realm of fanfic. In fact, I'm pretty confident it happens a hell of a lot more often than many people realize, it's just that plagiarists are probably a little smarter than this most recent asshole that's come to my attention.

Make the Cut and Paste a Little Less Obvious, Sport
The thing that floors me is that a lot of the plagiarists who get caught literally cut and paste entire paragraphs from the original story. Hell with paragraphs, try whole chapters, even whole stories. They preserve the original not just word for word, but misspelling for misspelling, typo for typo, and, in this latest case, bad grammar for bad grammar.

That's not just stupid, that's lazy.

If you're going to cut and paste, please put a little work into it. Correct the spelling and grammar. It's the least you can do. At least then people might think you've got some talent as a copyeditor. Or something.

One more thing about the cut-and-paste thing: If you at least change the wording to a significant degree, you might, just maybe, have a little wiggle room. You can plead ignorance. You can plead, "Oh, I didn't realize I read something similar to this. It must have settled into the back of my brain and I spit it back without realizing." You can make all kinds of excuses.

Granted, no one will probably believe you. And no one should believe your lying ass. But at least you've got a fig leaf for people inclined to sympathetic to you.

Try not posting your stolen work on the EXACT SAME SITE as the original
Again, how stupid can you be? Chances are, the same readers that hung around that particular site when the original was published are going to see the plagiarized story and go, "Hey! I remember reading this before!"

Since authors have certain styles or favored subjects, it's not too hard for these people to track down the original story and start comparing.

It doesn't matter if the original story is positively ancient by fanfiction standards, by the way. People have surprisingly long memories and some of them remember stories they've read five, sometimes ten years ago. All it takes is that key phrase or concept to trigger the memory (see: "Cut and paste") to get a reader to start digging.

Or, how's this for a better scenario: the author of the original work probably hangs there and if you're writing in a genre he or she usually writes in, then there's a good bet they're going to see your story and start howling bloody murder.

Steal from Authors Who Don't Work the Same Vein as You
Let's look at our most recent case: They were BOTH Xander-gets-a-power Halloween stories. They both involved Xander dressing up as an anime/comic book character. They both involved obscure crossovers. They both demanded that Xander keeps the power after the spell is broken.

I mean, c'mon! Seriously. Xander-Halloween-Costume-Anime crossover stories are written by a limited number of authors as it is and is read by a selected group of people who like these kinds of stories. The chances of the plagiarist being caught was approximately 100%, and that was even BEFORE the plagiarist was actually caught (since, by definition, if something has happened, the chances of it happening is 100%).

At LEAST change some elements. Instead of Xander, make the character Willow. Instead of some random obscure anime/comic book reference, how about choosing a different kind of crossover.

Oh, wait. That might require you to actually write something ORIGINAL. We can't have that now, can we?

Steal from Authors Who Work in a Different Fandom
Now this is a little smarter, but people who do this make other stupid mistakes that get them caught (see: "Cut and Paste").

Everyone on my FList must remember the case of B/X writer Ozymadius, with his OOC characterizations of Xander and Buffy (sometimes Faith) getting jiggy with it. Turns out he was stealing from X-Files and Smallville fandom (and even possibly a third). He'd copy and paste the smutty parts (and some of his stories were ALL smut, btw) and basically search and replace the names.

Now, it took years for this dude to be caught, so point for him. But here's the point: he was eventually caught. He was justifiably villified for it. He copped to it and (to his credit) apologized. But the damage was done.

I still remain floored by people who actually said they didn't care that he ripped off people writing in other fandoms and they didn't care that the stories were plagiarized. These are people who (all caps now) JUST DON'T GET IT. This was a violation of those authors' ideas and hard work. Fanfic authors don't get paid (nor should they). All they've got is feedback and the satisfaction of sitting back and writing something original. To take that away little bit of pride away and actually throw their stories in doubt is simply wrong on a major scale.

And no, I have no sympathy or mercy. This was a clear-cut case of someone who was NOT a bad writer, someone who actually had promise as a writer if he worked at it. Someone who DELIBERATELY sought out stories published in other fandoms and stole from stories in those fandoms. This is someone who thought "intelligently" about the plagiarism.

Plus, B/X writers have a tough uphill battle in Buffy fandom and in the realm of fanfic. The last thing they needed as a group was to have one of their most prominent writers revealed as a thief.

But if you insist on being a thieving asshole, at least be a SMART thieving asshole.

There. I'm done. I'm sure there are many more "rules" I can come up with. But This will do for a start.

Excuse me. I have to go get me some bird therapy to calm me down. George the Amazing Lovebird may be sometimes a pain-in-the-ass, but he's an honest pain-in-the-ass.

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