Unethical Writers

I was a little disconcerted Friday morning to walk into my classroom carrying my take-home exam in my hand, as prepared as I could be to take the ACS final that morning, and find the room abuzz with activity. Most, but not all, of the other students were huddled up comparing notes, not on the final, but the take-home exam. Now, the instructions on the front sheet of that exam were explicit. We were not to discuss the exam with anyone other than the professor, nor to use the internet as a resource while taking it. I complied. I was dismayed to see how many of my younger classmates were blatantly disregarding the ‘no discussion’ rule, and I have no reason to doubt they had also been using the internet liberally during their efforts.

What does this have to do with writing? Well, it’s anecdotal to the culture that seems to have forgotten what plagiarism is, and why cheating is wrong. While we talk about how you can’t steal ideas (like the guy I saw ranting about how Guardians of the Galaxy had totally ripped him off. Seriously? Sigh…) and how to ‘file off the serial numbers’ to rework fanfiction into a more commercial form, we are talking about ideas. Not word-for-word, with maybe the names changed. That is never ok, and it’s cheating, just as much as my classmates that morning.

D. Jason Fleming shares the story of a recent plagiarism case over on his blog. “Because, see, Remix Culture isn’t plagiarism culture. Go to Creative Commons and look for the most open license you can find. What you’ll find is the Attribution license, which lets you do any damn thing you want with the work in question, including make money off of it without paying a thing to the creator — but you must give the creator credit for creating it.” Sure, there are no new ideas, but lifting word-for-word is stealing, he continues: “That’s the point of saying “everything is a remix”. Not that you can steal from everyone with impunity, but that you take those influences and notions and ideas, and work them out in your own way into something else.”

I first saw the other story about plagiarism this week on Passive Voice, followed by a spate of other people sharing it. Rachel Nunes writes: “My life was torn apart this weekend when it came to light that an anonymous author on the Internet, who is known only by a logo and a fake name, had plagiarized my novel, A Bid for Love (formerly entitled Love to the Highest Bidder), which is the first of a trilogy.

It has been verified by four separate readers that Sam Taylor Mullens did, indeed, add steamy scenes to The Auction Deal, her revised version of my Christian novel, and claimed it as her own. Her subsequent emails to different people and contradicting statements online while trying to cover her tracks has shown a definite intent to do fraud. This path she has followed is far more outlandish than any novel I’ve ever read.”

This one has the added twist of not only being a theft of her work, but by the addition of the ‘steamy scenes’ a violation of the author who chose not to write those things due to her own beliefs. I have no problem with such scenes, writing or reading, but to hear about an author whose work was violated like that offends me deeply.

The literary world is hardly new to plagiarism scandals. There’s a handy list of some here. The one that disturbs me most deeply is Alex Haley’s Roots, which is still defended because people want it to be true, despite revelations that he plagiarized from more than one source to write it. When such a high profile case could get by on a wink and a nod, is it any wonder that wholesale theft of works is now cropping up? It can’t be tolerated, and it shouldn’t.

It’s something to keep an eye out for. Like pirate sites, when you find someone’s work flying under a false flag, it needs to be reported. If we are to regain our ethical values, we have to say enough, and shine a light on the wrongdoers. There’s no excuse for it. They aren’t trying to get a good grade, they are stealing someone’s hard work and claiming it as their own. If you suspect plagiarism, even if you don’t, or can’t, confront the person directly, let the owner of the work know about it. We do this with pirate sites (offering books for free downloads when they are not free books) all the time. Reworking an idea is great. Lifting passages, or a whole work, is not. Want to double check someone’s work? Try this, or another checker site. I don’t know that it will work on fiction, but teachers need to be using it. Students these days seem to have taken Alex Haley’s example to heart.

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65 responses to “Unethical Writers

  1. “Information may want to be free, but I expect to get paid for rounding it up.”

