Thursday, 16 July 2009

Anti Plagiarism Day - 17th July

Read all about it on How Publishing Really Works –

My name is Teresa and I’ve been plagiarised – or perhaps I should say my work has been plagiarised.

Let me make one thing clear. I write for a living. It’s not a hobby or a nice little pastime; it’s a job of work. Okay, it’s a job that I enjoy, but it is a nerve twisting and precarious way to make a living, now more than ever.

And I know I go on about displacement activities, but I do work hard and when I found out someone else had earned money by passing my work off as their own, I was very upset.

Devastated in fact.

I won’t go into the rights and wrongs – well wrongs really because there are no rights – of plagiarism. There are others who can write far more eloquently about it than I can.

I was very lucky, I came out of the deal better off because I was able to prove it. But it’s left a niggling doubt behind. How many times might it have happened?

So you want to know what happened to me? I’m not sure of the ethics of naming names, so I’ll just say that about 8 years ago I received a magazine from overseas with one of my stories in it.

As I flicked through the pages an illustration caught my eye. It was a scene from another story of mine that had been published in the UK.

Wow, I thought, what a coincidence, that picture would perfectly illustrate my . . . by which time I’d started to read it and realised that the opening lines were very familiar.

I went cold. Then hot. Then cold again. I got out my copy and checked. Yes, it was my story word for word the same, but written with a by line I didn’t recognise. The thief (because that is what she was) had only changed the names.

I showed both copies to my husband just in case I was somehow imagining things (that is how much you doubt yourself!). He confirmed. Word for word the same.

Still I couldn’t believe it. There must be some mistake. I knew that I hadn’t submitted that story to the magazine myself because I didn’t submit stories I'd had in that UK magazine to that particular market.

So how had it got there? I had to read the whole story alongside my own copy before I convinced myself that it had really happened and wasn’t just some bizarre coincidence.

I actually felt sick.

And we writers sign all sorts of rights agreements. Luckily this one hadn’t breached any contracts, but what if it had? What kind of trouble could I have been in?

I’m a writer, of course I immediately start worrying about what ifs and maybes.

So what did I do? I emailed the publication concerned and told them what had happened. I should say I wasn’t angry about it – not with them anyway – I didn’t go steaming in all gung ho and oozing righteous indignation or anything like that.

I was worried more than anything. It doesn’t take much to worry me at the best of times.

They agreed that it was very worrying and asked if I could send them my copy of the published story, so I scanned the story from the UK magazine and emailed it to them.

They had other stories from the woman and sent them to me to see if I recognised them. I didn’t. When they contacted the woman she made a full confession and reimbursed what she’d been paid.

She’d sent in a lot of stories. All were suspect.

We agreed between us not to take the matter further as they felt it had been resolved and she wouldn’t do it again.

At the time I felt sorry for her. She said that she loved the stories so much she just wanted to write something similar.

Time has made me feel less sympathetic.

We all start out desperate to be published, but isn’t the whole point to have our own work published? I actually came out of it $800 better off because they paid me for a story they wouldn’t normally have even looked at.

I still remember her name. It’s imprinted on my memory!

Perhaps she subscribed to the idea that if you have a story published you are automatically made. Anything you write in future will be snapped up. Well it doesn’t work that way, love. If it was the case and I’d sold everything I’d written over the years, I’d be living out my retirement on an island in the Caribbean right now and not sitting here worrying about the ever increasing cost of living!

Well that’s my personal experience of plagiarism. And I can honestly say that it does hurt. I was lucky. I spotted it and I made money from it, but how can we be sure it hasn’t happened before and since – to any of us?

But what sense of satisfaction can the plagiarist have? Apart from the payment if they get any that is. All they have proved is that they can copy something. There’s no talent involved - none at all.

It must be so much worse when someone steals your unpublished work and passes it off as their own. At least I had concrete proof of what happened and I made on the deal.

So that’s it – my own personal experience.

