We Are All Vulnerable to Plagiarism

I found this post via an email from a friend.  Someone had taken Lorelei James’ ALL JACKED UP from the Rough Riders series and posted it up chapter by chapter on a website, claiming it was her own.  The only thing changed was the hero and heroine’s names.  Everything else was the same.  After going through the comments, the efforts of people who supported Lorelei have had awesome results, but I can only imagine how terrible this ordeal has been (and maybe even will continue to be) for Lorelei.  The thing is, this was not a self-published book.  It was published with Samhain, and Samhain is a reputable publisher.

A month ago, I heard of a romance author (who I was not given to mention so I won’t) who had the same thing happen to her.  Someone stole one of her books, changed the name of the hero and heroine, and put it up as if it was his/her own work.  This author has a background with Harlequin, but it could have been one of her self-published titles.  I don’t know the details, and I don’t know if it’s been resolved.

What Does This Mean?

What we’re dealing with is an ongoing problem.  I don’t think this is something that’s going to go away.  And people with small presses aren’t immune to it.  That alarmed me since I’m used to being vulnerable as a self-published author.  I thought people with small presses were protected from this kind of thing, but now I know this isn’t the case.  It’s important we don’t think of each other in terms of how we publish.  We should think of each other in terms of being writers.

While I don’t think we should all be panicking (because panicking tends to freeze us up so we can’t act), we should be conscious that this is a possibility.  Half the battle is in the mind.  If we know something is possible and can happen to us, then we’re better able to mentally prepare ourselves in the event that it does.

Here’s my advice:

Register our copyright.

It won’t prevent someone from plagiarizing our books, but it’ll be an awesome tool that a good copyright lawyer can use.  It might not come to a lawyer or a lawsuit, but there’s no harm in having that piece of paper in your possession.  $35 is all it is in the United States for electronic submission.  That is doable.  I don’t know what needs to be done in other countries.  While you do legally own the copyright to your work, it’s a heck of a lot easier to get  a copyright lawyer to back you up with the registration.  (I learned that one firsthand back in 2011.)

Have google alerts.

Go to this site and set up what you need (book titles, your name, passages from your book, etc) and you’ll receive emails letting you know when that stuff comes up.  This will help you keep abreast of what’s going on.

Form friendships with authors you can trust.

It’s important to have a close network of authors you can rely on for support, advice, and information.  There is a better chance of being able to figure out the right way to proceed with anything if you have trusted people around you.  While your spouse and other friends might sympathize with you, only other writers will understand how painful plagiarism is and look for ways to help you in case it happens to you.  I tried to explain to my husband how I felt violated when my books were stolen but he didn’t get it like my writer friends did.  There is a closeness writer share that is unique.

Be willing to get legal help if you need it.

Save aside some money now so if you need to pay a copyright lawyer, you can get one.  Yeah, I know we’re not all rich.  Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, writers aren’t sipping coffee in their cabins while write their stories in wonderful silence (the family magically leaves them alone LOL), the truth is we aren’t sitting around with bucket loads of money.  I get it.  I really do, but some things are worth saving for and your stories is one of them.  There are only two things that will get my claws out in major fight mode: a threat to my children and a threat to my stories.  Those are two things I’ll spend money on to keep them safe and well.  A story isn’t “just a story”; it’s who we are.

Allow yourself the wide range of emotions you’ll experience if plagiarism ever happens to you.

It’s an incredibly painful experience.  This is normal.  A story is from our core being.  When someone steals your work, they are hitting below the belt.  It’s not just something you can get over.  You’ll go through a lot of emotions, and it’s okay to go through them.  Don’t let anyone tell you it’s no big deal or that you’re wrong for feeling the way you do.  Also, be prepared for it to take time to get back to writing. I don’t imagine many authors can just jump right in and write their next book when something like this happens.  Be good to yourself, allow for a lot of rest, and cut yourself some slack.  Sometimes we are harder on ourselves than other people.

Anyone have any other suggestions on how to cope if your work is ever plagiarized or stolen?

 

43 Comments

  1. I pay for copyrights for all of my works, so it’s easier for me to keep my work protected. Also I have several writer friends and coworkers, so God forbid someone tries to steal my stuff, I’ll have plenty of people to rely on for emotional support.

    1. I think it’s just better to register. I made the mistake of not doing it a couple years ago and having to battle Amazon with a lawyer’s help to get one of my stolen books taken down from their site. One lawyer refused to help me because I didn’t register the copyright but another one did help me. I’ll go to that second lawyer in a heartbeat the next time anything happens, but next time I’ll have the registration in hand.

