Sunday, 2 August 2009

Plagiarism: The Whole Story

If you've been following my anti-plagiarism blog posts, you might be interested to know that Vanessa Gebbie has now blogged about the whole sorry mess in detail, giving names of all the writers, stories and publications involved. It's a sordid story, but I'm glad it's all out in the open now. Here's the link.

To summarise, Vanessa Gebbie shared some very specific story ideas with Douglas Bruton, the writer at the centre of this plagiarism row. He proceeded to use those ideas to write his own story, and to use extracts of her novel in progress (which he beta-read for her) as the basis of his own work. He has since won a couple of prizes with those particular stories, which has left an understandably sour taste in Gebbie's mouth (in the comments to this blog post of mine, Gebbie and Bruton discuss some of the details). This might all be seen as a nasty storm in a literary teacup if it was an isolated case: but sadly, it's not.

Bruton also appears to have used the plot, characters and theme of Paul Auster's Travels in the Scriptorium as the basis for his own story, Waiting in the Scriptorium. He submitted it to Cadenza Magazine's literary competition (coincidentally co-edited by Vanessa Gebbie), and won a prize. The editors hadn't read the Auster novel and so didn't spot the many similarities between the two works: but several of Cadenza's readers had. They complained, and some cancelled their subscriptions as a direct result. Cadenza has now closed, as it didn't have enough income to continue.

More recently, Bruton took a prizewinning story by Tania Hershman (who was a member of the same online writing group as he was), rewrote it in his own words using Tania's unique structure, theme and plot, and submitted it to a competition where it won first prize. Bruton's story, Mondays Smell Of Burnt Toast, has since been taken down and so is not now available for anyone to read (unless someone is clever with the Wayback Machine, which I am not).

This wasn't a case of Bruton using someone else's work to inspire: neither Auster's novel nor Hershman's story was used as a starting point for a story which covered new ground. They were simply rewritten by Bruton, scene by scene, which looks suspiciously like plagiarism to me but Douglas Bruton remains convinced that he has done nothing wrong. In his most recent email to me he wrote,

Please be assured that I stand by my conviction that I have not done anything more than many of the writers in this debate have done... I truly believe that Art/art moves forward by building on what has gone before or through the 'sharing' of ideas.


Anonymous said...

Crikey, Jane, this man is no writer; he's a proven repeat-offender thief. That he's unrepentant is proof that he should be run out of the writing world.

How ironic that the word verification is "swinesia." Shameful.

Kaz Jordyn said...

They say there are no new plots - and maybe that's true, but blatant stealing of characters and themes -
shameless, I'd say.

DOT said...

You only have to read his blog to see how blindly self-obsessed he is. I have commented the same on his latest post and will be interested if he publishes.

Issues of plagiarism are fascinating; they cover the compass from the straight rip-off to homage and deciding where the line is can sometimes be difficult to discern. Though not so in this case.

Paul Auster - he really thought he could rip-off Auster. Good grief!

Paul said...

Correct attribution is always going to be the key issue on the internet and it's never going to go away.

catdownunder said...

Plagiarism is, plain and simple, theft. It should be treated as such.

Julia Bohanna said...

David, I think you have put your finger on a huge truth: 'blindly self-obsessed.' He is also addicted to competitions and I mean addicted...almost a literary junkie. Junkies will do anything for a fix and I am afraid this is what has happened here. Douglas used to be a friend and a writing colleague.

This is all deeply painful for a lot of people, including people who know him well. Or thought we did.

I don't think for one moment that he will publish your comment, David. I wish he would listen and be helped. This is really awful to witness.

Donna Hosie said...

I actually felt rather sick reading Vanessa's blog. The fact that he has 40,000 of her words in a shared draft, and she can only think with horror as to what he will now do with them is a tragic tale for us all.

I will never trust another draft to anyone - ever. I wish her well, I truly do.

Dan Holloway said...

This is a terrible personal story, and if anything more heartbreaking for its wider implications. As writers, we need all the support - both moral and technical - we can get. Getting feedback from trusted readers is for many of us an essential part of the writing process.

Many people said, when airports stopped you taking more than 10ml water bottles through security and it became a living hell to get on a plane as a result, that the terrorists had one. I can't help thinking that if we stop working together as writers, and draw back into ourselves, the same has happened here.

Of course, the tragedies are very real, and I would expect no one to subject themselves to the risk if they were unhappy to do so.

I am, let's face it, at the moment a nobody. So anything I say means very little. But one day I hope I'll be a somebody in the world of writing, and my commitment will remain the same. I will always share my work - with other writers and with readers. It's a risk, but it's a risk worth taking. Financially, I can't afford to have my stories stolen. It would be sickening, soul-destroying, and ruinous. But I can't help thinking that stopping laying myself open will lead to a place that's a whole lot worse.

HelenMWalters said...

I agree with Dan. I think it would be a shame if this episode resulted in a general reluctance in writers to let others see their work. I think the answer has to be in very careful choosing of who you share with.

