Of Pirates and Plagiarism

Of Pirates and Plagiarism

Last week a scandal hit the world of romance writers, and I wanted to talk about it here because of how it affects all authors.

The scandal started when the well-known romance author Courtney Milan received an email from a fan. The fan told her that a book she was currently reading, allegedly written by a Brazilian author named Cristiane Serruya, had passages in it that seemed to come directly from one of Milan’s own books.

Milan investigated and found that the fan was right. There were not just sentences or paragraphs, but entire passages from Milan’s book included in Serruya’s. Milan notified the writing world  about what was happening via her blog and soon, other fans found what looked like more instances of plagiarism in Serruya’s book. Only now it wasn’t just Milan being plagiarized—it was dozens of other authors and lots of other books. In fact, as of this writing the list includes thirty nine different authors and fifty one different books. And the list keeps growing.

Serruya, for her part, at first protested and said that the plagiarism was not her fault, then disappeared off of all social media. Who knows what the ending of this story will be? But if the charges of plagiarism are true, it is horrifying. And it is, sadly, all too common.

In this digital age it is all too easy to steal words and ideas and pass them off as your own, and many independent authors (including me) have had to deal with plagiarism or pirating, or both. But what do these two words mean?

Plagiarism happens when somebody incorporates phrases, paragraphs, or perhaps even entire pages from someone else’s work into their own work and uses them without crediting the original source. It doesn’t have to be copying exactly word for word. It’s still plagiarism even if the plagiarist changes a few words here or there. Sometimes it happens accidentally, as in this instance with Helen Keller, but other times it is deliberate and purposeful.

Piracy is a much more blatant act. It occurs when somebody takes an entire work from another author, claims it as their own, and either sells it or gives it away. It is always deliberate. Pirates sometimes take stories that they find posted on fan fiction sites (as happened to me in 2015). Other times they hack into files that they find stored online and download them. They are not above buying a single copy of a paperback and scanning it in manually, page by page, until they have the entire text. Then they add a new cover and a new author name and voila! They have a new book. Pirates are determined and creative, and most of the time, they get away with it.

What is an author to do? We authors pour our hearts and souls into our stories. We agonize over every conceivable detail of what we write, from the structure of the overall story right down to whether to use a comma or a semicolon. We spend months, sometimes years, writing, editing and proofreading, and then we send our story out into the world to see what it can do. To have a story taken away from us either by plagiarism or piracy is an intensely personal violation.

It can also be a terribly expensive violation. If an author tries to fight back, the “fake” author may just take down their books and disappear, but they almost certainly won’t give back the money they already earned. Even worse, the pirate or plagiarizer may claim that they wrote the story first! Then the author has to prove when and how they first wrote and published the story. The story may end up in legal limbo for years, and during that time the author is not earning any money from it. Add in the money spent on legal fees, etc., and the time the author could have spent developing another project. It’s enough to make an author want to quit writing altogether, and some authors have.

There are a few ways for readers to fight back against piracy and plagiarism.

First, be aware of how big the problem is. Statistics on plagiarism are hard to come by, but many authors say the problem has gotten worse in recent years. Some people blame the way that Amazon ranks its authors, rewarding those who publish more books in a short time. Others say it’s also a problem on other platforms like Google Play and Kobo. Regardless of the reason, we know plagiarism is a serious issue. As for piracy, consider this shocking statistic: in 2017 alone, over 31 million books were illegally downloaded, at a cost of $315,000,000!

Secondly, be wary of any site that offers “free” downloads of a popular book. A legitimate author is much more likely to offer a free book through an established channel like Amazon or Smashwords. Many times a download link on an unfamiliar page is actually a link to a virus. If you’re not sure if the link is legitimate or not, contact the author first.

Third, be willing to speak up! Plagiarism and piracy are almost always found first by an alert reader who notices what’s going on. There are so many books out there that it simply isn’t possible for an author to check all of them, even with software to help.  But when a reader notifies an author that they’ve found something fishy, the author can investigate and then start fighting back by sending take down notices, notifying the distributor, and alerting other authors so they can check for infringements of their own work.