      It’s awesome you have a great network for support. 😀

      1. I’m happy I have it. It means a lot to me.

  2. An author friend of mine mentioned recently that she’d been plagiarized. It’s like identity theft–they’re stealing something that’s part of the author.

    For anyone who can’t afford an attorney, most cities have an organization called Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

    1. It’s scary that I’m hearing these things taking place as much as it is. Was your friend able to successfully resolve the matter? I get sick just thinking about what’s happening to your author friend and every other author this happens to.

      Thanks for mentioning Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. It’s nice that they’re providing a much needed service.

  3. tkmorin says:

    Very informative, thank you! 🙂

    1. You’re welcome. 😀

  4. Rob Taylor says:

    Good information. I also copyright both my writing and artwork.

    1. I think it’s better to be too prepared than not prepared at all. 😀 Artwork is another good thing to copyright, especially since so much of it is used for book covers now.

  5. I spoke to a lawyer friend who deals with copyrighting and mostly patents and he said it’s possible now to prove what’s yours in yours by the date and time stamped on your computer when you write your book. If a piece is published by the author, or self-published, you have a date on the submission. Anyone stealing part or all of your work would have to submit under a much different date. That’s grounds for a lawsuit. Then, of course, you would need a lawyer’s advice.

    We had an author tell us about a book she submitted and had rejected, then the publisher came out with the same book two years later. She didn’t pursue it.

    It’s just awful that people would pirate what someone else has worked so hard on. But then, that’s the world we find ourselves living in, I’m sorry to say.

    1. Do you have any way to prove when the project started in your Word document? I know it has the last time you did anything to it, but I have gone back and made changes to my story after it’s been published. I guess one way around that is to have the original master copy and change only the copy of that one. I still think registering copyright is a good idea, but it’s nice to know there’s an a second thing you can point to. I also hear you can point to the time and date of a blog post if you posted your story online before you publish it.

      Unbelievable about the publisher. Whoever that publisher is, I hope they get what’s coming to them for stealing that author’s work.

  6. melissajanda says:

    Reblogged this on Melissa Janda – the Buzz on Writing and commented:
    Good advice for authors.

  7. TheGirl says:

    Can you copyright, even if the manuscript is not finished/uneditted?

    1. Yes. There’s a section on the copyright website while you are registering your copyright where you can say if your book has been published yet or not. Then you can go through the rest of the registration process and upload it. I did that when I had one of my books written on a blog in first draft form before I published it. However, I’m not sure how to update the story to published status. I ended up going through the registration again. There’s probably a way to put it to published, but I don’t know how. Maybe someone reading through these comments know. 😀

      1. TheGirl says:

        Thanks, I did apply for the copyright a while back, and put it as unpublished status. So I guess I have to figure that out too!

        1. If you do, please let me know. I’ve considered copyrighting an unpublished story again.

  8. Glynis Smy says:

    It is such a shame when this happens. If you can prove the date you started writing, it can help. An email to remove content could be sent via a solicitor in the hope the ‘author’ would get nervous, and remove. Lazy, and greedy, that’s what they are!

    1. I think an email would work in some cases, and I agree it would be a first step because even if it ends up going to a lawyer, I’m sure the lawyer will want to know if the thief was approached. The nice thing about an email is you have documentation and that can go a long way. I agree 100%. Lazy and greedy are the exact words to describe people who steal others’ work.

  9. kokkieh says:

    In most countries you cannot register copyright. The US is one of a few. Even there it’s not necessary, but you can’t take legal action otherwise. I read recently that for stuff posted online you should enclose a copyright notice with your name and the year. It won’t prevent someone from stealing your work, but might give them pause. At the very least, it’s proof of publication (along with the meta-data as previous commenters already pointed out.)

    1. I think posting a copyright notice online with the date and name is a great idea. Then you can print it out for your records or refer to it at a later time if you need it. I’m very glad blogs date and time the posts when they go live. Every little bit helps.

      It’s unfortunate you can’t register copyright in other countries. Do they have any copyright lawyers or people to help the author if the books are plagiarized or stolen? I know the first step is to go directly to Amazon or wherever the book is at with a DMCA Takedown notice. I did when my books were stolen before going to the copyright lawyer. I did have a lawyer that didn’t need the registration, but there was another who refused to take my case because I didn’t have my copyright registered at the time. So I know some lawyers will help without an official piece of paper. I hope there are resources there for authors in all countries. My knowledge of how things work outside the US is limited.

