Do we live in a post-plagiarism word?

outrage cat plagiarismToday I read two articles.

The first is the plagiarism case indie author Rachel Ann Nunes raised against Tiffanie Rushton, an elementary school teacher. Tiffanie allegedly took Rachel’s self-published book, added some sex scenes and republished it as her own.

Rachel has already spent $20,000 in court fees and is using PRweb.com to get the word out so she can raise $100,000 extra to continue the lawsuit.

The article laments that, while traditionally published authors are backed by published with deep pockets, for indie authors there is nothing they can do.

But I’m not taken in by this sob story.

Yes it sucks.

It’s brutal to have somebody steal your work and try to sell it as theirs.

But it’s also pretty simple and easy to get Amazon to remove the book in question.

A couple of emails and Rachel could have gotten Tiffanie’s book removed from Amazon and from other online ebook stores.

So what’s the lawsuit for?

Damages?

If she plans to spend $100,000 on the lawsuit, she must hope to get much more than that in damages, but is that reasonable?

Would Rachel’s books have earned over $100,000 by themselves, without the plagiarism case?

If so, why bother spending so much for justice? If Rachel’s books are making over $100,000, she could easily get a publisher who would defend her legal rights.

Is it a moral issue – the indignation and feeling that Tiffanie must “pay for her crimes”?

It seems Rachel got screwed over once when her work got stolen, but has since ruined her own life trying to rectify the event – a double coup for Tiffanie.

I’m not trying to justify Tiffanie’s actions – they are inexcusable.

I’m just questioning Rachel’s choice of response. (Unless, Rachel’s public outcry is a smart way of positioning herself and marketing – it is probably much easier for the plagiarism story to go viral than her books).

 

The other article I read was this one in the NY Times about a 17 year old German author Helene Hegemann. Her first book “Axolotl Roadkill” was celebrated as a tremendous debut, until a blogger announced that Helene copied whole pages from a lesser known book, “Strobo.” 

Interestingly, Helene’s book was nominated as a finalist for the $20,000 prize of the Leipzig Book Fair, and the jury knew about the plagiarism before they made their selection..”

One of the judges said, “Obviously, it isn’t clean, but it doesn’t change my appraisal of the work.”

In her defense, Ms. Hegemann says,

“There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity,” 

Helene’s book continues to sell well on Amazon, despite some nasty reviews.

What does it mean?

We live in a society that embraces the theft of creative ideas. Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist” endorses heavy borrowing, and Steven Pressfield recently published an article on his blog called “Steal Without Shame.”

Of course they are talking about creative inspiration and borrowing – taking ideas and themes and remixing them – which is very different from copying whole pages word-for-word without attribution.

But then, why use the negatively-associated term “Steal” rather than something more positive?

It’s because stealing is cool. It’s revolutionary. It’s an act of violence and power.

We all do the best we can, and all that matters is success.

The German judges of the competition seem to support Helene’s viewpoint: it doesn’t matter who said it first, it matters who said it best. Maybe Helene took a good idea that was never successful and fixed it to make it truly a great work of art.

Maybe Tiffanie did the same for Rachel’s book (I’m not saying she did, these are hypothetical questions).

What do you think?

Let’s agree that it’s never OK to steal someone else’s work word-for-word.

But what about taking an indie published book with a good story that was poorly written, and taking the basic structure and retelling it better? Or are we really moving into a post-plagiarism state as the German case suggests: everything has been done and said before, and we’re all just DJ’s mixing it up in a fresh way?

 

 

 

 

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors build profitable publishing platforms. Find me

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