Plagiarism: How to Defeat the Digital World Taking Advantage of Authors

UNDERSTANDING PLAGIARISM
What is plagiarism?
According to academic sources, “plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging its source” (Council of Writing Program Administrators, 2003). If this is its definition, then anyone who uses another’s material without acknowledging it, is by definition—plagiarizing.

It seems like people are accepting plagiarized material more and more and I find this extremely disturbing as a writer. I felt like it was time to address this as a topic. How do you protect yourself as a writer?

How do you know if someone is plagiarizing?
“Ethical writers make every effort to acknowledge sources fully and appropriately in accordance with the contexts and genres of their writing” (Council of Writing Program Administrators, 2003). If someone is writing a novel, for example, it makes it hard to decipher what ideas could have been taken from another’s work. For plagiarism to occur, the passages must sound similar or have similar ideas. This “the gray” plays a huge role.

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What Can Plagiarism Look Like?
These are portions of text claimed to be plagiarized by Sam Taylor Mullens (A.K.A. Tiffany Rushton) in the current Nunes-Rushton case. This example is given to show what questionable material may look like.

• Rachel Ann Nunes 1998 – The dark brown curls were everywhere. They were a curse, and had been for twenty-eight of Cassi’s twenty-nine years. They puffed out from her scalp and plunged halfway down her back as if they had lives of their own, helplessly tangled and twisted together. The bathroom lights above the double sink reflected from the brown tresses, bringing out the subtle gold highlights.

• Sam Taylor Mullens, 2014 – Dark brunette curls were everywhere. They were a curse, and had been for the thirty-one years of my life. They puffed out from my scalp and plunged halfway down my back. They helplessly tangled and twisted together. The bathroom lights above the sink reflected the brown tresses.
(Nunes, R. 2015)

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Understanding Laws: Copyright
“For a work to be protected by copyright law, it must be “original.” However, the amount of originality required is extremely small. The work cannot be a mere mechanical reproduction of a previous work, nor can the work consists of only a few words or a short phrase. In addition, if the work is a compilation, the compilation must involve some originality beyond mere alphabetic sorting of all available works. Beyond that, almost any work that is created by an author will meet the originality requirement.” (Tysver, D. A. 1997-2015)

THE SITUATIONS
Let’s take a look at how three different plagiarism situations affect the publishing market today. This should give all writers an idea of the attitudes of how plagiarism is being dealt with in the business world today. Each of these cases of plagiarism have some interesting attitudes and situations. Culturally we can see how people, in some cases, are surprisingly accepting of plagiarism. This is not a good thing.

The Rachel Ann Nunes vs. Tiffany Rushton Case
Locally the state of Utah has had its fair share of plagiarism cases. In the case of Nunes vs. Rushton, it has been well publicized over the past few months showing how social media has been a huge component to the case.

“A Utah author (Nunes) says a schoolteacher (Rushton) plagiarized her Christian romance novel, added graphic sex scenes and passed it off as her own. In a case she says brings to light plagiarism in the burgeoning world of online self-publishing, Rachel Ann Nunes of Orem filed a federal lawsuit in August against a Layton teacher, Tiffanie Rushton, who she says cut-and-pasted large sections from an electronic copy of her book. Nunes wrote Love to the Highest Bidder in 1998 about two art dealers, one from New York and the other from California, who meet while competing for an Indian Buddha statue and fall in love” (Associated Press, 2014).

James Altucher Admits Plagiarism
In an interview, James Altucher talks about stealing from another author as “a test” which will make him money. For Altucher, he believes in stealing people’s ideas and rewording them overseas to make money can’t be wrong if it’s reworded. These are his words from the podcast where he discussed his plans. Altucher for some reason thinks his plan isn’t plagiarism, yet fully discloses that it is.

“So today something interested me. I decided, just for the fun of it, I’m going to take a very popular book and I’m going to hire somebody on Freelance.Com to take this very popular book, and change every word, but keep the same story. So if the words were, “Jane ran to the store,” I might change that to, “Christine walked quickly to buy her clothes.” So I’m gonna basically, it’s just for fun, I’m gonna see if I can essentially see if I can have someone use a thesaurus to change/rewrite an entire book. So it’s the same book, but just every single word is rewritten. So nobody can say this is plagiarism. And if I load this book to Amazon, what will happen? It’s just an experiment. So I just had the idea to do it today. I found someone in India who extremely cheaply will do it, by Monday. So I’ll have the book finished by Monday.” (Dutson, A. 2015)

Jared Keller and Benny Johnson
For some plagiarism doesn’t end their career. Sadly people still get hired and work as writers in an industry where people are forgiven such as in the careers of Jared Keller and Benny Johnson. In an article for the Huffington Post, these men are “called out” for their sinful ways.

