Friday, April 16, 2010

Plagiarism in the Blogosphere

Recently it was brought to my attention by several of my blogger friends that they have spotted disturbing similarities between their reviews and the reviews posted by a certain YA blogger who shall remain anonymous for the time being. They found more than just a handful of structurally similar reviews, and encouraged me to look through the blogger's reviews as well, to see if I might find any that were similar to any of mine.

So I took their advice. I spent two hours looking through her reviews (lucky there weren't very many of them to start with), comparing them with the ones of mine that have been posted on my blog.

I am horrified, angry, and very, very disappointed. quotes the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary as defining "plagiarism" as:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source 
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.
In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else's work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)
From, emphases mine.

(See what I did here? I copied content from the website, and I made sure to make it clear that the information came from there, as well as provided a link to their site if you want more info. This is called proper citation.)

Today's teenagers are the first generation to have grown up with Internet and computers readily available for their entire lives. (Even I didn't really understand the use of the Internet until I was in middle school.) With all sorts of information available for anyone to read on the Internet, it is all too easy to cross certain lines, to not understand that Internet DOES NOT EQUAL free and for the taking.

It is one thing to read another blogger's review and go, "Hmmmm. I really agree with a lot of what he/she is saying, especially with such-and-such point. He/she said it really well, and I'd like to mention his/her review in my own as being an inspiration and supplementary material to mine."

It is quite another to have your reviews sound like you wrote one sentence of your review, got stuck, opened up the other blogger's review to see how he/she did it, and then turn back to your own to write down a paraphrased/slightly reworded sentence, and so on and so forth for the entirety of 3-4 paragraphs...and then to pretend that your content is your own. Which is what has happened in this blogger plagiarism case.

Plagiarism is not just the direct copying of uncredited quotes and trying to pass them off as your own. It is ALSO taking another person's ideas and/or sentence structure. To paraphrase without proper citation, or to break out your internal thesaurus, does not mean that you have produced original content.

Sure, I'll say that there are only so many original ideas out there, and that some of your ideas may sound like others'. As a crazy-cool example of this, read the Hunger Games plot study that the brilliant First Novels Club did comparing THG to mythology. You can also check out the HarperTeen reprints of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Romeo & Juliet to see that Stephenie Meyer evidently got her inspiration for her Twilight books from these classics.

But the difference between these examples and this blogger plagarism case is that these inspirations are accredited. Suzanne Collins does not hide the fact that she was inspired by Theseus & the Minotaur and Spartacus (and this here is a properly cited paraphrasing of the First Novels Club's words). Giving credit where credit is due is of paramount importance in our "no tolerance for plagiarism" society, especially as accusations of plagiarism can have long-term effects on the perpetrator, such as college and job rejections, and everyone needs to be all the more careful that they have not "unconsciously plagiarized" other people's works.

Of course, here is where the debates intensify. My blogger friends have emailed this blogger with evidence to her plagiarism presented in neat Word documents and very politely asked if she would remove her plagiarized reviews and rewrite them. It is ambiguous at this point whether or not the blogger will really do that, because we have gotten a good sense that she does not realize how serious her actions are, and what the consequences of her having done this can be. If the most common perpetrators of plagiarism nowadays--teenagers who've grown up with astoundingly easy access to the Internet and information--do not believe that what they're doing is plagiarism, how can we make them aware of the seriousness of their actions?

Some of you may recall how, several months ago, a German teen debut novelist was found to have lifted passages of her book from another novelist's. (See this Time article for more details.) What truly frightened me about the incident, however, was that the teen novelist was unrepetant about her actions, "claiming that 'true originality doesn't exist anyway, only authenticity' and insist[ing] on her 'right to copy and transform' other people's work, taking a stand against what she called the 'copyright excesses' of the past decade" (quoted from "German Teen Novelist: Plagiarism or Sampling?").

First of all, there is hardly a thing as "copyright excesses." Says on copyright laws:

At one time, a work was only protected by copyright if it included a copyright trademark (the © symbol). According to laws established in 1989, however, works are now copyright protected with or without the inclusion of this symbol.