      1. kokkieh says:

        I once tried to research copyright law in SA and basically got what I wrote above on a university website written by a law professor. We are part of the Berne convention over here and there are attorneys that specialise in copyright law, but there’s no option to register copyright here for literary works, so the only defense is to have some kind of proof of when the work was first published.

        1. Thanks for telling me what it’s like there. I think the kind of proof you mentioned is a good idea to have on hand regardless of where you live. It’s nice to know there are attorneys who deal in copyright there. God willing, we won’t have to deal with it, but it’s such a scary thing to even think of happening.

  10. Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's New (to me) Authors Blog and commented:
    I’m SURE all you authors are already aware of this issue, but an occasional reminder or advice to a new author, never goes amiss 🙂

  11. Paula Cappa says:

    Great post and very helpful. I have both my books copyrighted. Also, if you hire an editor or proofreader to work on the MS, that’s a witness when you wrote it as well. I suppose thieves can steal blog posts and short stories. We don’t copyright blogs, and short stories are only copyrighted by the ezine publishers for short periods of time.

    1. You’re right. An editor and proofreader would be good witnesses to our ownership of the stories. That’s a good point and a good reason to keep their email addresses on file and all correspondence with them in regards to the book. It’s my understanding we can’t copyright blogs either. I have copyrighted a couple of short stories, but I don’t know if I could submit them to ezine publishers. There could by some stipulation about short stories and publication I’m not aware of. All I’ve done is self-published books.

  12. Rohan 7 Things says:

    Thanks for writing this! Plagiarism is really scary, and it’s very sad when it happens to any author. Thanks for the sound advice, I’ll keep it in mind!

    All the best 🙂

    Rohan.

    1. I’m hoping none of us will have to use this information. *fingers crossed*

  13. Nadja Notariani says:

    Thanks for the post, Ruth Ann. I’ve been following the Lorelei James issue; it’s an author’s worst nightmare. If you don’t mind, I’d like to share your post/link back on my blog – the information you’ve given and obvious passion for your stories is great.

    1. It is an author’s worst nightmare. I can’t think of anything else that is scarier. I get sick to my stomach when I think about it and hope everything works out in Lorelei James’ favor.

      You can post and link whatever you like. 😀

      1. Nadja Notariani says:

        Thanks, Ruth. I want to discuss this issue on my blog a bit also. I cannot imagine seeing my words posted as another’s – you are correct…it makes me feel ill to think of it also.

  14. Katie Cross says:

    Wow, fabulous thoughts! I wouldn’t have thought of a google alert, that was genius. Thanks for the help!

    1. I forget where I learned about Google alerts. It was either from a podcast or another blog. It’s a great tool. 😀

  15. Australia doesn’t have copyright registration, as Kokkieh said. I always have a print version from Lulu of every book I self pub (the advantage is not just that it’s there for anyone wanting to by a paperback!) but I also put my manuscript, blurb, every form of ebook Ive published in and a notice of copyright of the book on a CD that I register and post to myself. I know, it’s classed as a ‘poor man’s copyright’ and apparently is worth nothing, but it’s still a record as far as I’m concerned!

    1. I can’t think of anything else you can do since you can’t register your copyright. You’re thinking ahead and doing everything you can to protect yourself, which is awesome. This is what I would do if I wasn’t in the US.

  16. Thanks Ruth. It’s hard enough with pirate sites without more issues!!!

    1. I agree. I’m overwhelmed when I think of how much we have to contend with. Whoever thinks authors have an easy life has no idea how much we go through.

  17. Content theft is all too common on the web. For some reason, people who would never steal IRL think nothing of taking online content.

    Authors and writers have particular challenges, but you may find this basic guide helpful: “The Bloggers Guide to Copyright Protection” http://ow.ly/mhY4b

    It deals with the basics of copyright, how to protect you content, and what to do if your copyrights are infringed.

    Ruth, thanks for this informative post — let us know if we can help.

    1. Thanks for the information. 😀

      I think content theft is a lot more common than a lot of people realize.

  18. Kyo says:

    Great advice. I am just starting out in getting my feet wet in the world of self publishing so it was good to learn about what is going on out there and what to do to help prepare me for something like this happening. Thanks!

    1. I’m glad you found this post helpful. 😀 My goal is to make the kind of blog posts I wish I’d read when I started out. I had no idea what I was doing. And back then (2008), the big thing was stay with traditional publishing. I can’t believe how much things have changed since then.

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