Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Bloggers Behaving Badly (2): Plagiarism Is So Not Cool

What is the number 1 repulsive behavior that someone who identifies themselves as a book blogger can engage in on their own blogs (short of using their blog to spew hate of course)?

Last week, I might have said “accepting review copies but never writing reviews.”

But this week, I say emphatically “cobbling together a book review by stealing parts of others’ reviews.”

Adele at Persnickety Snark had it happen to her and blogged about it. So did The Compulsive Reader, and she’s not going to stand for it either. And so did Steph Su – who even goes into the possible legal ramifications of plagiarism. It may not have happened to Kristi at The Story Siren (at least not that anyone suspects at this point) but she also wrote a post calling out bloggers that would resort to this despicable behavior. Liz from My Favourite Books is also a part of the book bloggers against plagiarism drive and talks about plagiarism today on her blog.

All of those posts are well-worth reading, and I hope the right people are reading and getting the message that plagiarism is so not cool.

WHAT IS PLAGIARISM?

Plagiarism is not just copying someone’s work word for word, although we know that happens too. Plagiarism is also using someone else’s work as a basis for your own. The plagiarist book blogger in question used several other bloggers’ reviews as templates – taking their arguments and even sentence structure but changing wording here and there to cover her tracks.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU HAVE PLAGIARIZED & YOU KNOW IT

Let this be a warning to you. You may not be found out today, tomorrow or even next week, but we’re on the lookout now, and we’re not afraid to call you on it.

I’d suggest you go ahead and take down your tainted reviews right now from your blog and wherever else you might have posted them. Start from scratch and rewrite your reviews in your own words.

Perhaps a public apology is too much to ask for, but a pledge to blog with integrity going forward is not.

HOW TO AVOID PLAGIARISM

When the current plagiarism case was brought to my attention, I wanted to believe that it was an isolated incident that happened because the blogger had subconsciously incorporated a review she’d obviously read and admired into her own review. Though that turned out not to be the case in this particular incident, it can happen. So what can you do to make sure you don’t do it?

Don’t read others reviews of the same book right before you write your review. We want to know your opinion of the book, not an opinion that is influenced, however lightly, by others’ opinions.

Be aware of your influences. Obviously you are not going to be able to avoid reading others’ reviews of the books you review – in fact, it may have been someone’s rave review that made you pick up the book in question in the first place. It makes sense then, to reread these reviews AFTER you write your review to make sure you didn’t accidently steal.

And like Steph Su advises in her post, consider linking to a review that particularly resonated with you. It certainly can happen too that a reviewer formulates a review that expresses so perfectly how you felt, you feel it cannot be topped by your own effort. This happened to me once with Jen Robinson’s review of Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER. In that case, I just didn’t review the book. But I've also seen bloggers link basically direct their readers to the review that influenced them and admit they have little to add to their genius, which is also a valid response.

Jot down notes while you are reading. (The Compulsive Reader suggests using an index card as a bookmark.) You can go back to these notes when you are writing your review to help you articulate your own views. Maybe your reviews won’t be as sophisticated or analytical or splashy as others’ reviews, but they will be your own.

Find your voice. This is The Story Siren's "one piece of advice for new bloggers" and I completely agree. Develop a style and tone that you are comfortable with that differentiates your reviews from others’. Are you concise or wordy? Humorous or serious? Interested in exploring themes or more concerned with the mechanics of storytelling and characterization? Certainly, your style might vary slightly depending on the type of book you are reviewing, but you should still aim to be recognizably you.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU’VE BEEN PLAGIARIZED

Gather your evidence. Compare reviews line by line and highlight glaring similarities.

Keep a cool head. Before you make accusations, ask a couple of trusted friends to look over your evidence.

Take action. Contact the perpetrator privately with your evidence and ask them to remove or rewrite their review. If the perpetrator refuses, consider legal action.

ETA: Adele just put up a new post which includes a reaction from a publisher. Erin from Penguin Australia recommends notifying your publicist contacts when your reviews have been plagiarized.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Let's hear them in the comments!

57 comments:

Stephanie said...

At risk of asking a dumb question, if someone doesn't want to write original reviews, why have a book blog? Baffling. Like you, I occasionally link to other bloggers to give credit for a point that makes me nod my head and say "I couldn't have said it better." I think things like that help foster a sense of community -- we're all part of a discussion.

A Journey of Books said...

This is just insane and I can't understand why people are doing this. Plagiarizing a review? An opinion? What's the point?

Why accept review copies if you aren't going to share your actual opinion with us? If I wanted to hear someone else's opinion, I'd go read their blog (and I do).