Which only goes to stress that plagiarism, even of bloggers' material that is posted online for public perusal, is WRONGWRONGWRONG. Even unintentional plagiarism is a serious crime that, like intentional plagiarism, can be punishable in court:

While it is possible that you might write on the same topic as someone else, odds are that you will not have exactly the same ideas or express them in exactly the same way. It is highly unlikely that you would be accused of plagiarizing a source you have never read. Be careful, however, of "accidentally" plagiarizing from sources you have read and forgotten -- if your ideas turn out to have been influenced by a source that you read but failed to cite for any reason, you could be guilty of plagiarism. [, emphases mine]

So no, I don't believe this blogger's claims that she "subconsciously" wrote structurally and phraseologically similar reviews to mine and others'. Not after placing the reviews side by side, examining them line by line, and discovering identical syntaxes and more, from each individual line to the overall paragraph structure of the review. This is plagiarism, even if you didn't intend to exactly copy my work--and I'm not sure what the case is at this point. What you have done IS punishable by law, and your weak defenses for the originality of your work (subconscious influences, analyses for school projects) would NOT hold up in court.

I hope that this blogger will realize the seriousness of what she has done, rectify her plagiarized reviews immediately, and be all the more vigilant that she doesn't plagiarize again in the future, whether consciously or not.

How can you avoid plagiarizing?

Adele and Tirzah, two other bloggers whose reviews were plagiarized, have written great posts on this issue, and I highly suggest you read them (clicking on their names will get you to their respective posts). They have suggested that you not read others' reviews before writing your own, in order to avoid plagiarizing.

However, I am going to respectfully modify their advice. I don't know how possible it is to not look at reviews of a book before writing your own review. I'm afraid to count the number of times I go on Goodreads every day or open my Google Reader. There are also times when I've read reviews of a book beforehand that encouraged me to pick the book up. So yes, it's really hard to cut yourself off from reviews before writing your own.

My modified suggestion is that you be aware of any reviews you've read before writing your own, particularly the ones that resonated with you. Sometimes I come across well-written reviews that make me go, "Ah, that is almost exactly how I felt about this book!" And then I'll keep that blogger in mind, but I won't write my review with the same structure and phrases as the review I admired. It doesn't need to be that hard, really, to be more self-conscious when you're writing. If you've come across a review that really stuck with you, mention the blogger in your review. We loooove other bloggers who respectfully link back to us, and we love knowing that our reviews have influenced you to pick up the book!

BUT, we do NOT love when you paraphrase our ideas and words and pass them off as your own.

Get the picture?

Needless to say, the strongest emotion I feel right now is disappointment. I hope that the blogger who plagiarized off of my, Adele's, and Tirzah's reviews (and who knows who else she plagiarized off of?) now more clearly realizes the seriousness of her actions, and the life-altering consequences that may ensue if this behavior continues. (Did I mention you can go to court?) If you would please respect our requests that you remove your plagiarized reviews from your blog, we would appreciate it.

I don't think you want to know what can happen to you if you don't.

It is my sincerest wish that we all--bloggers, blog readers, authors, industry professionals--can learn from this incident and be all the more vigilant about our writing. And yeah, I remember being extremely frustrated as a teenager that I didn't seem to know what my own voice was, or if I even had one. It's taken me many, many years to finally feel like I have created some semblance of a writing style that I can call my own and be comfortable with. You should also check out Kristi the Story Siren's post about this issue, in which she talks about this very concept of finding your own blogger voice. Please help one another realize that turning to other published works for "inspiration," ideas, and sentence structure is an immoral--not to mention illegal--act. I really hope nothing like this will happen in the future.

ETA a list of bloggers who were affected by and/or posted about this issue:
Adele -
Tirzah -
Kristi -
Liz -
Lenore -


  1. This is seriously ridiculous. Why on earth steal for a blog? I can understand copy and pasting for an essay, or even for a short story - anything where you might get some personal gain. But on a blog? That's just plain stupid. And I imagine this must be very frustrating for you!

    I'm an Etsy seller, and there are always problems that people encounter whereby a person will steal product descriptions and photographs from other sellers to gain money for items people will never receive.

    That's obviously a more concerning issue (when money is involved) but it's just...dishonest. Why? Really, I can't understand it.

  2. Well said Steph! I have had one of my reviews copied by another blogger before. I was very mad, but was too scared to say anything. The recent posts from you, Adele and Kristi have reminded me how serious it really is to Plagerize. If it happens to me again, I will have the courage to confront the other blogger now. Thanks for the great post Steph!

