Plagiarism is wrong. We’ve been taught that since we were children. I distinctly remember being taught the principle when I was in the fifth grade when I was writing an essay that involved some research. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. I mean, the information was written in a book. What was the difference whether I copied it directly or just used the information? It’s a tough distinction to teach to a child.
Plagiarism isn’t a crime you can be arrested for. However, if you are a proven plagiarist, you can be expelled from school or lose your job or certification. And, the person whose copyright you infringed upon can sue you and collect money.
I’ve been aware for quite awhile that teachers are constantly on the lookout for this type of theft among the work of their students. Some have even begun employing software that can detect identical phrases in two different essays. Others will Google a student’s unusually well-honed paragraph to see if it may have been lifted from someone else’s work.
My interest in the subject of plagiarism deepened this last week when a fellow writer had her intellectual property stolen. Rachel Ann Nunes, a popular Utah writer, found out that someone had taken one of her clean romances, changed characters’ names, added steamy sex scenes and was publishing it through Amazon as erotica. The person was writing under the pen name of Sam Taylor Mullens.
I imagine “Ms. Mullens” felt she was safe, figuring the readership of the two genres was so different, but she was wrong. She had sent an advanced readers copy to someone who was familiar with the book she stole, and she let Rachel Nunes know.
Quite a few writers have been watching developments as Rachel has tried to find out the identity of Sam Taylor Mullens. I can tell you that, if I had written the scenario I’ve watched play out as fiction, people would tell me it was too outlandish. No one would be so stupid as to try that trick and then, when caught, react in the manner that “Ms. Mullens” did.
If you’re interested in reading about what happened—or if you just like intrigue-- it’s been chronicled on several blogs. But you might want to read about it from Rachel herself—her diary of what happened and comments from friends and (possibly) sock puppets of the perpetrator. You can find it on Rachel's blog.
There are also interesting comments on a blog called The Passive Voice
Notice as you read Rachel's blog that Dave Farland set up a fundraising site for her to help defray attorney’s fees. If you’d like to help, here’s where you do it.
You can understand why the writing community is concerned. After recently publishing my first indie book, I’m amazed at how easy it was—after the blood-sweat-tears of the writing and editing process, that is. That wasn’t easy. If you've never learned the plagiarism-is-wrong lesson, and you’ve got something somebody else wrote, boom, put it up and slap your name on it and, you’re an author.
Rachel was lucky to have an honest reviewer who was familiar with her earlier book. I wonder how many writers there are out there who are not so lucky.