This just really seems like another example of how unfortunately book blogging is becoming more and more of a give-me-free-books-now atmosphere. All that does is decrease the credibility of the rest of us who strive to write honest and unique reviews.

...I had to pause a bit before publishing this because I'm still baffled. I just can't understand how lazy a person must be to steal someone else's opinion. Read the book - you'll have an opinion. If you don't read the book...well, then why would you accept the book?

It hurts my brain.

Lenore said...

Stephanie - Your question is totally valid. I think it goes back to the reason a person is book blogging. Is it for fun and to talk about books with a like-minded community? Or is to impress publicists to get more free books? I think someone who resorts to plagiarism may fall in the second category.

Library Cat said...

These are very interesting posts. I love reading the reviews of books, but try not to read them after reading the book and before I write my review. Usually one or two reviews will cause me to read the book, but since my TBR pile is rather tall, they are all but forgotten by the time I get to a review of my own. Like you, I have linked to another blogger's post who wrote a beautiful review about a book I read. It is sad that people will steal the words of another - or even the style. The differences in perspective and style are the beauty of blogging. Thanks for bringing this topic to the table.

bermudaonion said...

This is just horrible. I really doubt anyone would want to plagiarize anything I write, but I'm wondering how they discovered it.

Lenore said...

Kathy - It all came to light when Adele happened upon a review that sounded a lot like her own and then compared the two carefully and found too many likenesses for her liking. It was just too obvious.

Steph said...

Funny enough, I'm with Stephanie - why have a blog where you can showcase your own writing and in theory write about something you're passionate about only to steal other people's writing. I just don't get it! But obviously it happens, and that's just sad and ridiculous.

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

And if I ever find out someone has plagiarized my reviews, I am pubicily calling them out and not keeping them anonymous. They deserved to be embarrassed and ashamed for what they have done.

MarceJ said...

I can't imagine anyone doing this on purpose, to actually get more books from that author or publisher.

I have seen when a blogger said I saw this review and they did it perfectly but they completely give credit.

I write reviews to help me with my writing skills so no one will use mine, lol

Lenore said...

Katie - That's a good way to scare people away from plagiarizing you!

Anna said...

That's awful! When conducting interviews at work, you'd be surprised (or maybe not, LOL) how many applicants don't truly understand what plagiarism is...and they're applying for a job as a writer! It boggles my mind.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

Lenore, beware my wrath!! BUWAHAHA.

I've have a few blogs copy and past my reviews and not give me mention. Oh you better believed I emailed them and let them have it.

Also, the excuse that a blogger is too new, too young or not that knowledgeable about blogging is BS because we are all taught from day one in school that plagiarizing is wrong.

Dana said...

It's true...
Reading reviews on a book that others have done prior to yours can stick in your head, especially if you agree wholeheartedly with what they are saying.

While I don't review books on a blog for free books (most books I blog about have been on the market for a while), Everyone should be more aware of what they are writing and how it comes across.

GMR said...

Great post and such a hot topic. I have no earthly clue why someone would do this to another blogger (or anyonen for that matter)...okay, well I can imagine why, but it's just SO wrong it's not easy to fathom. Write your own review. Read the book and give your take on it. That's what people are stopping by your site to 'hear' anyway...not a cute up version of everyone else's thoughts.

Way to help keep this great community alive and thriving! Have a great weekend everyone....and happy reading! ^_^

Steph Su said...

I'm seeing a lot of people ask the question, "Why would anyone do such a thing? Why would anyone start a book blog, only to not share their own opinion?" and I just thought I'd try to cobble together a few thoughts here, if that's okay with you.

Yes, book blogging should be about sharing YOUR love for books. But sometimes, in the midst of getting review copies, connecting with authors that we've never even dreamed of doing before, and more, it's all too unfortunate that some people lose sight of their original goals for starting a book blog. They either A) believe that writing a review that is alike in style and content to someone else's will get them the attention and followers that the other blogger has, or B) feel pressured to become an "authority" among bloggers and reviewers once they get a ton of followers through contests, and therefore copy off of someone whose words they believe will provide them with the "authority" they crave. Either way, I think it's a product of the combination of this new, Internet-savvy, information-saturated generation, and the almost sick pressure on teenagers to "find themselves," stand out, get into the best schools, make the most money, etc. Plagiarism is a form of cheating, and there are people who are influenced to cheat, because they have not realized how serious an infraction it is.

Lenore said...

Well put Steph Su. I totally agree that a lot of the temptation to cheat is the pressure to be bigger and better. If you are unable to realize that's really not the point, it's probably easier to get sucked in. It's no excuse --- but it may be an explanation.