    • Oh, I like that… Now, how do I find someone to pay me for blogging? LOL

      • Well, I tried Amazon Affiliates…. They rejected my WordPress Blog, not enough content. So I attached it to my Anime blog instead. A few clicks, but no referrals yet.

        You could always ask Sarah about how she got a gig with PJ Media.

        • I think I need to finish moving my blog (a daunting task, with seven years of content) to self-hosting before I try that. And right now taking on a ‘job’ blogging would be… the First Reader would be irritated with me. I’m supposed to be making sure I have ‘me’ time.

          • Yeah, I don’t think I could maintain a good political blog, for example. I tend to be more of a reactive writer in that context… lots of comments synthesizing or rebutting something else. But getting the ball rolling myself… not so much. (Lack of free time to immerse myself in the subject doesn’t help). As if I didn’t have better things to procrastinate over. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Ethics in the Modern World | Cedar Writes

  3. At Flat State U, a student caught plagiarizing failed the course with an XF. And then got to explain to any and all prospective employers what that meant. At my undergrad institution, plagiarism could (and at least once while I was there) meant expulsion. As I tell my students, it is theft. And I had to report a student where I new teach because he lifted an entire website and tried to tell me that it was his site and his work. The website was quoting Shelby Foote. And yet the student (middle school) failed to see what he was doing wrong “because I can’t find anything else.” Yeah, no.

    Interestingly, in South and Southeast Asia, copying a known authority is considered proper, which has led to US universities having to add short-courses on western academic standards and practices. And even then honor boards have to weigh a student’s background when they hear a first-time plagiarism case. (On the other paw, there’s no excuse for the guy from Pakistan scanning Anne McCaffrey’s books and trying to sell them as his own. The ‘Zon hammered him hard for that.)

    • This sounds like a good policy. I know students at my school are warned about it – I have no idea what would happen if one was caught. I remember being frustrated with my first year psychology course, where we were told that no students ever had original ideas, and if we didn’t cite EVERYTHING we’d be checked for plagiarism. I think the idea was that we were to write, and then go looking to see whom we had ripped off. I found that self-defeating.

      • Pat

        When I was teaching freshman English at the University of South Carolina three decades ago, the English department had its own Freshman English Handbook, which was a required text for English 101. It contained a chapter on plagiarism, which established clearly what it was and why it was prohibited. Every 101 instructor was required to devote one day of class to the topic, which included a quiz on that chapter that every student HAD to pass; if necessary, we would retest a student as many times as necessary until they did. The reason for this was simple: if a student claimed ignorance, we could just pull the quiz out of our files and show it to them as proof that he or she KNEW what plagiarism was and what the penalty was for getting caught (automatic F for the course).

        But I had a student try it anyway. She copied the text of a brochure from the campus counseling center, word for word, and turned it in as her own work. Of course I spotted it immediately, because the style and quality of the writing didn’t resemble her previous work at all. At my request, the department’s ombudsman reviewed her essay and the original brochure, and agreed that there was no question as to what she had done. So I called her into my office, showed her the evidence, and told her she was receiving an F. She was astonished. Even after studying the plagiarism chapter, attending the class in which we discussed it, and passing a quiz about it, she still didn’t grasp the notion that the rules were REAL, and they actually applied to HER. Or maybe she just didn’t think we would catch her, even though the plagiarism couldn’t have been any more obvious.

        You can’t fix stupid.

      • When I write reports, I sound like an encyclopedia, which became difficult in school, because I had to work hard to “put it in my own words”, since my actual own words came out like it was lifted directly from there.

  4. What amuses me is when the response to being CAUGHT at it is – Oh, well the author had a hard childhood, or raises money for cancer research or had a disabled child.
    I don’t care if you are freaking Mother Teressa. Doing good in one corner of you life doesn’t give you license to be a thief in another part.
    This is one step away from the ridiculous reaction of family members of a thug who gets shot robbing a bank – Oh, he was a good boy and turning his life around. He had a child. (Well good for him. He probably had another six with different women you didn’t know about.) He had reduced his armed robberies from four a month to barely one… He was loved. Yeah well all the lot from those robberies really buys a lot of good will in a family where nobody works..
    Shallow stupid people who feel instead of think. If they had any thinking ability they would have written something original.

