A few weeks ago I watched a nasty case of plagiarism unfold which involved some writers I’ve had close dealings with over the last few months.
One trusted, talented member of an online writing workshopping group went much too far when looking to his colleagues’ writing for inspiration, and ended up in deep and particularly dirty water. He won at least one cash prize with a plagiarised story, and there are possibly more out there which have not yet been discovered or acted upon.
His actions were hurtful and distressing to all the writers concerned. The plagiarised writers are terribly upset and understandably angry, while the plagiarising writer has lost the support and friendship of a valuable critique group and is unlikely to ever be published again by anyone who is aware of this whole ugly mess.
The plagiarising writer still insists that he did nothing wrong; I don’t think he’s even aware of how deeply he has hurt his friends and his own reputation, or of the corrosive effects that his actions will continue to have. I don’t think he had malicious intent: he just didn’t consider what he did to be stealing, and he still doesn’t seem to understand what is and isn’t acceptable when seeking inspiration.
I wish I could have made him aware of the facts before he went so far: it’s too late to help him now. However, it’s not too late for other writers and I’d like to try to reach some of them, with help from all of you.
I’m declaring Friday 17 July Anti-Plagiarism Day. On that day I’m going to blog about plagiarism, and I’d like you to do the same: on your own blogs, on message boards, on Facebook or Twitter: anywhere where writers congregate. If you don’t have a blog of your own but would like to get involved then email your piece to “hprw at tesco dot net”, with a subject line of “HPRW anti-plagiarism day”, and I’ll post it here. Send me links to your blog posts or message board discussions and I’ll edit them into my piece.
You can write about anything you like, so long as it’s based on plagiarism: what it is, what’s allowed and what’s not, famous cases of plagiarism, how it feels to be plagiarised, and what effects plagiarism can have (on both of the writers involved): anything which is plagiarism-related, honest, well-researched and properly informed.
I hope that by extending this theme across a lot of blogs and cross-linking between all the pieces we’ll create a network of articles and discussions about plagiarism which we can point to whenever we feel another writer is veering too close to the edge, or when a new writer asks why it’s wrong to “borrow”, or when an established writer grows lazy in her ways. We’ll reach writers who are unaware of the laws and conventions, or misinformed about them. And if in the future our work stops just one writer from making the same mistake my former friend has made, then we’ll have done a little bit of good.
Spread the word.