A Journey of Books said...

Katie - How'd you find out about your reviews getting copied? I honestly don't think I'd know. I don't follow any blogs that would ever copy mine.

A Journey of Books said...

Bah - I should either change my profile name or remember to sign my comments. ;)

This is Cinnamon, btw.

Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

Journey: A friend of mine was on a website that had my review copied word for word. I went there and emailed the person who was copying and pasting. Their site wasn't a blog per say, more like these sites that just copy and paste reviews but no links to the original source. I emailed them saying they need to link me at least or take my review off the site.

They went ahead and did what I asked.

BookChic said...

Occasionally, I'll look at other reviews before writing my own if it's a book where I'm not entirely sure what to say about it, or what I have to say about it is too short. I obviously don't copy&paste but sometimes a review will hit on a point and I'll agree with it or go "Hmm, I never thought about that before." I never link to those people (usually because I look at Amazon) because you're reading the same book and opinions are bound to coincide with each other. Every individual is not going to have a completely different and unique reaction to the same book.

So I have a different view of plagiarism than you, at least when it comes to writing reviews on the internet. If someone is taking your entire review and trying to pass it off as their own, that is obviously not good and they need to be called out on it. Same thing with just taking certain sections and putting your own words around them (more or less using them as a bouncing off point). With ideas and points about books, it's tougher because a multitude of people can have the same reaction to a book or a certain key element in the storyline. The broadness of that leads me to think that that is not really plagiarism.

Plagiarism is a horrible thing and no one should be doing it, don't get me wrong, but I think that broad of a definition (at least how I'm interpreting what you wrote) makes almost everyone a plagiarist, in my opinion.

sharonlovescats said...

You guys handled this so well. I'm with Katie. Had someone done this to me, there name would be posted on my blog.

misskallie2000 said...

I agree with Stephanie, why are you running a blog if you can't write your own review? That is what a blog is for, to tell your readers you own feelings or thoughts about the book you are reviewing.
I hope whomever is doing this will be ashamed and stop and make apology to the bloggers they plagiarised. We readers want your own words in your review. Not someone elses.. Shame on you...

misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

Lenore said...

BookChic - Obviously, there ARE people who can read other reviews even RIGHT before writing their own review who aren't going to plagiarize because they are secure enough in their own thoughts and voice that it's not going to be a problem.

And I've done what you're talking about before too. Sometimes I'm not entirely sure how I feel, and reading others' reviews helps me process my own thoughts better. It's a perfectly legit thing to do.

Sure, lots of people may love a book, maybe even for more or less the same reasons, but everyone has a (or should have a) unique way of expressing that love - you know what I mean?

Zibilee said...

I think this is just ridiculous. I agree with the others who have expressed confusion as to why someone would go out and start a blog, only to copy someone else's viewpoints and ideas. I once ran across a review that was mighty similar to one I had written, and it made me really angry. I wondered why they had chosen to copy from me, of all people, because my reviews are wordy and, I think, sort of average. I do know that if it happened again, I wouldn't hesitate to call the blogger on it, but really, doing something like this is not only bad form, it's just tacky. I hope that those bloggers that are doing this feel at least a little shamed by having been caught at it.

Heidi V said...

I love the index card idea! I use post it notes and tags and sometimes they get lost or forgotten. Great post!!!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I laughed at Kathy and Zibilee because I thought the same thing...why would anyone want to copy ME? I am an accountant who loves books but has virtually no writing skills. I'm also surprised that the plagiarism was discovered, with the size of the book blogging community. When you bring these issues to light, I am always shocked that people have this much gall and so little common sense. Another great topic!

Raspberry said...

I've been racking my brain to see if I've done anything bad....I felt guilty just reading your post! Fortunately the only thing I think I've copied is a meme idea, and even then I try to give some credit.

Brimful Curiosities said...

One other thing I would like to add to this post that drives me completely insane. I've not noticed this practice much by book bloggers, but several times I've run across bloggers that copy and paste information directly from a publicity release and use that as their post. Sometimes they'll include one line describing what they thought of the item. Most often I've seen this with DVD "reviews."

Amy said...

This is ridiculous!!! Just when I thought I'd heard it all. I have to echo the sentiment...why book blog if you don't want to review books? Gah.

The1stdaughter said...

I'm still shocked that someone would do this and now that more people I hear it has affected I wonder what the real intention was? Did they cut and paste so many bloggers with the intention of being found out? Why would they plagiarize so many? Anyway, it's just so odd. Why would someone do this anyway? But I think we all ask that, at least those of us who would never do such a thing. Because we love what we do and do it for the right reasons.