  5. I make it a point to reward unethical books (not up to previous editing standards, for example; or compilations of several books offered for sale individually without mentioning the compilation) with a low score and an explicit explanation of what I found offensive.
    Bad reviews hurt. They shouldn’t be given out lightly.
    But when they’re deserved, and plagiarism is certainly deserving, then it’s up to the rest of us to make our views known.
    I do; I hope you will too.

    • Yes, this is certainly a good way to draw attention to a work that isn’t original. But keep in mind it’s not the ideas, it’s the wholesale lifting of their work that is the problem. Not sure what you mean by “not up to previous editing standards”

      • Cedar, I’m referring to an author who’s established a fine reputation for excellent prose and good editing, good enough to qualify as a ‘brand’. And then said author publishes something amateurish, something that gives all Indies a worse reputation than what we already have, even those of us who repeatedly check our work with help from others before making a final edit of our own.
        Misbranding, for lack of a better word, isn’t a quality product and deserves a low rating. Or return of the book to Amazon, for example.
        I won’t do this low-rating review for a newbie; if the book isn’t worth three stars at least, I simply abandon it and move on without rating it.
        Different standards, or at least different in my view.

        • Uncle Lar

          Then there is the related practice by some “name” authors to cash in on their reputations with collaborations in which their only input would seem to be their name on the cover. I know people get backed up, bored with a series, desperate to meet a promised deadline, but please don’t do it. Yes, you’ve met a delivery and probably collected a paycheck, but the simple truth remains that what you’ve really done is dilute your brand, damaged your credibility with your fan base. And that is something very difficult to recover from.

          • If it’s David Drake, you know he wrote the incredibly detailed plot outline. Other authors, it may not be so clear.

            I think the practice is fading away, but it had its uses for new author visibility. A real collaboration has more fun potential, though.

    • I’m not sure of the “absolute proof,” but one of several books I’ve been reading (on kindle only for this one) talking about “publicizing books, talked about good vs. bad reviews. (The book is by Martin Crosbie, IIRC $4.99.) He says. “Bad reviews count double (?) what a good one does, in the ranking system Amazon uses.” Considering that 5 is “loved it;” 4 is “pretty good;” and 3 is “okay.” I can see the logic involved. My own system is 1= “it got published?”; 2= I’ll still consider buying books from that author, unless this is the best that they can do.”; 3=”Not bad, I’ve read better, but definitely not a wast of time.”; 4= “I’ll pick this author/book over a questionable one.”; 5= “what do I have to give up/do without, to buy this author’s books?” 🙂 For reference, MadMike (I’ve known him 22+ years, but that’s not relevant here), Sarah A. Hoyte, L.E.Modessitt, L.Neil Smith, Cj Cherryh, are all 4’s. (The iLiaden Universe is a special case at 4.5) Cedar is fast getting there (3.75). A “5” is Anne McCaffrey, JD Robb, Larry Correia, RAH (most of his works), etc. S.M. Stirling is a 3.5, as are Ray Feist, Steven Brust.
      I think of it as apprentice 1-2, Journeyman is 3-4, Master is 5. (In many crafts, the level of decoration is what distinguishes a “journeyman, from master.) IOW, a good journeyman is one that does a good job, but may prefer to stick to practical, rather than fancy. I.e. “Mission” as opposed to “Chippendale” furniture design.) I aspire to being a solid 3, on my scale. All of which makes _me_ see the Amazon scale as inflated, so 1 & 2’s are of necessity going to be more damaging.
      For me, to rate as a 1 or 2, it really has to be pretty bad. 1 is “that’s (however long it took) I’ll never get back.” 2 is a “with competent editing, and plot work, this could be a decent book. (I.e. not a waste of time and money.) I’m going to hit a book on publicizing for authors (a kindle book) as a _1_. It’s _full_ of bad advice, questionable tactics, and sloppy thinking. I’m afraid that someone will buy it, follow the “advice,” and get “Amazon slapped,” (Equivalent to being “Google slapped), and get in real trouble. Amazon (according to reports) sells _60%_ of all books, so getting banned there, is a death blow.