“In further evidence that plagiarism is no longer a career-ender, Jared Keller, the former Mic news director who was fired for plagiarism, has published at least six items in publications like The Atlantic, Pacific Standard and Daily Dot, Talking Points Memo reported on Thursday. Keller was fired from Mic last month after allegations of some 20 instances of plagiarism were published by Gawker. Keller’s second life shows just how much things have changed. Far from being run out of town, those accused and even fired for plagiarism are more often finding themselves easily back in a job. Last year Benny Johnson was hired by National Review not long after he was fired from BuzzFeed after more than 40 instances of alleged plagiarism surfaced. Just last month Johnson jumped to IJReview.com. In both Johnson and Keller’s cases, the plagiarism mostly amounted to not properly citing information or full passages lifted from other sources.” (Gold, H. 2015)

It’s evident that all of these situations are related to plagiarism. In some situations people were prosecuted and other times not. The criminals are hoping they won’t be caught, but with more and more people becoming aware, writers and authors are starting to stand up for themselves and their work in this digital scam. Some authors have publishers who help them in plagiarism cases while others do not.

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WHO IS DOING THIS?
Anyone could commit plagiary. The internet gives people the temptation to make money from others work with a click of a button. Unfortunately, it looks like other writers are beginning to plagiarize other writers in some instances like web content with Keller and Johnson. Authors, even notable ones like James Altucher, are beginning to believe plagiarism is allowed and should be looked at as fun. Well, they are all sadly mistaken. The key is how any author handles the situation of protecting their own work. Let’s take the Rachel Ann Nunes case as an example.

WHO CAN HELP?
Nunes found help through many sources. Many of these didn’t cost her money and, in fact, helped her fund much of her costs to this point. Let’s break down how she did this.
• Lawyers
• Social Media Web Funding
• Fans
• Other Writers
• Documentation

Lawyers
Nunes hired a group of lawyers at the beginning who were very expensive. With the help of her fans and other writers, Nunes was able to find legal representation with a writer who just so happened also to be a lawyer. This saved her a huge amount of money.

Social Media Web Funding
Without endless supplies of money, Nunes took to social media with her case appealing to fans, other writers, and her community for help. To date, she has had over $12,000 donated to her cause to stop people like Rushton, who believe they will not be caught plagiarizing.

Fans
Nunes has a huge support with fans. Online they have stood up to blatant bashing from Rushton and aliases she has assumed or hidden within. Social media bashing has become a huge issue within the Nunes-Rushton case and Nunes has been vigilant in documenting everything she can find on the internet.

Other Writers
Writers have spread the word on the Nunes-Rushton case through blogs and support with money to help Nunes. This has been a huge support. Even New York Times Best Selling author, David Farland has come to the aid for Nunes by rallying people to her aide and even suggesting that writers need an insurance policy to help with situations like these. David says he’s in the works of coming up with ways to protect writers in these situations who need support in lawsuits against plagiarism. (Farland. D, 2015)

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Documentation
One of Nunes’s biggest strengths in her case has been the documentation of criminal behavior that Rushton has been involved in. Anyone who believes that they are being plagiarized needs to document everything they can find online that links this person they believe to be stealing from them to the crime. Not everyone can hire a private detective so this is a great way to show the evidence you have. Screenshots are a great way of doing this to save evidence that could be taken down by the criminal or the website like Amazon or Goodreads.

MONETARY LOSES
This diagram below shows an estimate of fees that Nunes has lost due to her plagiarism case—since the case is ongoing, it could cost much more. This is how she explains what it’s like dealing with a plagiarism case. “Every day I was doing something to protect myself, taking screenshots, communicating with attorneys, deleting posts, asking Amazon to take down her reviews, trying to find books to put into fundraising sets, etc. Even when I had a slice of time, working was impossible because of the emotional upheaval. I felt terror every time I turn on my computer for fear of what I would find next.” (Nunes, R. 2015)

Monetary Loses

Lawyer Fees $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$= $25,000 and up
Court Costs $=$300
Time Lost $$$$$$$$$$=$10,000 and up
Book Sales Lost $$$$$$$$$$=$10,000 and up

SLANDER AND SOCIAL MEDIA

“In his new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson (The Psychopath Test) points out that public shaming was a popular punishment in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it usually had a highly personal and physical component—confinement to the stocks or pillory, or even something more creative, like Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter. The punishment had died out with the rise of anonymous urban environments and easy travel, which made it less effective. But this wasn’t the reason for its disappearance, he argues: “They stopped because they were far too brutal.” Ronson makes clear, throughout the book, that he wholeheartedly supports this assessment. Still, it was the recent rise of the Internet and, specifically, social media that allowed for public shaming, of a sort, to become widespread.” (Fallon, C. 2015)

With this wide spread public shaming, Nunes found that her plagiarizer (Rushton) planned revenge through social media as the only way to get even. Social media has allowed public shaming as entertainment for some at the expense of others. In this case for Nunes it actually proved a point and gave her supporters room to defend her. Nobody feels good about getting into social media battles, but as social media becomes more and more popular, people are finding ways to discredit and become deeply slanderous to others and their work.

WHAT TO DO?

