Plagiarism: How you as a writer can protect yourself

stop stealingIf you read very much in the M/M romance genre, you’ll know that there’s been a rash of plagiarized stories that have been uncovered lately. Not that plagiarism is anything new. We’ve all heard of news reporters who have lifted stories from more talented writers and claimed them as their own. There is a famous YA author who has been accused of ‘borrowing’ passages from lesser known works and incorporating them into her stories with only window dressing changes. I’ve even read about someone taking famous works such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, slapping another cover on it and changing the names, and passing it off as their own ‘new’ hot vampire novel.

These are the more serious infractions that I’ve heard about. I’ve heard rumors of others: harder to prove allegations of authors ripping off a plot line from a movie or another novel. Well, we’ve all been inspired by something we’ve seen or read, right? Hasn’t it been said that there are only four basic plots anyway? (Or three, or seven, or sixty-nine, depending on your sources).

That’s not what the focus of this blog post is here. Not that song whose opening bars sound eerily similar to Johnny Cash’s Solitary Man before they segue into another direction altogether, or that story whose opening scene contains some very specific elements just like the opening scene of another, more famous story in another genre. Nope. The artists in question there may or may not be on iffy ground depending on what  they did with the rest of their creation. What I’m talking about here is blatant stealing.

Taking someone’s work, stripping their name off of it. Snagging a different cover, doing a copy and paste on the name changes and passing it off as your own. Taking not only money for someone else’s work, but stealing their credit, their reviews, their baby. Because that’s how I see it: as wrong as someone coming into your home and taking your child from its crib, or your dog from the back yard, or your identity and your credit line.

What I don’t get is why people would do such a thing. Do they really think they won’t get caught?  Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t care, as long as they make some money in the meantime. Maybe they are so delusional as to think that they really are great writers themselves, only no one has noticed them, and if they just got their name out there, the readers would come. Most, I suspect, believe their readers to be too stupid to know the difference, and they themselves smart enough to get away with it. Perhaps that ultimately is the reward–the chance to take advantage of a bunch of readers and laugh when they receive praise for a work that’s not theirs. I don’t know.

All I know is I would be livid if it happened to me.

The first I heard of this recent rash out outright book stealing was when I saw on J. P. Barnaby‘s Facebook page that someone named Michael J Wagner had stolen her best-selling novel Aaron, changed the name to Shane, and was selling it on Amazon. J. P. speaks of this theft on her website, and her reaction to it here. She was alerted by a sharp-eyed reader who noticed that the story was incredibly familiar–one of those same readers that Wagner probably thought was too stupid to notice. Barnaby then had to begin the process of proving that her work was indeed hers, and that Wagner had to be identified as a thief. (In the latest turn of events, Wagner is claiming a ghostwriter stole the story and he had no idea…despite the fact that he himself had read Aaron and given it a five star review. Did his ghostwriter do that for him too?) J.P. tells her story better than I can–why Aaron means so much to her personally, and why Wagner picked the wrong person to steal from.

internet handBut the theft didn’t stop there. Apparently Wagner and his partner also stole Eden Winter‘s story The Telling. As well as works from other authors–including such big names as Fern Michaels and Sandra Brown. Once the initial exposure occurred, more and more people turned out to point out that every single book Wagner had listed for sale was stolen. After Eden posted her reaction on her website, I contacted her and asked her to share with me a bit more about her experience and how her story came to be stolen. Not only stolen–but when a reader challenged the fake authors, they claimed that EDEN was the one who’d stolen the story from a website where writers published stories for free. Eden found out about this when two people tweeted her and JP about the theft of their work. She tells me that it made her sick to her stomach–as though someone had cut out her heart with a dull knife.

She had originally posted the story on various sites where readers helped polish the story. She eventually revised it and offered it for sale–but Wagner was selling the original version–which suggests that he and his crony may have participated on these sites as well. Eden has decided to donate the proceeds of all sales on The Telling to her local PFLAG group, so why don’t you help her give them a big check–and stick your tongue out at Wagner while you’re at it? The ultimate irony? Eden never intended to sell The Telling at all…

What’s the take-home lesson here? Anyone is at risk of having their work stolen. It’s far too easy these days to steal someone’s work and claim it at your own. Like many other authors, I assumed that by virtue of having my story published in my name, it was essentially copyrighted–especially those stories that were produced through a publisher. And that is true–but I am finding out that this is not enough. Eden urges every author to register every single one of their stories with the copyright office as an additional layer of protection. The cost of registration is $35 per item. This adds an additional layer of protection for you as an author. At least in the case of The Telling, it would have been easy enough to find (if you looked) that someone was selling your work because the title hadn’t been changed. But in J.P.’s case, it really took her fans to spot the liar.

The Boys of Summer400x600I’ll be honest, I found the copyrighting process a huge, cumbersome PIA, but I think it is a necessary one. I suspect this problem will become more common in the future, not less. And I would be very leery of posting my work to free sites of any kind–including my own website–if I didn’t want it stolen. I started with my own self-published work, The Boys of Summer, and am working through my backlist now.

On a side note here: I make every effort to use royalty free photos on this website. When I do a search on Google for images, I set the search parameters as such, or I look on flickr commons or groups I belong to that allow photosharing, such as the WANA commons. If perchance you see an image here that belongs to you and you would like credit or to have it removed, just ask. 🙂

Oh, and I hope Fern Michaels and Sandra Brown have lawyers who will tear Wagner apart into bits too tiny to bury.





6 thoughts on “Plagiarism: How you as a writer can protect yourself

  1. Yes, seeing this more and more, sadly. I really don’t give a whit about piracy, but plagiarism? Oh hell NO!

    I’ve got a new M/F/M story I plan on self-publishing, though, and I get the whole “PIA” aspect of filing copyright. I’m going to do it, but it’s the first book in a series and…ugh, there is a reason I did not go to law school, damn it!

    One aspect I did not even think about is my works already published by Dreamspinner. I never thought about those, which I guess I need to go back and register. More money I can’t afford to spend, but $35 is less than a legal battle. *sigh*

    Great post. Stuff we all need to be thinking about!
    Cooper West recently posted..So long, tumblrMy Profile

    • In theory, we should all be protected merely by virtue of publishing *anything* in our name. And certainly if a reputable publisher like Dreamspinner publishes our works! But Aaron and Englightened were both published by DSP and I’m sure Fern Michaels and Sandra Brown have their own major publishers behind them. That makes it a bit easier to say, “Hey! This is MY work, not that asshole’s!!” but having your work registered with the copyright office is just one more piece of armor in your favor.
      Sarah Madison recently posted..Plagiarism: How you as a writer can protect yourselfMy Profile

    • I’m with Cooper—I can ignore piracy, but this is completely different. This is somebody potentially claiming they wrote something I spent months of my time and emotional energy working on! That’s not something I could ignore.

      I gather that Dreamspinner requested the copyright numbers in order to make their case with Amazon, so there is definitely value in registering.
      Jamie Fessenden recently posted..“Billy’s Bones” has taken off!My Profile

      • I wish the copyright procedure was easier. I jumped through all the hoops again and again, only to hit a snag on the last page and had to start all over again. And it is only an additional layer of protection should you have to go to battle with someone.

        The real deterrent to plagiarism lies in the fans who identify the stolen works and point them out. 🙂
        Sarah Madison recently posted..Staying the Course in a World of Instant Success…My Profile

  2. You have the right to sue for damages and cost of litigation. Any lawyer would jump at the chance to take everything these guys own. It’s the same rules in writing as it is in software. You own these guys – go get them! Talk to a lawyer.

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