I would be very reluctant to share work on a forum where I didn't know the other members. However, I am lucky enough to belong to a couple of closed groups where I totally trust the other members. Without the support and constructive criticism I have had from those fellow writers, I doubt I would have had anything published. Writing is hard - but would be even harder struggling on alone.

Jessica Brown said...

Dan's really nailed it with his comments.

I recently finished a rough draft and sent it to a few betas from my critique group. Without their valuable input, I wouldn't be able to be working on the second draft the way I am. A lot of points would have never been made, and I doubt I would have seen some of the ideas on my own. Other people's criticism is incredibly helpful to me, and I appreciate all of it that I get.

That said, I'm probably going to be a bit more protective of it now, and I may end up relying on just a few people instead of a whole handful. Letting a few bad apples (or just this one featured jerk, who's bad enough to be a whole tree by himself) ruin the process would be unwise, though this may teach us to be a bit more careful in the long run.

What amazes me is that this Mr. Bruton feels absolutely no shame in stealing other people's ideas and even goes so far as to attempt justifying his horrible actions as "moving art forward." Stealing and rewriting another person's work makes him nothing more than an unimaginative hack, and a completely unethical one to boot.

I hope he's content living a life of second-rate mimicry.

Fiona Mackenzie. Writer said...

I've been following this for the last few days - reading between my fingers - and it's the betrayal of trust shocks me most.

So sad.

none said...

Sheesh. There could go any small magazine.


Jane Smith said...

I've just deleted a comment from Joseph. Most of it was perfectly fine, but I don't think it's appropriate to post personal details like someone's place of work here, in this context, however worried I am about what people might be teaching the children in their care. Sorry.

Right, here's the part of Joseph's comment I thought was acceptable. The rest we'll ignore.

I wonder if this is what they teach you on writing courses -- how to plunder ideas. Brian Kiteley has a whole section on it in his book The 3 a.m. Epiphany. He calls it "Other People's Sentences." Blatant theft of this sort should be condemned. When you are starting out as a writer your ideas are your most precious resource. Your second most precious resource is other writers. This kind of incident stifles both. At least this particular plagiarist is a serial offender and has been exposed.

Is this the man who says on his website: "I am often asked where my stories come from"?

Quillers said...

Oh you could have left the chip anecdote, Jane :-)

Joseph said...

Oh, that's the first time in my life I've been censored. And on a blog about how publishing really works. That makes me feel especially edgy and avant garde. Thank you!

Jane Smith said...

Sally Q, I know: that was a little highlight of hilarity in a horrible story, and I longed to leave it in.

And Joseph: I'm sorry to have to censor you but it seems you've enjoyed the experience. I'm glad to be of service, and please don't let this put you off commenting here in the future. said...

Wow! Burton sounds like a sociopath! It would be one thing if he did it once, but so many times.....does he offer any defense now that he has been called on it???

I find it hard to believe that anyone would publish his work, much less award it a prize.

J.C. Towler said...

I found this link through a post on Every Day Fiction. I think it is VITALLY important that people who are plagerizers be outed and the proof of their activity made plain for all to see. I do wish, however, that the poster had taken a bit more care with his words in the EDF post: It will likely get the post deleted and nobody else will be able to follow the thread, meaning others will miss out on this information.

Thanks for letting us know about this gent.


Unknown said...

It's a pity Mr Bruton's addiction is to competitions rather than to the art of writing - I believe there's an important difference.

I was sorry for Vanessa Gebbie and Tania, but especially sad for Cadenza and Zoe King. I was a subscriber and one of their last prize-winners, whose stories she couldn't publish (mine found a place elsewhere shortly afterwards, but that isn't the point.)

As a fiction editor, I realise it's always difficult to know whether a story is a straight steal from another writer. Internet trawls don't always reveal much, although we do them anyway. There has to be a degree of trust between writer and editor and this is the sort of destructive case which makes us suspicious of anything which comes our way.

Of course, all writers have their literary influences, whether in classical or modern literature. The difference is that honest writers are happy to talk publically about other writers they admire and who might have inspired their own work. Why didn't Mr Bruton mention Vanessa or Tania or Paul Auster? Because he wasn't artist enough to attribute the recognition due to them.

Sue Haigh

Doug Cheadle said...

I thought this whole story had died down. And then I read Douglas Bruton's potentially libellous post in which he repeatedly calls his old friend mad. That's a foul thing to do to anyone. I hope he is ashamed of himself.

So long as his offending stories remain away from the public view, he's going to be able to insist he's done nothing wrong. And I've had enough.

So if anyone wants to read them, I've posted them on my new blog. Click on my name to find it, and them. Happy reading.

William Shears said...

Douglas doesn't actually name his old "mad" friend in any of his blogs; shame the same can't be said for his old "mad" friend!

William Shears said...

If enough people say it's so does that make it so? Read the FACTS on Douglas's bloggs! Sorry, I'm not a writer, I don't even have any O'levels, but I do know bullshit when I read it.

Douglas Bruton said...

