Saturday, 18 July 2009


I was appalled to read on Teresa Ashby's blog about her experience of being plagiarised. No wonder she was so upset and who can blame her.

Writers have a hard enough time as it is without being victims of the cut and paste brigade who think it's okay to lift text word for word and pass it off as their own. Like Teresa and many others, writing isn't just a hobby for me. It's my living. And a very meagre one, at that. I'm nowhere near Teresa's league but I've worked hard to hone my skill and I'd be pretty cut up if someone put their name to that hard work - let alone took the fee for it! Teresa tells us that this particular woman had sent off many stories all of which then fell under suspicion as plagiarised work. Could one of them have been mine? I guess I'll never know.

Reading through the comments left on A Likely Story Teresa's not the only writer to have had her work attributed to someone else.

Of course, magazine editors do make mistakes from time to time. Despite what we sometimes think about them, they are only human. I'm not the only writer who's had work published without her knowledge. I only found out one of mine had appeared in an Australian mag when an Aus. writing friend spotted it and happened to send me a 'congrats' email. I realised immediately that I hadn't had an acceptance for this story so was able to check through my records and chase the editor for payment. In this instance it was a genuine mistake, but how may times had it happened before? Again, I'll never know.

It's got me thinking (for 'thinking' read 'paranoid'). Have I ever written something another writer thinks too similar to their work not to have been copied? I don't mean word for word, but of a similar theme? They may well have, but there's no copyright on ideas and aren't there only supposed to be 7 basic plots anyway? Or am I confusing that with how many hills make up Sheffield? Or was it Rome?

Every time I come up with a witty one-liner (well, what I think is witty!), a tantalising twist in the tale, or a quirky character trait, I have to convince myself it is my own work and I haven't subliminally soaked it up from something I've read. When I was editing my novel I was convinced I couldn't possibly have thought up 'that twist of plot' or 'that funny line'. I actually had to go page by page through the last few books I'd read to check I hadn't plagiarised the authors. I hadn't, thankfully. I put it down to a lack of confidence about my ability and from chatting to other writers, they've suffered similar moments.

You can read more on the subject of plagiarism here at How Publishing Really Works and here at Dear Author


Teresa Ashby said...

I know just what you mean about worrying you've subliminally picked something up. I don't think it's something we ever stop worrying about!
Makes you wonder how people who do it deliberately can live with themselves!

Sue Houghton said...

We have to be each other's eyes and ears! And the more that's written on the subject, the less likely folk are to try doing it...I hope!

Happy Writer said...

People that plagiarise remind of Olympic athletes that cheat, take drugs etc. because they are focused on 'the goal' or winnning. What they don't realise is that it isn't about the 'prize' it's about the journey, the self-accomplishment, the reaching of your own potiential (whatever level that may be) in a way that you can look at yourself in the mirror and be proud.

Um...getting off my soapbox now...