  6. Reblogged this on The Worlds of Tarien Cole and commented:
    There may be no original ideas under the sun. But there are certainly unique spins to every idea. And while I believe current copyright laws are a mess and shouldn’t last over a century, I *do* believe that a person has the right to profit from their own work.

    • Yes, and repackaging an out-of-copyright work and trying to sell it under your own name would also be wrong, even if the author is long-dead and can’t be harmed.

      • Agreed. I’m only suggesting that the copyright laws need to be revised. Not making moral judgments on what is right or wrong in that statement.

        “Ethical” and “Legal” do not necessarily coincide. There are reasons to revise copyright that are both. But that’s another topic.

      • Just out of curiosity, what do all of you see as “repackaging?” Not just “slapping a new title, and cover,” but how much is added to make it “your own.” I’ve read _much_ reference material, on so _many_ subjects that I can still write 500-1000 words, on just about anything, and be pretty sure of being right. (I also have ~10 GB of reference files to dig through, for checking. :-))
        Would updating, and pointing out new thinking/info on an “old” reference text, constitute “new/useful work, or is it just “repackaging?” I have no problems with crediting the original author, and saying. “I’ve updated/rewritten some of this, but much is still good information.”

        • Uncle Lar

          What you describe is ethical treatment of another author’s work, with attribution and the addition of your own content.
          What’s under discussion is the egregious cut and paste of large portions of another’s work which is then claimed as one’s own with no citation or credit to the original author.

          • That’s what I was thinking. I try yo make sure my comments/addons are clearly understood. If I review someone like Mad Mike (I’ve known him over 22 years, and his daughter is my adopted granddaughter), I’ll note that. I consider it relevant to my review. If I “update” an old, PD (out of copyright) book, I would identify “new information/thinking/research.” It being from 1880, doesn’t mean that it can’t have useful info, for today. It just means that no one may know it exists. It may also have “archaic” language that needs to be properly translated. (I do NOT consider the “updated” Fox Fire books as properly translated. I grew up around people who talked that way, so I know what was “lost.”)

        • Reference material is a different category. It’s something that doesn’t really change much, in essence, unless the underlying basis for it has been discovered to be faulty. Trying to update it to be less complicated, more easily understood, more accurate, etc won’t change the essence of it, but is understood to be sufficient for publication.

          What I think is more the focus of this article is creative work, wherein the unchanging essence is far lower in the hierarchy, ie one of the 3, 7, or 20 basic plots, and the creative part is how they are presented. Most reference material doesn’t have much room for creative embellishment, or it becomes story.

  7. I can’t believe that the Janet Dailey/Nora Roberts case wasn’t on their list of top plagiarism cases!

  8. One practical aspect question: does anybody have any thoughts as whether there might be some ways to ensure that especially those of us who write and publish solely as indies, and do not have a large readership yet, might make sure that if there will at some point be a dispute with a plagiarist as to who exactly plagiarized whom, and who is the original author that we could prove our work is original, and ours, and came first? There seem to have been some cases, maybe like that ‘Roots’, where pretty blatant plagiarism does manage to get by maybe because the copied work becomes much better known first and the original creator does not have the resources to prove it was his first without doubt. Now if the copied work becomes famous and earns lots of money that might probably actually be easier, find some ambulance chaser type of lawyer to help you, but when the money is not big for either work, but there are issues with something like reputations – well, it would still be something of a problem. Not to say thoroughly annoying.

    For example, most people seem to say that registering a copyright for the work is mostly a waste of resources since you have it automatically anyway when it’s yours, but maybe having that as proof that you did write yours well before the other work got out might make for good enough proof if there ever will be that kind of problems.