  3. Thank you, Steph. That is very, very well put.

  4. It's just stupid to plagiarize. Yes the internet has seemed to make it more possible, but it has actually made it harder. You found the person who plagiarized, be glad of at least that.

    And it's just outrageous to think that there are no unique ideas. Yes, we are all influenced by everything we read and see, isn't that the point? We learn and grow by reading and experiencing things. But then we speak about them with our own voice. It's like fingerprints, not a single person has the same one as you.

  5. So sorry this has happened to you Steph!

    Sucks when people do this kind of thing!

  6. I probably should start reading more reviews! I try to stay away from reviews of books I haven't read yet, so that I don't get any ideas from the reviewer, or get spoiled. Mainly spoiled! :)

    I read persnicketysnarks post on the copying issue and didn't even realize that there was an issue.

  7. How horrible to be plagiarized! I’ve occasionally had people lift part of a post and repost it but linked to me, but I would have preferred that they just link to me or asked permission. I have also had people post my photos without permission, violating copyright. Students at the college where my husband teaches have been suspended for plagiarism; it is a serious crime. The good news is that I discovered your fabulous blog via Story Siren’s post.

  8. Great post. And you made it really easy because if you're EVER going to copy and paste something, anywhere, it better be put into a quote block. Providing a link to the content is helpful as well.

    I'd love to know who the culprit is. It sounds like they are young and need a little bit of advice/guidance on how to run a proper blog.

  9. While I wasn't focused on blogging-style plagiarism, I did write on the current trend of "borrowing", "mixing", or otherwise plagiarizing in contemporary society recently. My post is here.

    This idea of using others words and ideas, and modifying them slightly, seems to be a cultural thing.

  10. I certainly hope that if this person doesn't do as you all have politely asked, that you expose them for the fraud they are....

    Personally, y'all are being WAY more understanding that I would be. It would be one thing if it was maybe ONE review and they're new to blogging or something but to plagiarize from MULTIPLE people MULTIPLE times...well I say they don't deserve the courtesy you've all extended to them. You are far superior ladies!

    Working in higher education I see young (and OLDER!) students blatantly plagiarizing and not getting that it's WRONG, it's illegal, it's stealing. So I have kind of zero tolerance when it comes to plagiarism!

  11. Oh my goodness! I read Adele's post and thought how horrible it was, now I find out that she is plagiarizing five of the best bloggers there are out there? That is so ridiculous!

    When I blog if I agree with an idea I have read elsewhere I say that I got the idea from "such and such"s blog! That is just common sense to give due where the idea originated.

    In a world that integrity is a value that we need to emphasize in the younger generations that it is still VERY important.

    I am so sorry you all have had to deal with this!

  12. That was a great post It's good to be reminded of how important it is to do reviews, but keep them in your own words.

  13. Great post. It sounds crazy to even want to sound like you have no opinions of your own.

  14. I hope the blogger does remove your reviews Steph.

    And don't forget: if you do find that a review resonates with you, it takes two seconds to provide a link. There's nothing wrong with providing a cited quote. Just with claiming the words as your own.

  15. Any person who Plagerize others writings does so because they do not have the ability to write their own review in their own words. They have to copy others words and pass them on as their own. This is just plain theft. No other word for it and if the person doing this has any guilty feelings or thoughts should contact the authors and apolegize to them and to their followers as well. If that person does not apolegize they should be charged with theft and prosecuted.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

  16. I just don't get why someone would plagiarize someone else's review. I mean a book blog is generally created to write about the books you read. It is NOT homework and some stuff ol' classroom mandated book that you can't stand (of course it's still not right to copy someone else's homework either!).

    I started my book blog to keep track of the books I read and to write what I feel about them. I don't do the typical review because I suck at writing analytical things. I just write about how I feel about the book. I'm not going to read a book and think, "Huh, I'm too lazy to write about it, I'll just see if Steph's written anything and take her's" in that case, just don't write a review. For pete sake people!

  17. Wow, I can't believe this! The whole point of having a book blog is to express your own opinion and feelings on a certain book. Why anyone would want to copy someone else's words is beyond me...