Please do read Doug Cheadle (wonder who that could be?) - even if there is a blatant infringement of my copyright in what is done on his blog post.

And, as Jane herself says, do the research and double check the facts rather than believe what others say. And read my own blog, especially the most recent post.

I have never had anything to hide. This is not plagiarism.


Jane Smith said...

Thanks to Sitemeter and a few other nice little tools I have at my disposal I can confirm that Douglas Bruton's comment came from this IP address: 86.131.241, from a BTCentralPlus account.

That's the same IP address and BT account which William Shears used to place his comment. They're definitely sharing a computer: what's the betting they're sharing a body and a brain, too? Ha!

Douglas, I understand you don't agree that your use of Tania Hershman's and Paul Auster's stories was plagiarism: but you've got it wrong, you really have. You've seriously misunderstood the rules. If you don't agree with me, you could speak to an intellectual property lawyer and ask their opinion. If it helps, I've already shown the stories concerned to THREE IP lawyers, and they have all told me that what you did is plagiarism, without a doubt.

You didn't copy the work word-for-word, but you DID copy their expression of specific ideas and yes, this is plagiarism. You are doing yourself no favours by repeatedly insisting that it is not.

And no, I'm not going to read your blog, because whenver I've done so and tried to comment, you've refused to approve my comments. It's a waste of my time: I don't see the point in doing it.

(I'll repeat this message in the two other places where Bruton/Shears has commented, so that everyone can keep up to date. Apologies for the duplication.)

Douglas Bruton said...

This is another blatant attempt to discredit me and another blatant lie. I am not William Shears. I do not know who he is. He is not anyone in my house. I have been the only person home for more than 48 hours, so I know William Shears has not come from my home.

Jane's IP address stuff is nonsense. This smacks of desperation that you would lie in this way.

Read my recent blog post on why Jane has reason to not like me, despite her public pretence to being fair.

Ideas are not copyright, is what you have said on your blog. You say they are fair game, in fact. All that cannnot be taken is the particular arrangement of the words. That's what you have said.

Doug Cheadle's theft of my stories has been available for people to read for more than a week and a half. 250 visits have been recorded. Not one comment except mine and this William Shears. Wake up Jane. Wake up everyone and read my b log to see why Jane has every reason to want to slap me.


William Shears said...

"Douglas Bruton's comment came from this IP address: 86.131.241, from a BTCentralPlus account.
That's the same IP address and BT account which William Shears used to place his comment. They're definitely sharing a computer."

Blatant lie! Douglas and can't possibly share the same IP, we don't even share the same country!!!

Douglas Bruton said...

And now Jane's lie. William Shears says he is not even in the same country... his picture shows you he is certainly not in the same decade as me.

Look him up and see.

Jane, You have lied... or, to give you the benefit of the doubt, your whatdoyacallit machines have given you misinformation in saying that our IP addresses are the same.

Douglas Bruton said...

And now Jane's lie. William Shears says he is not even in the same country... his picture shows you he is certainly not in the same decade as me.

Look him up and see.

Jane, You have lied... or, to give you the benefit of the doubt, your whatdoyacallit machines have given you misinformation in saying that our IP addresses are the same.

Jane Smith said...

Last night I posted the following comment over at Jonathan Pinnock's blog and at Nik Perring's blog, where The Douglas And William Show has also been running. Forgive me for repeating myself here.

According to Sitemeter, the comments that Douglas Bruton and William Shears left on my blog both came from someone using a BTCentralPlus internet connection, who was based in Edinburgh, using one computer with the IP address 86.131.241.

After I pointed this out on my blog Shears commented again, insisting he was not the same person as Bruton. This comment also came from a BTCentralPlus account, but this time one based in Brentwood, Essex, with a different IP address: 217.44.136. At first I thought that I'd made a mistake and was just about to apologise when Bruton commented on my blog again--this time from the same IP address in Brentwood, Essex, which Shears had commented from.

I live in Sheffield, and when I visit my own blog from my own desktop computer, Sitemeter reflects that. But when I'm out and about and use my laptop and mobile connection, the IP address is naturally different--and my given location changes depending on which wireless connection I'm using. According to Sitemeter I've posted from Manchester, London, and Glasgow when I know I've just been down the road.

You can draw your own conclusions. But it might help you to do that if you know a few more details.

It's very likely that Douglas has posted blog comments under pseudonyms before, in order to support himself. I remember particularly a blogger called Amber who, like William Shears, had no previous internet identity when she first appeared and who, like William, commented only on blog posts where Douglas had been criticised. Her posts were always supportive of Douglas and critical the people who were critical of him. Like William, Amber shared an IP address with Douglas and seemed to travel frequently between Edinbugh and Brentwood.

As for the rest of Bruton's increasingly libellous comments: I'm not even going to address them. He won't allow me to comment on his blog, he twists my words, and he misrepresents me at every turn. He's a talented writer and I wish him the very best: but I don't see the point in rehashing this very old, and very unsavoury story any more, particularly when it's clear to everyone but Douglas, William (and probably Amber too) who is in the wrong here.