    I do know the odds are well against anybody doing something like that with any of my stories so I don’t exactly worry about this, but on the other hand stuff does happen and I rather like being, if at all possible, at least somewhat prepared for anything that might happen, not just for what most likely will.

    • In the US, registering for copyright allows you to claim damages, while just having evidence of prior ownership gives you the right to have the court force the plagiarist to remove his/her/its copy. I suspect it also gives your case more weight in those countries that acknowledge intellectual property rights (Great Britain, Australia).

      One thing I’ve seen done in the US, for cases where you do not want to register a copyright at the time but you do want to protect your work is to mail a dated copy of the material to yourself, and keep the sealed envelope (carefully marked so you know what was inside). That serves as a dated original copy to show to the courts (and university administrators) that your work predates the illegal copy and is indeed yours, because it was acknowledged by a US government entity (the Post Office. Yes, shades of “The Miracle on 34th Street”.) This is often done by grad students who are concerned about advisors claiming their work and not having recourse to protest. Not sure what Finnish law requires, though.

      • Pat

        If you’re really concerned about that sort of thing, you should consult a lawyer. The practice of mailing a copy of the document to yourself is pure folklore, and carries no legal weight at all in the U.S. In general, relying on folklore for legal advice is extremely unwise.

        http://www.snopes.com/legal/postmark.asp

        • Thanks for the correction. In the university setting, it is accepted proof at four institutions I’ve been associated with, so I took that to be a more generalized standard.

        • Synova

          It seems to me that the snopes thing is questionable. Really, what it says is that your copyright is established at creation… except that it’s not. That you DO NOT have a copyright at all, no way no how, unless you have registered your work with whatever service you need to do that with and have paid a fee. That your copyright is legally worthless in all manners unless you’ve registered your copyright. So how then is it a copyright at all?

          It’s not.

          Now lawyers are required by ethics to tell you the “better safe than sorry” version of any legal issue. Registering a copyright is “better safe than sorry” but you’ve got your copyright anyway, you just need to prove it.

          Snopes is right to say that mailing something to yourself doesn’t give you a copyright. It might be right in saying that other safeguards are a better option.

          But really, the snopes entry is a mess.

          • “That you DO NOT have a copyright at all, no way no how, unless you have registered your work with whatever service you need to do that with and have paid a fee. “

            This really isn’t true. Registration is a good idea for anything with commercial value – because of the way that US Copyright Law treats damages for works w/o registration – but other remedies like injunctions do still exist for unregistered works.

    • Synova

      Ah… I see TXRed said what I was going to say. One thing that I’d heard for scripts (other than registering with a service) is to print it out and mail the package to yourself (or someone else) so that it’s got a postal date-stamp on it, and then leave it sealed so that if it is ever necessary a court official can unseal the envelope and prove that what is inside was created before the date on the outside. I would suppose that a hard disk copy or usb stick would work, too, since printing out and mailing a whole novel is a bit pricey.

      The problem with computer files is that the date on them really doesn’t mean anything.

      • I have DVD copies of backup files. Plus, I have different versions of the final file. Yes, file dates can be changed, but it’s the best us “poor” people can do. I will file a copyright as soon as I can afford to. I’m also careful about attributions. I have Three cookbooks in commenting process, and have permission from many original Blog authors, to use some of the recipes. I’m also going to send them a free copy. In some cases (for future ones), I have no idea who did the original recipe; However, they have been adapted to “single/handicapped versions.” (50+ years of cooking makes it possible to redo a recipe, and be pretty sure it will work.) 🙂 But, if someone plagiarizes me, I can’t do much. That’s also why I won’t do as many suggest,” and “chase the hot niches.” (When I “mug” a story/plot, it’s done right. :-))

      • Robin Munn

        The problem with computer files is that the date on them really doesn’t mean anything.

