Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Plagiarism in the 21st Century

by Rick Blechta

Always on the look out for topics for my weekly Type M posts, I ran across this yesterday: The girl who stole my book

It will take you a bit of time to get through Eilis O’Hanlon’s account, but believe me, whether you’re an author or not, it is gripping reading about the changing nature of plagiarism.

Okay, I’m assuming you read the article. Pretty awful, isn’t it? I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to believe that this person posing as Joanne Clancy wrote any of the books that she self-published on Amazon. As a matter of fact, we can’t even be sure “Joanne” is a she. If you do the math, you can see that a pretty healthy living could be made by taking other people’s work, switching things up a bit and selling it in the most anonymous way possible — by formatting it as an e-book. Multiply that by a few dozen offerings and you’ve suddenly given yourself a pretty healthy income — and one that will keep on paying.

The ploy is really quite clever. Find an author who writes well but doesn’t have a lot of success even though his/her books are pretty good. Change a few things, and voila! You have a “new” book. Publishing e-books on Amazon is relatively easy and because of the volume published, it would be very difficult for Amazon to police. I’ll revise that first comment in this paragraph: the ploy is bloody brilliant. “Joanne” even had the audacity to do interviews. This person is a pro.

Several other things leapt out at me, though, in cogitating later on the article’s contents.

First of all O’Hanlon and her partner were far too kind. “In a way we feel sorry for her. Just because she plagiarized our work, doesn't mean that she's a bad person.”

Is she kidding? This person was a thief. Full stop. You can bet that sob story “Joanne” fed O’Hanlon about being a writer with severe writer’s block and that this scam being the thief’s sole source of income is complete BS from start to finish. These flim-flammers know what they’re doing. They know how to prey on their marks, and “Joanne”, I suspect, did it with aplomb. She was caught out lying in the middle of her sob story saying that she’d only made “a few hundred euros” when she’d made far in excess of that. Still O’Hanlon felt bad for her. Why does she think the sob story was created? To keep her from going to the cops is why — and she fell for it. Joanne Clancy survived to plagiarize another day under another name.

Somewhat off the track but relevant to this writer is the ridiculous amount of money kept by Amazon after the “author” was paid off. Come on, what did Amazon do that required them to get such a large portion of the publishing pie? I’m not familiar with the terms of Amazon’s publishing agreement with e-book authors who self-publish but sales of 15,000 euros only generating a payment of 1,761.80 euros is unbelievable. I hope that part of the article is wrong, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were correct. A 12% royalty payment for an ebook where the authors done all the prep work and all Amazon has to do is upload it and track the sales is absolute highway robbery.

All in all, this article is a wake-up call to authors to protect their work as best they can. O’Hanlon only found out about this by chance. How many more authors are getting ripped off? You can be sure others are working the same scam. How can a poor author possibly track this sort of thing? It is also very possible that “Joanne Clancy” is one of a number of pseudonyms this crook may be using.

As if the book publishing game wasn’t bad enough, it just got a lot more depressing. There be sharks in these waters…


Sybil Johnson said...

Isn't that interesting. I wouldn't have felt sorry for the woman. Other people manage to deal with writer's block without stealing others work.

Rick Blechta said...

That's the part I don't understand. I mean, this person is a scammer and she feeds you this heart-on-the-sleeve story, and you fall for such a stupid story? Come on. My guess is this isn't the first scam this person has done, just the latest.

Still it's pretty scary when you think how this would be to do and potentially how lucrative it could be.

How does an author protect their copyright?

Phoebe Purrburger said...

Amazon will pay the ripped-off author whatever monies they are holding for "Joanne Clancy." There's a form in their legal department, I'm told.

Rick Blechta said...

Thanks, Phoebe, for that information. It's a good thing to know and makes me feel better towards Amazon.

Eileen Goudge said...

Eye opening! Who knew? One more thing to beware of, in addition to Internet trolls. Flip side: Long ago, I was accused of plagarism by some nut job when my first novel was published. The kicker is that "stolen" tome was a manuscript that had never published. Go figure. I must have psychic powers.

Rick Blechta said...

I'm sure you have psychic powers...

Rana Thomson said...

Actually, scanning papers for plagiarism has gotten fairly easy with the advent of commercial services Plagiarism Checker