Do link to HPRW where there are links to far better posts than this one!


  1. Teresa, this is something I'd never really thought about before! Now you're making me paranoid! Do you know when you send stories to FF and you get an email from a lovely lady called Emma, who says "Watchdog Checked" I often wonder if that's a check for plagiarism, rather like the software they have in Universities to check if the essay submitted is the student's own work. Probably it's not that at all and is just a virus check. But wouldn't it be good if they did do that or could do that for every story submitted?

  2. I went all hot and cold just reading your story, Teresa. Just a stroke of good fortune it was discovered...

  3. What a horrible story, Teresa. It's astounding that someone could steal your work so blatantly. And what a cheek to use the excuse that she wished she could write something similar - most of your readers wish they could write like you, but the majority of us wouldn't dream of plagiarising your stories.

    I think the worse thing about plagiarism is the sense of violation and injustice the victim experiences. My niece recently had one of her essays lifted from a college computer - luckily the work had her voice stamped all over it and the authorities were very quick to deal with the thief. But she was so upset she didn't manage to sleep for a month.

  4. What an awful thing to happen. I can undestand how upset you must have been and that it was hard to accept it had actually happened.

    I don't feel at all sorry for the woman who stole your work - she knew it was wrong and is very lucky she didn't end up in court.

    Even those of us who don't make our living from writing deserve any credit and money our work generates and also know whether we wrote the story or copied it from a magazine.

  5. I can't believe somebody copied your story word for word, Teresa. That's such a terrible thing to do. Glad to hear you went back to the magazine and got it sorted out.

    A similar thing happened to me. Sort of. Not anywhere near as bad though. Still not really sure if I was plagiarised or not.

    I also got hold of a copy of a mag published abroad. Quite a recent one from Australia actually. I really enjoyed it, but when I came across one particular story, I had a similar reaction to you - disbelief mostly.

    The story was very very similar to a story I had published in Fiction Feast in 2000. Certain aspects of the plot had been changed and this writer certainly didn't copy me word for word, but I was still convinced that she'd used my story as a template and then tweaked it a bit - and improved it, to be honest! It was quite a unique plot but don't really want to go into details obviously.

    It might just have been coincidence because there are a limited number of ideas, but it was so similar and like you, I couldn't help wondering what else might be going on out there.

    I don't want to name the writer in question obviously but wonder after reading of your experience if it was the same one.

    Don't suppose you're likely to tell us who she is though, are you? And I should think your lady learned her lesson and never did it again!

  6. Sorry to hear about what happened to you, Teresa. Something similar happened to me last year. I Googled my name online and found one of my previously published articles published in the newsletter from a large firm in Florida. Not only was part of my article stolen but words were added to it that weren't my own, but they used my name as the author.

    I wrote complaining about it and the person involved had to pay me compensation. Then I wrote an article about my experience and got paid for that as well! So, I came out of it very well lol.

    It does shock you though when you find your words somewhere you weren't expecting.

    It sounds as though that writer admired your work and is very insecure, but it is still theft. I am glad you received some compensation.

  7. Teresa, thank you for telling your own story: I felt shivers as I read your account. Plagiarism is a horrible thing and the more we can do to inform people about it the better.

  8. (By the way, I've added a link to this piece to my blog post now--thank you for your support!)

  9. Reading this, I felt sick on your behalf. I can't imagine what posseses someone to do such a thing.

  10. I’d always thought it was a virus checker, Geri. How would we ever know though if someone else was selling our stories abroad?

    It was a lucky day for me, Helen as it turned out.

    Thank you, Suzanne. That’s awful – what happened to your niece. Poor girl. No wonder she couldn’t sleep over it.

    Absolutely right, Patsy!

    Susan, I think some people think it’s acceptable to take a published story and rewrite it as their own. I’ve mixed feelings about that. It’s not something I’d do myself, but I think it is generally accepted as being okay. I do sympathise with your situation – it’s an uneasy feeling isn’t it.
    I wouldn’t name the person who nicked my story – hopefully she’s moved on by now.