I'm so sorry to hear about this, but I'm glad to see all the support being rallied around those affected. It's nice to be a part of such a great community.

And yes, I'm with Katie...I think I'd have to post their info on my site as a means of letting others know it's just not right.

Kay said...

All I can say is that in our world today, some people are all about how they can do things the easiest way - and in blogging that would be copying. It's all the rage because the internet has made it so incredibly easy. Most people would not dream they would ever get caught. I also don't think a lot of people see anything wrong with it. Sadly.

Like Sandy, I'm an ex-accountant that worked in a library and then retired to stay home. I just love to read and what I write about books, no one would want to copy. I know I'm not a very good writer, but I think that we all put our own spin on things. For someone to take the easy way out and showcase something as if it were their own work is shameful - like a lot of things today.

So many of you write so beautifully, I am always in awe of your thought-provoking reviews. Sigh. It a sad thing.

Lenore said...

Brimful - That's a very good point.

Darlene said...

Well I don't write anything brilliant enough to be plagiarized but what a horrible thing to do. If you've read the book you should certainly be able to find something to say about it. I do find it difficult when so many of us are writing reviews about the same books and have a lot of the same ideas but you should still be able to convey your thoughts on that idea in your own way. Copying someone's work is just wrong and a person should really feel ashamed for doing it in the first place. A lot of people with blogs work really hard to write their reviews, etc. and that should be respected.

coulrophobic agnostic said...

I have one minor disagreement here - the idea that having the same arguments as someone being plagiarism.

Granted, I'm not a review-based blogger, so any reviews I do are on my personal journal and are very informal, but I generally get my reading material FROM blogs like yours. So if I read about a book, read it and write about it, if it turns out that I agree with things said in the review I got it from, I'm not sure how that works.

I won't copy it directly, of course, but if you say something along the lines of "While most readers seem to feel that Bob was justified in doing X, I feel that his motives were selfish, and for me that taints the whole message the author intended," and I agree, where is the border between plagiarism and simply having the same ideas? I guess I'm not sure I understand what you mean by plagiarizing arguments.

Kat Hooper said...

I've left this comment at some of the other blogs who are discussing this:

At FanLit, we've been affected by plagiarism, too, but there seem to 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.

Donna said...

Plagiarism is a moron's way of writing because they're not creative enough to come up with something original themselves. Imitation is the best form of flattery and all of that but don't take my words, word for word, and claim them as your own. That's not imitation. That's identity theft.

As a writer it's something I take seriously and I will jump on anyone that I catch plagiarizing my work. The thing is, I don't know how effective legal action will be on the plagiarism of free content. In publishing, taking legal action will prevent the plagiarists from making money off of someone else's work but with a blog? Personally I think that's too far. It's a book review. if the blogger is noncompliant with my requests, I will call them out and make damn sure every single person knows how much of a shit they are. But hiring a lawyer for a book review? No thanks. If it were my original work, that'd be a different story but I can write my own cease and desist letter quite convincingly without paying a lawyer $300 an hour to do it for me. Even if you get the blog shut down, said offender can just create a new one. With things like this, you really have to pick and choose your battles.

Going for the jugular for a book review seems pretty intense for me. But I'll certainly publicly torture the offender and bring myself much joy from the matter.

Lenore said...

Coul - Of course some people are going to have some of the same arguments - that's why I caution people to really gather evidence before making accusations. But are they really going to have ALL the same arguments, worded exactly the same way, just with obvious use of a thesaurus to "mask" the plagiarism?

Lenore said...

Kat - I am starting to think we do need to create such a group.

Lenore said...

Donna - Probably the threat of legal action is enough to force most plagiarizers to take down tainted content? I'm not sure. I expect if the plagiarizer in question had not taken down the content, we'd currently be attending a public roast rather than a plagiarizm awareness drive.

Nymeth said...

Like many of the other comments, I was going to say "why would anyone even do this?", but Steph Su's comment makes sense to me. I can see WHY it happens, but it's of course still unfortunate that it does. Hopefully the posts about it this week will cause the plagiarists to rethink their strategy.

Lily Child said...

Great article! I definitely agree. If you are going to use something, make sure to give your source the proper credit! Don't try to pass it off like your own writing!!!

Beth F said...

This is EXACTLY why I only skim or don't read reviews of books that I know I'm going to review the book myself within a few weeks. If you don't like to write or can't think of anything new to say then either don't review the book or do a mini review that says something like -- Everyone else has already covered the main points but I'd like to reiterate how great this book is because . . . and leave it at that. Provide links to other reviews. I hope I haven't been plagiarized but I don't know.

Rebecca Fabian said...