This topic is way too detailed to cover fully in just one post, so I’ve included some links below for further reading. One is the original post by Courtney Milan and another is by Nora Roberts, who was allegedly also plagiarized by Serruya.. There are also some other pages that talk about plagiarism and piracy. I’m interested in hearing what all of you think of this whole issue!

Courtney Milan’s announcement

Nora Roberts responds

Plagiarism In The Age of Self Publishing

Statistics on book piracy 

Sharing is Caring!
Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
Whatsapp
LinkedIn
Follow by Email
0 0 votes
RATE THIS POST!
SUBSCRIBE (optional)
Email alert of:
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

30 COMMENTS
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Buturot
Buturot
March 10, 2021 12:48 AM

The past few months, there were lots of P & p variation books being sold in Amazon. I am grateful for Ceri and wosedwew (to name a few)- who started posting in good reads/Amazon reviews mentioning not to buy a book as the story was taken from fanfic. I would have never known. (I’m embarassed to say I actually bought one, not knowing it wasn’t from the original author. Later I read some of the review/s, I called Amazon to tell them that the reviews said it was a pirated. They allowed me to return the book and they were gracious to refund my money. After a few days it was taken off the market. Now if there’s a new author, I wait until reviews are out before buying…I don’t want to support piracy

darcybennett
darcybennett
March 22, 2019 7:49 AM

I knew that this was a terrible issue but still didn’t realize the scope of how many sites there were that offered the books for “free.” It’s disgraceful that there are so many people seeking to profit off of others’ work. One of the things I look at before I make a purchase on Amazon is the reviews and I am also more likely to buy if they have other works as well that have lots of reviews.

Gianna Thomas
AuAu
March 2, 2019 7:47 PM

I don’t know if any of my books have been plagiarized, but they have been pirated. That’s why I hired Blasty.co at $155.00 per year to track down the pirates and do the takedown orders. Probably 3,000 sites have been found with my unauthorized books on them…for free including unauthorized use of the covers and blurb in videos on YouTube.com. Sadly though, there is no way to really stop them. Greedy people will always find a way around anything put in their way to deter them.

Gianna Thomas
AuAu
March 6, 2019 12:53 PM
Reply to  Elaine Owen

I don’t know of any that have challenged my ownership except Amazon. They demanded proof of copyright eleven times, eight of them in the middle of a promo as I was trying to get my books republished after splitting with my publisher. Effectively killed the promo. Blasty hasn’t been able to get all of my books pulled off these sites but have probably about a 95% success rate. The pirates don’t care because we can’t sue them. Their websites are in other countries. So they will continue on stealing anything they can lay their hands on. 🙁

summerhanford
summerhanford
March 2, 2019 9:38 AM

We’ve had some of our books appear on ‘free’ download sites. We contacted google, I think, and told them the sites were bad. It was a while ago, so I’m not totally sure I recall the details right. We’ve also had someone lift one of our covers and put it on a different book, with our names still on it. The book they put it on was free, so I’m not even sure what they were getting out of it, but we told Amazon and they took it down. Honestly, I don’t feel like authors have much recourse against this sort of thing. Our best defense is, as you said, loyal fans 🙂

Jennifer Redlarczyk
Jennifer Redlarczyk
March 1, 2019 9:31 PM

Elaine I love this post and feel so much empathy for those authors who have been plagiarized. Thanks for bringing attention to the problem here at AUAU.

Teresa Broderick
Teresa Broderick
March 1, 2019 3:33 PM

This is scandalous!! There should be more protection for authors. I would never download any book unless I was sure it was the real thing. I always stick to the sites I know.

reginajeffers
Admin
March 2, 2019 7:47 AM

The culprit was on Amazon, Kobo, Nook, etc., Teresa. Those are all sites we trust.