    Google is a marvellous thing isn’t it, Lynette! I’m glad you got compensation.

    Thanks, Jane – but thank YOU for starting this off!

    Thanks Helen. I can’t really understand why someone would do that either.

  11. What a dreadful thing to happen.

    I have only recently been successful in the womag market. It has taken me years of hard work to get to this point and the thought of someone taking advantage of all the blood, sweat and tears is beyond me.

    If anyone wants to write and be good, it takes years of hard work not a simple case of pinchng others - I sincerely hope she learnt her lesson.

  12. How awful, Teresa! I wouldn't feel sorry for the person in question at all. You say: 'She said that she loved the stories so much she just wanted to write something similar.' Yes, well, that's probably true of all aspiring women's mag writers, but what the majority of them do is sit down and have a go at 'writing something similar', not a cut-n-paste job.

    I once Googled my name and found a story I'd had published online had been copied and used in a Mexican school as an example of using the future tense in fiction. Not plagiarism because my name was on it, but breach of copyright. I let them keep it but suggested they ask the author's permission next time. I was outraged but secretly tickled to be a teaching aid.

  13. That's awful. It's hard to believe that anyone would have the gall to do that! I wonder if she ever did have any stories published of her own?

    I've had the situation of finding my stories in magazines, three times now, and not being aware that they were going to be published. Twice in an overseas mag and once here. Fortunately I saw them, contacted the editors and got apologies and payment, but I always wonder what would have happened if I hadn't spotted them!

  14. I'm appalled that someone would do this to any writer and amazed she thought she'd get away with it. Probably back then writers were less well connected ie through forums and blogs such as yours Teresa so she probably thought the risk was low in getting found out.
    As far as I know I haven't been a victim of the cut and paste brigade but I have had stories pubbed without being told I even have a sale. Luckily an Oz writing friend spotted it and happened to send me congrats thus alerting me to the fact that I hadn't been told - or paid! I chased it up and think it was a genuine mistake but it does make you paranoid.

  15. It is a horrible thing to have happened to you, Teresa. And like the others it does make you think how much of it is going on without our knowledge. Off to google myself now. PS: I liked our story in WW fiction special the sound of the gulls. All the way through praying she would kick the husband where it hurts.

  16. Congratulations Niddy! You're right, that's the way it is for most of us.

    You must have had mixed feelings, Womag - but I would have been tickled too!

    Makes you wonder doesn't it, Maddie.

    That was lucky, Sue! But yes it makes you paranoid when things like that happen.

    Thank you marian - I seem to have been inspired a lot by gulls recently - perhaps because they've been waking me up in the early hours! Not that I mind, I do like the noise they make.

  17. What a chilling story, Teresa. It was lucky that you found out. Let's face it, how many of us get the chance to read many overseas magazines? I don't feel sorry for the woman either, and unless she was particularly stupid, I think she must have known that what she was doing was wrong, both morally and legally. I'm linking to this post too.

  18. This makes me more paranoid than ever. As yet I'm unpublished, and still learning the craft. But the question of plagiarism has crossed my mind. I wrote a short story a few months ago, which I decided to try to submit, but before I did, I analysed the short story magazines to see which may suit it best, and see where I needed to tweak it to suit that publication.

    Imagine my disappointment when I found a story, written by a very well known writer, which was so similar, in theme and plot, the only difference being mine had a house causing the problem, hers had a daughter! The effect on the main character was the same, the emotion was the same, the outcome was the same, just a different object. No way had my story been plagiarised, not at all, but now I've shelved mine for fear of being accused myself. In a way, I'm pleased that mine was so similar to an accepted story, in that it shows I'm getting there, but that's not the point.

    I may bring it out again in a year or so and have another look, but this whole plagiarism issue is certainly scary, not just for established writers like yourself, who may be copied, but for the hopeful writers like me who, perhaps, could be wrongly accused of doing so.

