J.L. Langley

Plagiarism

Plagiarism. It’s an ugly word and an ever uglier act. I know some of you are aware that I was the victim of plagiarism.  For those who don’t know, you can see it here where my good friend Teddy Pig blogged about it. And my thanks to him again for drawing attention to it. However, I’ve yet to tell my side of things and I’d like to do so now in hopes of informing other authors how to protect themselves.

I received an email from a concerned reader asking me to check out an upcoming author’s excerpt on the author’s website. The reader said she had not checked the excerpt side by side with my novella With Love, but she could swear just by reading it that it was very similar. I went to the site and read the excerpt and thought from just a quick glance it did seem familiar. More than the actual story, the flow and voice felt very familiar to me.  I sent off a note to my friend Kris and asked her opinion, and I pulled up my final copy of With Love. Before I got through the first paragraph of With Love, Kris had already emailed me back. She wrote only: contact Samhain immediately. I read a few more lines and realized why Kris responded as she did. The author’s excerpt was indeed With Love’s first chapter. Only the names had been changed with a few original sentences thrown in. The plagiarist didn’t even bother to change the color of the characters’ clothes, only their names. It was quite shocking because it wasn’t even paraphrased; it was word for word. My words. And this copy of With Love was set to be published the following week.

I contacted my editor whom sent an email off to Christina Brashear, the owner of Samhain. Crissy sent an email to the publishing company set to publish this story and copied me and my editor, Sasha Knight, in. Crissy asked for a copy of the entire manuscript for comparison and offered a copy of With Love so the other publisher might compare as well. Crissy then sent me, my editor and some of the office staff copies and asked us to dig in and see what we could find. I opened With Love in .pdf and the manuscript from the other author in .doc form and compared them side by side. I was flabbergasted. With the exception of the names, the sex of one character and the addition of a few sentences here and there, the manuscript was word for word With Love. Shortly after I received a phone call from Crissy asking me if I was seeing what she was seeing? We were both in shock over the blatant plagiarism as were the others comparing the two works with us.

The other publishing house pulled the story from their line-up immediately, but that wasn’t the end of it.  After talking to the plagiarist, the other publisher contacted Crissy. The other author alleged that I had stolen the story from her. She told her publisher that she had posted it on a blog back in 2000. Crissy, without even talking to me, told the publisher the allegation was a lie. She pointed out that the author had used my edited, final manuscript to copy. The other publishing house agreed and indicated that they would be going after the author for breach of contract. I have to take a moment here and praise Crissy, not only for her faith in me, but also for her involvement with her authors. Had she not known me and my work as well she would not have been able to support me so thoroughly.

When next she and I talked, I told her I could prove it was my story, because I had all my notes from conception to completion as well as my rough drafts and the testimony of my critique partners who witnessed With Love from the beginning. Apparently, the other author didn’t realize that With Love, was intended from it’s conception to be in an anthology with Ally Blue and Willa Okati. The very concept of the anthology, Hearts From the Ashes, and the individual stories were discussed in length by Ally, Willa, our editor Sasha and myself. Crissy assured me she knew it was my work and would do whatever necessary to support me. Nothing else came of the situation, the other publishing house was very cooperative and satisfied that I was indeed the author of the story.

Some good has definitely come out of the whole situation. It has been a learning experience and helped not only myself, but those close to me be prepared should this happen again. Now, all that said I’d like to point out a few things and issue some advice to my fellow authors.

Number one, and most importantly, keep all your notes, rough drafts and edits even after a manuscript is published. I did not need this, but it was very comforting knowing I had them should I need them. I know the accusation against me was made in a panic, but the author would’ve been in sad shape had she persisted because of the overwhelming evidence. I urge all authors to keep their notes, roughs and edits in a file where you know where they are. I deleted my drafts and edits after the manuscript was published and had to scramble around and look through my back ups to find them. I now keep everything pertaining to a manuscript in one file after the manuscript is completed and back it up on a disc as well. This way should the need ever arise again I have all the things to prove my case right at hand.

Number two, this is another function of a critique group that we all overlook. Not only can they provide character witness, they see the work as it’s being created. If you use a group on Yahoo or Google you have the archives of the group discussing ideas, brainstorming and critiquing at your disposal. As a result of all this, my critique partners make a point to post every scene in our group, and we save copies of one another’s works as well as our critiques even after the manuscript is published. If you do not use a group, save your critiques and important emails pertaining to your work. Not only is it good evidence in a court case, but it’s very amusing to go back and see some of the harebrained ideas you discarded. It will give you a good chuckle.

Number three, register your copyrights. Yes, it is true that a work is copyright protected from the moment you put words on paper (or the computer), but without that registration you cannot go to court. The sooner the registration is done the better. If you do not file your copyright until you need it, you cannot sue for court costs. Also, those certificates are neat to have. It’s sort of a final accomplishment. I have mine in the safe alongside my publishing contracts.

Number four, be good to your readers. Readers are so very important. If it hadn’t been for a faithful reader, that book might have been published and it would have caused a lot more problems for not only me but the two publishers involved.

As for the emotional side of things, plagiarism hurts. I, as all the authors I know personally, give their everything to their work. There’s the excitement, of course, but there is also the worry of getting it right, the anger when things aren’t working, and the endless hours of research and pondering plot problems. Writing a book is an emotional rollercoaster, overall a very positive and wonderful feeling, but it’s a long journey. It’s very distressing to think someone would claim your hard work as their own. It really has nothing to do with the loss of money, although the thought of someone getting paid when you’ve been the one to do the job is not a nice one. I feel I’ve earned the right to claim credit for that work be it a fine piece of fiction or a complete failure. I cannot even describe the rage one has at being wronged and then being accused of wrong doing. It would’ve been easy to try and make the other party involved pay dearly, but at the end of the day is it worth it? Should her family have to pay for her mistake? Her lack of judgment has probably cost her dearly if she held any dreams of being a published author because her name has been tarnished. Let’s face it, it’s a big business but word gets around. I think this has been a bad experience for everyone one involved. In the end, I hope it’s also been a learning experience as well. If I can help others and impart some wisdom on how to handle the situation then it hasn’t been all bad.