        There is a little-known Internet standard that allows for dates that really DO mean something on your computer files. Google for “timestamping service” without quotes to find lots of links. The basic idea is that you want to prove that a particular file (say, your manuscript) existed with certain contents at a certain time. So you take a digital fingerprint of the file using one of the well-known digital-fingerprint algorithms like SHA-1, submit that fingerprint to a reputable “timestamping authority”, who then certifies that the file with that fingerprint existed at 12:34 PM on July 17th, 2014 and mails you a digital certificate to that effect. (The certificate lists your file’s fingerprint, the certified time, and is signed with the certifying company’s own digital signature, which anyone can verify belongs to them.)

        In essence, it’s a notary public service for timestamps. If you ever have to prove that “I wrote that first”, well, the company who signed that file is vouching for you, whereas the other guy doesn’t have anyone vouching for his side of the story.

        • Robin Munn

          And while some of these timestamping services cost money (generally not too much: one offers 25 timestamps for $10), some are free: http://tsa.safecreative.org/.

        • Pat

          If you want notary public service, why not print the documents and take them to an actual notary public? They’re not expensive or difficult to find.

          • Uncle Lar

            To be effective you would have to have every page notarized. Otherwise the claim could be made that you have a notarized cover sheet with different content. And a notary will not read the entire document and certify that it remains unchanged without stamping each individual page.

        • Also, nowadays, there are public versioning websites, like github (even though it’s primarily intended for software), which would provide a timestamp for each and every committed version.

          This would actually be a good thing for writers to do in general, as it allows a historical record of the document, and older versions can be recalled if there is any reason to recover a portion that has been deleted.

          If you save each version in plain text before committing it to the versioning software, you can compare versions to see what has changed.

      • Pat

        It’s easy to open a sealed envelope and then reseal it without leaving any evidence. Offering that sort of thing as evidence in court will just make you look silly.

        http://thelawdictionary.org/article/how-to-secretly-open-a-sealed-envelope/

    • “For example, most people seem to say that registering a copyright for the work is mostly a waste of resources since you have it automatically anyway when it’s yours, but maybe having that as proof that you did write yours well before the other work got out might make for good enough proof if there ever will be that kind of problems. “

      In the US, one wants to register one’s copyright to have the right to certain kinds of damages, as well as to provide timely standing to sue.

      But actually proving that one is the original work really isn’t that hard in actual litigation. And as mentioned, the “mail yourself a copy” stuff is nonsense on stilts.

  9. fontofworlds

    I think that it is also relativism rearing its’ ugly head. “Stealing is only stealing if… well, what is stealing? If I benefit, what’s the harm?
    If your reality is just as good as any other’s, who is to say that what you found on the internet wasn’t something you just made up? Their ideas are not important, so I can take them and make them important for me.” Yes, I have actually seen people justify on the strength of this alone. For everything from AGW to plagiarism.

    Others don’t even know that what they are doing is wrong.
    It is not only an issue of who gets paid, or whose legacy gets honored. it’s also a record of what ideas fit in which scheme– which is the essence of history. From this, one can jump off into what is truly original.

    One of the great and hidden difficulties of early medieval thought (pre Gregory the Great) was of attribution and reference. A lot of aristotle was floating around that was not aristotle. Anybody who wanted to be respected simply put “Aristotle” or Hermes Trismegistus” on the paper an lo, his words could get notice. The sad part of all this, is that thought did not go forward, because the shape of things could not be appreciated even by the educated of the time.

    Also, I think people misunderstand the power of attributions. There is an interesting article floating around about how the culture of blues (music) actually contributed to it’s own demise by trying to be clever. That is, tons of reference without citation, which led to an obliteration of history and a tired rehash of every known theme. if you don’t know the rules, you can’t break them. You can’t learn the rules unless you know the history.

    I can’t help but wonder if that child who said “but it was the only thing I could find” was apologizing for not plagiarizing from more sources.

