In the wake of the recent plagiarism scandal, I expect there will be a lot of blogs dealing with the subject of one author stealing the work of another – or, as in this case, several others. I’m not interested in heaping shame on the person involved, because there’s plenty of that going around, but I still feel the need to address the issue and how deeply it affects the writing community and the romance neighborhood specifically.
When someone makes the choice to pass off another author’s work as their own, it obviously hurts the targeted author as well as readers. As we’ve seen, it can wreck the career and reputation of the perpetrator. [Well, sometimes. There have certainly been authors who have maintained a presence in the industry even after they’ve admitted to plagiarism.] What I’ve witnessed in the last few days, though, is the effect it has even on authors who were not directly involved.
A number of people have expressed dismay that they didn’t realize what was happening, and guilt that they should have done something in some way to prevent the crime, but I don’t think that’s possible. Those of us who work hard to bring our own stories to the public aren’t to blame for the few who try to get there the easy way, by stealing from those who are more prolific, more professional and more talented. Unless someone had made the connection between the stolen works and the original manuscripts and said nothing about it, they can’t be held accountable. Perhaps it’s in our nature to feel we could always have been doing more…being more vigilant, being more insightful, being more proactive…but unless someone has the time to read every work by every author and compare them, it’s just not feasible. These types of crimes are often discovered by chance. The right person who happens to be intimately familiar with one author’s work recognizes words they know they’ve read somewhere else. This is why plagiarists tend to believe they can get away with it, because many do, only because of the sheer volume of words available and the small likelihood someone will read two similar passages in close enough proximity to even recall they were alike.
Authors are also wondering what they can do to prevent this from happening again or happening to them. I’m also not sure that’s possible. There will always be opportunists and there will always be people who feel they can’t or shouldn’t have to work as hard as others to reap the same rewards. Apparently fear of getting caught and losing not only their credibility but the respect of those around them isn’t enough of an incentive. Legal issues tend to be murky, and the burden usually falls on the victim to prove and to prosecute, which can add to the stress involved. Unfortunately no amount of surveillance or safeguards can prevent someone from taking our words and using them for their own gain.
All we can do is continue on and not be discouraged. Every day we take the chance that our work could be pirated or plagiarized but because writing is who we are, not just what we do, we don’t stop.
The authors whose works were stolen have my sympathy. I hope they are able to recoup some of their losses. The author who admitted to stealing all of the work she passed off as her own has my pity. She must have wanted it too badly and had no faith in her own abilities. I wonder what she might have accomplished if she’d tried to develop her own talent rather than trying to ride on the success of others. I hope she’s learned something from her mistakes and that she understands the depth to which she’s shaken the foundation of the community she wanted to be part of.