Steal This Post

I heard a story once.  Goes like this.  Most writers for television shows are strictly instructed not to read fan fiction related to their show.  Or unsolicited scripts that come in the mail.  The reasoning behind this is a legal one.  It keeps the show out of trouble if they end up airing an episode that is similar to a concept a fan came up with and banged out on his home computer.  This actually happened early on in the run of the Simpsons and cost the show some money from a settlement payment.  I know that last part is true, it’s on the commentary tracks.  I can’t promise the rest is.  But it wouldn’t surprise me.

Why?  Because whenever I start a new piece of fiction, I tend to stop reading anything else written in that subgenre.  Right now that means no Steampunk for David while writing Nickajack, which is awkward since the Steampunk anthology I’m in is due out rather soon.  I do this not for any legal reasons, I do this entirely for paranoia reasons.  I don’t want to read something and end up influence and accidentally lifting ideas.  The idea of accidentally plagiarizing something gives me the cold sweats.  I’ve tried the opposite, immersing myself in a subgenre so I would know what to avoid.  But then I get frozen every time an idea I have comes within shouting distance of what someone else has done.

Yes, living in my brain is hell sometimes.

Because of this admittedly irrational fear of unintentional plagiarism, actual cases boggle my mind.  Not just in academic settings where it can ruin grades or enrollment, but into the world of writing.  The idea that someone would plagiarise a section of a book is something I can’t cope with.  The idea that someone would craft an entire novel, Frankenstein-like, out of the bits and pieces of other works?

How is it possible for anyone to do that?

And yet…

Spy novelist Jeremy Duns writes it all up on his blog.  The promising novel.  The hint that something might be wrong.  The discovery that the entire work was cobbled together from nearly a dozen other novels with scenes stolen, names changed, locations altered, but prose in tact.  And what kept Duns from recognizing the plagiarism?  My own habit of stepping away from a genre I’m writing in.  He missed it for the same reason I would miss it, and that actually angers me all the more.

And the trail is spreading.  As I’ve been drafting this post, Huffington Post Books has just tweeted: “We just found examples of plagiarism in the piece Quentin Rowan wrote for us.”  It’s a clear and growing path of stolen content that goes far beyond just one novel.

All found out because someone on a James Bond forum thought a bit of prose sounded suspiciously familiar.  The novel is being pulled.  Jeremy Duns was an unwitting victim in this, as were publishers, editors, and a few early buyers of the book.  It’s amazing that it got so far without being caught, but it’s also amazing how fast the process worked once the truth was brought to light.

I shouldn’t have to say that the lesson here is, “plagiarism is wrong.”  That’s something we all learned a long time ago.  Some people have clearly chosen to ignore this, but that’s no surprise.  People do worse every day.  The actual lesson here is: The internet is watching.  This global community that can link people together instantly may be the best policing force intellectual property rights has ever seen.  Examples can be compiled rapidly, and with online tools can be quickly checked out and sent around the world.


Ya know…


  1. avatar

    #1 by Dr. T. Hansen on November 9, 2011 - 11:50 am

    I might make a novel out of this post…lol I still steal yours and you can steal mine! My post today is about my 80th birthday party so I don’t know how many people would want to make that into a show or book. But I agree, some people seem to look the other way when it comes to idea stealing these days. It’s called being creative and it means coming up with your own shit! lol

  2. avatar

    #2 by DLThurston on November 9, 2011 - 1:39 pm

    Apparently I’ve called a post “Steal This Post” before. Almost exactly a year ago. Must be something about this time of year.

(will not be published)

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