For the last few days, I’ve been completely fascinated (horrified?) by the Shey Stahl plagiarism scandal (you can catch up with posts from Dear Reader and GalleyCat). Stahl has been accused of copying the Twilight fan-fiction Dusty—written by Sarah and Mary Elizabeth—in her new book For The Summer. In situations like these, I try to give both sides the benefit of the doubt, as I don’t think it’s fair to dropkick a woman’s career before she has a chance to defend herself. Yet in viewing Dusty and For The Summer side-by-side, it’s nearly impossible to believe the similarities are coincidences: at certain points, it seems like Stahl literally copied paragraphs of text from Dusty, changed a few words, and called it her own. It’s awful. Since the accusations came out, Stahl’s other books have been pulled from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, her Facebook and Twitter have been locked, and her website has been shut down for semi-permanent “maintenance.” Dedicated readers have also dug up other instances of possible plagiarism in her works—makes you wonder if she ever wrote anything original at all…
First, a question: how stupid do you have to be to plagiarize these days? We live in a society where every scrap of content we post online is searchable. If you steal, someone will catch you—and this is a completely good thing. Authors should be accountable for creating original content and those who break the rules should be called out. You can’t copy or “repurpose” or “improve” or whatever other words you want to use to cover your ass. That’s thieving. And if you do it, I hope you get punished for it.
I wish I was uniquely suited to discuss the issue of web plagiarism firsthand, but it seems to be a sadly common occurrence. So from all of us who have dumped ourselves into a project only to find our content stolen, I can tell you that it fucking sucks. I’m not going to give you the exact circumstances of my story because a). I wish the whole thing never happened, and b). it infuriates me to this day to even think about it. But to summarize, a few years ago an author from a well-known news source used research and ideas I’d posted on a (now defunct) blog without crediting me. Many people were quick to point that this author didn’t technically “plagiarize” since she didn’t copy us directly, but instead consulted with us and used what she learned as the foundation for her article. Almost everyone (except the author and her editor) was willing to admit it was unethical. I, of course, had some other words for it.
Suffice it to say, getting “repurposed” like this almost was mind numbing. To see someone else reap the benefits of our legwork made us feel helpless. It was frustration at its finest, and I’m not exaggerating when I say there was absolutely nothing we could do. How does a small-time blog retaliate against a massive news website? Answer: you don’t. You can do absolutely nothing. Sure, we could smear the author who wrote the article, but we’re not internet-troll-bitches (fun fact: we never even used the author’s name in our post detailing our side of the story). In the end, we had no choice but to swallow our pride and move on. We were the crazy ones, the naive little bloggers who failed to realize that someone can steal your ideas—I mean, rip you off to your face—and get away with it. It almost made me want to quit entirely. Because what’s the point of trying to do something original when someone bigger than you can come along and commandeer it. There is a point right? Right?
I don’t know if Shey Stahl intentionally plagiarized or not, and despite the evidence, I’m not willing to call her a dirty thief just yet. That said, I do understand what Sarah and Mary Elizabeth are dealing with right now; if they’re anything like me, they poured themselves into their writing, missed sleep and gave up time with their families to do what they love. I’m so glad they’re getting recognition for their work now—I just wish they had gotten the attention and respect they deserve without getting plagiarized first.