Teresa Norbraten
Teresa Norbraten
March 1, 2019 3:20 PM

I remember reading that Georgette Heyer spent a LOT of time catching and prosecuting plagiarism of her Regency Romances. For example, she made up “Cheltenham tragedies” as slang for sob stories, and many other authors used it, being too lazy or inexperienced to do their own Regency slang research (thank gawd for the internet!!). It is a sign of respect, perhaps, to copy Mrs. Heyer, but a sign of laziness and contempt also. IMHO.

Renata McMann
March 1, 2019 9:15 AM

Part of the problem is that the theft of intellectual property is not considered as serious as the theft of physical property. If such theft came with fines (not just damages after a civil suit) and imprisonment (even if it’s only for a month or two) there might be less theft.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
March 1, 2019 8:45 AM

Wow! That sounds like a big issue! I guess one has to be careful about all these things and research books before you buy to be sure all is on the up and up! How could someone do that? How awful.

reginajeffers
Admin
March 1, 2019 8:29 AM

Once when I was still teaching a parent set up a conference about a paper that was plagiarized by her son. This was for an Advanced Placement class. The parent was not upset with her child, nor, I suppose, with me. She just wanted to know how I managed to catch him so he would not get caught again in the future.

Renata McMann
March 1, 2019 9:19 AM
Reply to  reginajeffers

That is sad. I hope you didn’t tell her.

A friend of mine had a child who got an F in a college course because he plagiarized and she thought the F was appropriate punishment.

reginajeffers
Admin
March 1, 2019 8:26 AM

It amazes me that the culprit in this fiasco was not caught for years and even was considered a USA Best-Selling Author, especially in light of the fact that I had to prove to Amazon that my “Where There’s a Fitzwilliam Darcy…” print copy was not a plagiarized version of Regina Jeffers’s eBook by the same name. Some of you might recall that it took me more than two weeks to convince Amazon (after I emailed Bezos directly) that I was the author of both. My print copy of Christmas at Pemberley is still blocked for the same reason. Oh, if Amazon had been so diligent previously!!!!

elaineowen1
March 5, 2019 9:25 PM
Reply to  reginajeffers

Regina, what Amazon has done to you is RIDICULOUS. Just beyond words. I’m sure you’d prefer not to deal with them if possible but Amazon controls 85% of the book market in this country, so we are all tied to it.

Zoe Burton
AuAu
March 4, 2019 7:45 PM
Reply to  Elaine Owen

This is only true (the higher rank thing) if you are in KU, Elaine. If you’re wide, Amazon doesn’t help you at all.

elaineowen1
March 5, 2019 9:22 PM
Reply to  Zoe Burton

That makes sense. They would naturally want to promote authors who are loyal to them. But at some point they should sit back and realize the pressure an author is under to generate more and more books. It’s created a host of problems.

J. W. Garrett
J. W. Garrett
March 1, 2019 8:03 AM

OMG! This is horrible. I read the Nora Roberts link and was shocked and dismayed at what she revealed. I didn’t know it was this bad. On GoodReads I have seen several instances/alerts of this ugly practice. Like Roberts’ article indicated, it was a reader that caught the similarities between the books. I had even bought one of the books. I was so upset that I deleted it from my device. I refused to read it. I was furious that my money had gone to a thief and not to the proper author. In one instance, they had the audacity to keep the same title and even the same font and just tweaked the cover a bit. Many authors are pulling their stories from Fan-Fiction sites due to this problem. I know many authors and know how hard they work. It is a shame. Thank you for this post.

Anja
Anja
March 1, 2019 7:55 AM

It is a shame people keep doing this. I experienced it at University. Some seem to think “cheating” is not that bad, everyone cheated at school (and most of the time they weren’t caught)… they simply go on.
Sadly, piracy and plagiarism work against good, relaxed relationships between (for example) authors and readers: Wherever you look, people get wary because they want to protect their intellectual property. Results are less free stories, less shared WIP, dearer books or less books because authors cannot afford the financial loss or they lose interest in publishing at all.
And all this for some finanial or personal gain.

30
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x