    • I’ve watched that student for a while, Font, and it could well be. He’s also one who will work very, very hard when he’s interested in something and if not, he’ll take the path of least effort.

      Interestingly, in totally different, younger, class the students came down like a box of rocks on someone they caught plagiarizing. In the second case, the student changed two words and claimed the poem was theirs. No dice. The rest rounded on the offender and made the student take the page out of their poetry notebook and then write their own original poem, all before I had a chance to say anything.

      • The thing with a lot of medievals was that they had read all the books in their monastery library, and all the books they could borrow from the nearby monastery libraries, and so had all the other monks. And they all knew the Bible upside down and backward. They had huge swatches of the Bible and other works not just by heart, but organized by topic in their heads. (That whole “Art of Memory” thing.)

        So you didn’t actually have to cite the writer’s name of a big long Church Fathers quote (or even a short one); and you didn’t have to say every time, “This is a Bible quote,” because all your readers knew.

        When it got messy was when you had a wider variety of books available, from sources you didn’t know personally, or when your book got circulated to people with different books in their libraries.

        So the whole cleaning up Aristotle thing mostly came down to guys who read a lot of books and covered a lot of territory — specifically St. Albert the Great, who was sent on preaching and inspection tours throughout Europe by the Dominicans, and St. Thomas Aquinas, who went along for a lot of them when he was young. St. Albert the Great would basically look over the entire library of every monastery where he stopped for the night, and then he would read every book he hadn’t read before, before eating dinner. And that’s how he found out what Aristotle bits were running around Europe.

  10. Synova

    OTOH… if they were not *changing their answers* then the comparisons and “what did you get for number four” probably weren’t cheating for the purposes of the take-home, and it seems reasonable to interpret “no discussion” as “no discussion while taking the test.” (If they were busily erasing and writing in different answers, then forget I mentioned it.)

  11. Synova

    Sam Taylor Mullens seems to have stumbled upon a cunning plan… take a novel that is 20 years old and out of print and just change it up and sell it. Who would ever know? Thrift stores are full of the things. Can you imagine how many novels a person could produce in a year that way?

    What amazed me while reading that account was that all of her writing-group friends knew it was an existing novel that she was re-writing it and they all seemed to believe that she had permission to do so.

  12. Shaking my head in disbelief *sigh

  13. jselvy

    On a related note; what is the proper protocol for letting an author know you really want to play in their universe? For example I would like to write and publish a novel set in the Darkship Thieves universe. Original characters but Sarah’s setting. How to approach this?
    BTW this is hypothetical, I’m not a writer. I am The Reader!

    • Uncle Lar

      Not going to presume to speak for Sarah, but a general answer to your question is to simply ask nicely. Helps if you already know the author, or are a friend of a friend who will vouch for you. It would also be appropriate to offer the author vetting rights. Offer to send them what you write with the understanding that they have final say whether you have permission to publish or not. Would also not hurt to be able to point to your body of existing work to establish your bona fides as a writer.
      Do be prepared to be told no. For both personal and legal reasons authors tend to be very protective of the unique universes they create.

      • Uncle Lar

        One further note, if you do not already have a close relationship with an author or a close mutual friend to vouch for you it is highly likely that they will refuse to even discuss this. Call it paranoia, but authors in the past have been sued by people who send them a piece of fan fic or just an idea and later claim that the author ripped them off.
        As the old saying goes, expect the best but prepare for the worst.

        • Although I recently learned that the whole “Being sued by a Fanfiction author” may just be spin on a MZB falling out with another writer she was collaborating with. That seems to be the only ACTUAL case I’ve heard of.

          • Judging _solely_ based on “business idea” warnings, an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) is always a good idea. RR may want to correct from a proper legal standpoint, but it basically sets out what is being discussed, who came up with it and when.
            As to the question, unless there is established “canon,” (like 1632, or ST has), I’d shy away.