Nunes has dealt with her plagiarism case in a way other authors can learn from her. Unfortunately, for Nunes the end is not yet in

Nunes has dealt with her plagiarism case in a way other authors can learn from her. Unfortunately, for Nunes the end is not yet in site since the case is ongoing. What we can learn from this report is that more and more people feel that plagiarism is socially becoming acceptable. This is not acceptable to authors and writers who slave away to create their work. We must protect original works from those who scam, steal, and socially berate those who make an honest living with hard work and creativity. Having strong social connections has helped Nunes pay for a case she normally couldn’t afford. With the help of the writing community, Nunes is standing up for all writers in a case to prove to those who plagiarize that they will be prosecuted.

In order for authors to protect themselves against plagiarism, it’s important to have a strong social media presence. This helps fans and other writers know you and understand who you are so when you’re in a situation where someone could be plagiarizing your work, you have people who will stand up and support you. Nunes used her social media connections in her favor to rally others to her cause. You can too if the situation arises. Be aware of costs that cases of plagiarism may cost a writer and be ready to spend hours of your life fighting for your creativity.

Remember to:
1. Have a strong social media presence
2. Build networks with other writers
3. Be ready to fight for your own work

Works Cited

Associated Press. (2014, September 10). Schoolteacher copied Christian romance novel and added raunchy sex scenes: suit. Retrieved from Daily News: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/schoolteacher-stole-christian-romance-suit-article-1.1934341

Council of Writing Program Administrators. (2003, January 1). Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA Statement on Best Practices. Retrieved from Council of Writing Program Administrators: http://wpacouncil.org/positions/WPAplagiarism.pdf

Dutson, A. (2015, March 19). Best Selling Author, James Altucher, Admits Plagiarism. Retrieved from Anthony Dutson’s Paper Petroglyphs: http://avdutson.blogspot.com/2015/03/best-selling-author-james-altucher.html

Fallon, C. (2015, March 25). Jon Ronson Shames Shamers In ‘So You Think You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’. Retrieved from Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/25/jon-ronson-wants-us-all-t_n_6935060.html

Farland, D. (2015, February 11). #DailyKick—Update on Rachel Ann Nunes Case. Retrieved from David Farland: http://www.davidfarland.net/writing_tips/?a=474

Gold, H. (2015, March 25). Jared Keller, fired for plagiarism, still writing. Retrieved from Politico: http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2015/03/jared-keller-fired-for-plagiarism-still-writing-204588.html

Nunes, R. A. (2015, March 27). http://www.gofundme.com/StandingAgainstPlagiarism. Retrieved from Rachael Ann Nunes Woman’s Fiction: http://www.ranunes.com/

Tysver, D. A. (1997-2015). Obtaining Copyright Protection. Retrieved from Bitlaw: http://www.bitlaw.com/copyright/obtaining.html

Jennifer Bennett

About Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer J. Bennett was born in Southern California as the youngest of six children. Her imagination began to develop as a child creating worlds in her backyard. Books have always played a big role in her life; favorites growing up were “The Country Bunny” by Dubose Heyward, “The Light in the Attic”by Shel Silverstein, and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’ Dell among many, many others. She also enjoys music, theater, travel, and cooking.

Jennifer moved from Southern California in 1989 and finished high school in Southern Utah where she met her husband Matthew Bennett who currently works in educational administration. They reside in St. George, Utah with four amazing kids: Haylee, Chase, Conner, and Libby. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, she began writing her first novel, “The Path”. Her father encouraged her to move forward with her writing and she has continued since. He passed away in 2009.

Jen, as her friends call her; can be found buzzing around California from time to time in search of magical elements from the past. She tries to balance fun, being a mom, and trying to be a grownup (which she really isn’t sure she ever wants to be).

Visit Jen’s blog at: http://www.jjbennett.com/

2 comments
Danny Murphy
Danny Murphy

As a writer who has been plagiarized by a popular megapastor, I think this article is really excellent. Jennifer Bennett has broken things down in a way that’s going to help lots of writers.

Here’s a noteworthy point about plagiarism lawsuits that may be of interest. Writers can only sue for damages that occur after a certificate of copyright has been obtained. For example, suppose a writer like me writes a short piece for an obscure magazine in 2000, and a megapastor uses it in a book and in a popular video in 2007, and the writer doesn’t discover the plagiarism till 2014. Suppose further that the writer only earned $35 for the original piece and didn’t obtain a certificate of copyright till after discovering the plagiarism, which was long after the video had gone sort of viral and the book had had its run. In a case like that, the writer would only be able to sue for whatever damages occurred after he or she had obtained a certificate of copyright. A lawsuit, which could be expensive and painful, would be nearly pointless. 

Note: Since a certificate of copyright for a single piece of work costs $35 and that’s more than many writers earn for a single piece of work, a more practical alternative for writers would be to annually roll any items that might be of value into a volume of collected works and get a certificate of copyright on that for $55. 

Note: In my case, contacting the publisher about their author's obvious plagiarism wasn't painful or expensive and they expeditiously added an endnote to the next printing of Rev. Humongous's book.