  19. The lengths that some people will go to never ceases to amaze me, Teresa! How lazy is that? To copy someone's work and pass it off as your own?! And as you say it involves no talent whatsoever.

    They want a quick fix to get published - didn't she think how amoral and unethical it is to do that? Words fail me! We all want to write the best stories we can but you do that through hard work and writing your own stories not nicking someone else's. Some people! I hope she gets a taste of her own medicine!

    Julie xx

  20. What an amazing and lucky coincidence that you spotted the story Teresa. Like I said on Sally's blog, surely it must be a hollow victory getting paid for words that you didn't even write?

  21. Just amazing that someone can think they can get away with it... that they do it at all is beyond the pale. Poor you.

  22. Thanks Sally – and when it comes to magazines in other languages we’ve got even less chance.

    Teresa I think that has probably happened to most of us at some time or other when stories collide with our own. And the fear of being wrongly accused of plagiarism is always with us. I would definitely bring your story out again. When you think of how long it takes for a decision, then the wait for publication, it would be some time before it was published. But most importantly YOU know you didn’t copy it.

    Defies belief doesn’t it, Julie.

    That’s it exactly, Karen. Where is the sense of achievement?

    Ladybird World Mother (Love the name!) – scary that there are people out there like that isn’t it!

  23. Teresa W, I wouldn't worry too much about that. A few years ago, for NaNoWriMo, I wrote a novel called End Game. It had a black FBI agent, and ended with the President's wife being implicated in his (the president's) assassination. A few months later, my daughter got a DVD and said 'Mum, you've got to watch this'. It was called End Game, and had a black agent (CIA rather than FBI) played by Cuba Gooding Jnr, and ended with the President's wife being implicated in his assassination. I hadn't copied that story, and I'm pretty sure (given how long it takes to film and for a DVD to be realised) they hadn't copied mine. Mine was set in the future, so different enough, but the main gist of the story was the same.

    It just happens sometimes that we come up with the same idea as someone else. That's not the same as wholesale plundering of someone else's work.

  24. What a fantastic story, and a word of warning. Of course we hear of it happening, and we worry. But we usually expect it to be a few paragraphs at most. Not an entire story verbatim. No wonder you felt sick, and yes I think anyone would have checked and checked again. Good for you sorting it out.

  25. Teresa, that must have been so upsetting for you. I've had a couple of my articles turn up on websites and it's hard to get them removed let alone any payment. like you say, writing is our living and the whole thing can be very distressing. I also had a student announce in class that he had sold an article to an educational publication. I then found out it was a lesson plan that I'd taught him a few months previously. I felt as though I'd been mugged. My husband asked why I hadn't thought to sell it on...

    Elaine Everest

  26. Thanks Diane. I'm very glad I sorted it out.

    Elaine that's awful! And what neck to announce his success in class - some people just don't see any wrong in it do they.

  27. Oh my,Teresa,i can't believe people do things like that. And what a pathetic excuse she gave you.

    I've been practicing to write short stories for ages, and i've studied both Take A Break FF and WWFF, to get a feel of the type of story they want, and i've seen how good your work is. i'm a massive fan of it. But i can't see, in anyway, how copying your work gave her any satisfaction.

    I've only just plucked up the courage to send one of my stories to TAB, i'm planning to send one also to WWFF. And although i'm preparing myself for the rejection, i would probably go nuts if something like that ever happened to me; considering how hard i'm trying at the moment.

    fingers cross!
    Shashana Campbell

  28. Thank you, Shashana for your lovely comment. Sounds as if you are going about things the right way, reading the magazines to get a feel for them (a lot of people don't).

    I remember how scary it was sending in my first story and to be honest, it still is a bit. Every time you send one in there's a bit of a wobble.

    My advice to you would be to keep reading and keep sending stories in - don't wait for a verdict on the first one. Good luck Shashana.

  29. Thanks Teresa, will definately keep at it. I just hope it pays off in the end.