          • Uncle Lar

            I seem to recall a rash of such challenge suits on popular fiction writers a while back. Not so much with SFF, however. Got to the point that some of the really famous folks stated publicly that any unsolicited manuscript would be either returned or destroyed, but most definitely unread in either case. This was all very much prior to e-books and Amazon.

            • jselvy

              I really didn’t mean for this to become a thing or a point of contention. I really am not a writer. I am The Reader™. I sometimes entertain myself by engaging I’m thought experiments as to the rest of my favorite authors universes outside the narrow confines of the story line. I know it sounds silly but if I ever wrote it down in any readable way (not bloody likely) I just wondered how to approach the author with an addition to his universe.

      • jselvy

        Yes, the case with Sarah was hypothetical. I was enquiring as to protocol in common use. You seemed to answer that. Thanks

        • The protocol in THAT case would be a serious issue, since they’re Baen books.
          Now, for the indie, I’d probably just tell you to wait till I do an anthology. Or if you’re a close friend I might give you permission. BUT with a Baen book, baen and real lawyers would be involved…

  14. CF

    [Snort, Derisive, 1 ea.] The only reason I never got involved in that shit is because I didn’t need to — the cheaters are all people who have no business being in school in the first place. Maybe in 20 years, they can give it a shot (like about half of the students in any of the college courses I took).

    As to plagiarizing: It isn’t that it’s getting worse — it’s simple logic. There is only one “right answer” to a question (in the minds of the educators); and there are only a handful of ways to express that answer in clear, coherent English, due to the inherent limitations of the language; thus, inevitably, all “A”-grade paper will end up reading the same, and will be indistinguishable from plagiarism. (I pissed off one History teacher by submitting a paper which was *nothing but citations*, all attributed properly; when asked why, I said, “They said it better than I could have”.)

    Classroom Education is Dead, Dead, Dead — and the notion “all should have it” is what killed it.

  15. This particular kind of cheating is a product of the idea that all study must be group study; and thus that members of the group should divvy up the questions amongst themselves and only focus on answering one or two each.

  16. Luke

    I see plagiarism on a sliding scale.
    At one extreme, it’s a big deal. (Most of the examples give so far qualify.)
    At the other, it’s inconsequential.
    You’re largely focusing on one extreme, and not the other.
    There are only so many ways to write a factual statement, If you write a sentence along the lines of “The Roman Empire is generally considered to have ended in the year X, because of this, that, and the other.” you can be certain that the exact same sentence has been written many of thousands of times before. (Unless the “this, that, and the other” are “alien invasion, warps in the space-time continuum, and a yodeling convention that went horribly wrong”. But in that case, you’re going to fail the class.)
    Heck, I remember one militant teacher giving us an assignment on something basic with the big heavy speech about plagiarism and a warning that she was going to go through our papers with a fine toothed comb for it. The only way to avoid plagiarizing, was to deliberately plagiarize the heck out of it by making sure consecutive sentences didn’t match a single source in the school library.

    As to the professor who issued those guidelines, he’s an idiot.
    The very first rule of possessing authority is “do not give orders that you know will be ignored”.
    If he didn’t want people looking at references or discussing questions, he should have given the test in class.
    Following the instruction doesn’t make you honorable, it makes you a sap.

    • So you basically do not understand the whole concept of take-home tests, and anyone who does understand it is a sap.

      A take home test allows one to have time to consider complicated test questions that try one’s understanding more deeply. It’s good for people with test anxiety, but mostly it just gives one time to think and write on a higher level.

      If you know the material, you don’t need to consult anybody else or the Internet; you just need to think. If you don’t know the material and expect your little friends who don’t know the material to be able to help you, you are a sap.

      Early in my school career, I figured out that most teachers favor someone who entertains them with a different report subject or a different argument. Actually wanting to sound identical is asking for a C. I grant you that many profs do desire students to be parroting back their opinions, but even the worst prefer an illusion of free will.

      Stand out in a good way. Use your own unique brain.

  17. Look on the bright side– I didn’t even know Roots was supposed to be factual!