  18. I hate that you are having to go through this. It is just ridiculous. I don't have stellar reviews, but at least they are my own thoughts, my own opinions. Sometimes I might write a word or phrase that is also on the book I am reviewing because I can't think of another way to say it, but I usually say this is the also on the book blurb or something similar. I hope that the offender understands what she did and that the publicity this is getting will curtail anyone else who might have had the thought cross their minds.

  19. Posted at Adele's blog:

    At FanLit, we've been affected by this, too. After speaking to Adele by email, I find that it's not the same person. There must be several culprits out there, which is very upsetting.

    I wish I had time to start some sort of group where bloggers/readers could report and discredit bloggers who plagiarize. If someone would be willing to do that, please let us know.

  20. While I'm sitting at the head of the "die plagiarists" train, I think taking another book blogger to court over plagiarized book reviews is a little extreme. No, younger generations today wouldn't know book about copyright if it hit them with a Greyhound. I doubt they'd be able to define plagiarism. But unless you're suffering from the plagiarism monetarily, taking the issue to court just to shut the blogger down is costly and extreme. At the end of the day, considering Blogger is entirely anonymous, they could get handed a verdict, go home and create a whole new account under a different name and do it all over again.

    Yes, I do think nipping plagiarism in the bud is an excellent thing to do and educating younger bloggers about just what can happen if you plagiarize the wrong thing is great. They need to understand there are repercussions to their actions if they do that. But at the same time, as I said on Lenore's blog, you need to pick and choose your battles.

    I'm all for publicly chastising the offender if they don't take the reviews down and letting the entire book blogging world know exactly who they are as punishment, but you could rightly be considered wasting the court's time, and get fined for doing it, if you bring a plagiarism suit against someone for allegedly plagiarizing a free book review site. Unless you're a reviewer for the New York Times or something like that, you're not going to gain much more than a slight sense of satisfaction buried under heavy debt incurred by lawyers' fees.

    Copyright for anything written dictates that the second it's down on paper (or internet or whatever), the writer owns the copyright for it. Education needs to be had in this arena and yes, bloggers need to understand that, potentially, they can face legal repercussions for their actions. But probably not from us. It just wouldn't be logical or productive. Now public beratement, I'm all for. Shunning the shit out of them should work enough to drive the point home without involving the suits.

  21. Im so sorry that happened--it totally boggles my mind that a blogger would do this. What's the point of blogging if not to share YOUR thoughts. Also thanks for linking to my THG study. Hope this clears up soon and the blogger in question can learn from this.

  22. Thanks for sharing. I'd like to know if this is the same blogger that I had questions about, but mostly kept them to myself, a few months ago when I felt like they had just lifted my whole review but changed a few things.

  23. I just don't understand, even with all of our access to information, how someone could copy and paste what someone else wrote, even if they do change a word here or there, and not think to themselves, "This is wrong." It's not just the time and effort you and the other bloggers spent reading and writing the reviews, it's the unique spin you put on the reviews, and the arguments you make about why you did or didn't enjoy the book. I hope this gets resolved! I'm so sorry you have to go through this.

  24. If you (and/or other bloggers) have proof that this work was plagirized and after contacting the offender they won't take the work down, you need to contact their blogging platform (blogger, wordpress, etc.) they will shut down the blog if the offender doesn't take down the content themselves.

  25. I do not read others reviews until after I write my own. If I like what they say or if they have totally different views, I then link to them and say so and so says this or that or I wish I would have said it.. I find not reading any other reviews until I have written my own makes me stay honest. However, crappy whatever I write is!

  26. This is really awful. I think in general it's hard to be sure that plagiarism of a review has taken place. I have occasionally noticed other bloggers using the exact same phrase to describe a book that I've used, but I've always put that down to my own lack of originality. I don't think I could manage not to read other reviews before I write mine though - for a start, how would I know what I wanted to read?

    However, in this case it sounds like it's entire reviews being lifted with just a few words changed, and if so that's most definitely intentional (even if the person didn't realise the implications of what they were doing). I'll be really interested to know whether they stop now they've been confronted.

  27. Wow. This is upsetting and disappointing to say the least.

    I think a quote by Cyril Connolly best fits this situation, "Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."

  28. I fear that this will become a more prevalent trend as everything shifts to the Internet

  29. I am just finding out about all this. This is insane. I only follow you and lenore. But I am check out those other blogs. WOW


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