I was just discussing this with my writing group last week.

While I always write reviews in my words on my own blog, occasionally people will post favorite articles on the group blog. Though they are always linked to the original article, we discussed the fact that it might not be strictly legal to copy an article in its entirety, especially without original thought attached to it (as in, not using it to make an original point, just re-posting).

Does anyone have thoughts about whether that can/should be counted as plagiarism? Linking to an article is one thing, but full-scale reproduction is another, in my opinion.

whiteshark0121 said...

I love writing and reading books. I love the notion that people can make things up in their mind and then make them real on a page, for the pleasure or utility of someone else. One of my favorite mentor on learning how to write a book is Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Linda said...

Very interesting topic Lenore. I am not a book blogger, but certainly enjoy your blog as well as some others I've found through you. I say go after all the plagiarists out there. I've never understood people that think they can get away with it. It's immoral and wrong!

NotNessie said...

I still can't believe someone is doing this. It's ridiculous and offensive on so many levels.

Jeanne said...

I've had parts of reviews copied before and just passed it off, because I wasn't sure the copier (an older man from a different country) really understood what plagiarism is.

In writing classes, I teach the difference between a fact (with books, a direct quotation or paraphrase) and an inference (the conclusion you draw from that fact) as part of the process of teaching what plagiarism is--taking the inferences of others and using them as facts, rather than as authorities, who need to be cited).

Serena said...

This is why I stay away from reviews of books I currently read. I don't want my experience to be "tainted" (for a lack of better word).

Plagiarism is a terrible thing, and I think unfortunately it is is more pervasive with the Internet and will become more so as more things move to the Internet.

We all have to be on the lookout for these things, and I hope anyone who has done this or is thinking about doing it -- thinks twice and decides against the practice.

Em said...

Thanks for posting this, Lenore! I doubt I've been the victim of plagiarism yet, as my reviews are generally really short and often give my own experience for how I heard about the book. I HAVE, however, noticed a few blogs posting after me about things I posted first - like an upcoming book, or a National event for the week - and would love to have been given credit for the information (assuming they did find it on my site). I'd love at least a comment on my own blog post. I guess once you find cool information though, it's not always easy remembering where it came from.

Cleverly Inked said...

I am just coming across all of this today. HOLEY CRAP! What in the world.

I can say on a positive note that most of the reviews I have read on people sites have been original and unique to it's writer. I am still in shock

Alexia561 said...

Just finding out about this and am as shocked as everyone else. Who knows why this person did what they did, bu am really surprised they didn't think they would be caught!

I do my best to stay away from reading other's reviews until after I've already written mine, as I don't want to be influenced in any way. Agree that people can have the same opinions and come to the same conclusions, but it's how you present everything that makes your review unique.

Thanks for the great discussion!

Callista said...

I didn't realize this was happening. That's terrible. I'm off to read those posts you linked to.

I don't know about behaving badly but I don't like seeing people reviewing books I know they got for review and they include 3 paragraphs of summary and 1 short paragraph of book thoughts. I'm surprised they even get review books.

Alison's Book Marks said...

One of my very first posts was plagarized...but I think I was set up. I was so nervous about reviewing one of the first books I received from a publisher for review on my blog. I can't tell you how much I put into writing it, I even sent it over to my sister to check it (she used to be an editor). Then, the day after I put up the review, I got an e-mail from an anonymous source telling me that the review was word for word up at Amazon under another (also anonymous) name. I was pissed, and had no idea what to do.

This one incident almost caused me to stop blogging before I even got started.

Maybe that was the whole point?
Maybe it was someone who didn't want me to blog? But why?

I was obsessive about checking for plagerizers...until finally I had to let it go. If someone was going to plagerize my content, there's very little I can do about it. Sucks.

Anonymous said...

Funny you mention how The Story Siren preached against plagiarism...

http://www.gritandglamour.com/2012/01/31/bitch-stole-my-content-plagiarism/

Laura said...

I guess the Story Siren isn't as all that as every thought. She should be ashamed of herself for preaching when she was guilty of the same thing. It's terrible when people steal words, but opinions? That's just crazysauce.

Dawn said...

We've dealt with this at OpenBookSociety.com. A reviewer of mine found her exact review, down to spelling and punctuation mistakes, on another blog.

It was really upsetting to my reviewer and I allowed her to decide the best course of action.

We asked said blogger to publicly apologize on her blog. We asked her to take down the review and we reported her for copyright infringement.

zapkode.marie said...

{new follower here}

I don't understand why people do it - they hurt themselves in the long run and there is logically no justification for such a lapse of judgement.

{http://www.justonemorechapter.net}