Sep 23 2013
Monday News: Shey Stahl plagiarism scandal; Goodreads deletes reviews without notice; Amazon shares at an all time high; Cosplay copyright; and paid for reviews
I had put the news piece to bed when my inbox blew up with links to a Goodreads review of Shey Stahl’s For the Summer. In the DNF review (rated one star), the reader details eight instances of similarities including exact verbiage and scene blocking to a highly beloved Twilight fan fiction called Dusty written by Sarah and Mary Elizabeth.
She’s wearing a tight blue shirt and a black pencils skirt. Her high-heels tap on the wood as she descends down the steps. Her hair is an unnatural red color, but it’s seamlessly curled and styled. And when she smiles, I feel Mom almost cringe.
Alice’s mom looks nothing like my mom.
“You must be Renee,” the lady with the deep-red hair says, offering her hand.
Mom flattens her curly hair before shaking Mrs. Cullen’s hand. “Yes, and your name?” Mom asks kindly.
Dusty by YellowBella, Chapter 2: Dry and Dusty
She was wearing jean shorts and a red tank top. Her hair was that same rich color as Ivey’s, the color of the canyons with lighter highlights throughout.
“You must be Kathy,” the lady said, offering her hand.
“Yes, and your name?” Mom asked kindly.
Stahl, Shey (2013-09-20). For the Summer (Kindle Locations 684-686). . Kindle Edition.
Even the tagline on Stahl’s book contains lines from the blurb to Dusty. (Click to embiggen)
As for Stahl, she vehemently denies any plagiarism and her fans are out in full force. (The fan fiction authors have stated that they have been blocked by Stahl and that she has messaged them and claimed she never read their fiction and that her work is her own) Fans of Stahl accused the Goodreads reader of trying to ruin Stahl’s career and have demanded “Legal Proof”. On her facebook page, people are suggesting that the real way to handle this sort of thing is to take it to a court of law.
Evil Wylie from more instances. (Click to embiggen)
In this instance with Stahl maintaining her innocence, it is possible it won’t be taken down until legal action does occur. For the fan fiction authors, given that their work is not registered with the US Copyright office, they’d only be entitled to whatever the text has earned so far. If they had registered the copyright, they would be entitled to treble damages.
It’s probably time for Amazon to contract with TurnItIn and require all self pub manuscripts be run through a plagiarism checker. As for Stahl, I don’t doubt the fan fiction group is combing through her every work now. I feel for her fans. I saw one blogger post a facebook update which pretty much indicated she was devastated.
One interesting thing I’ve heard is that some fan fiction authors have been pulling their fiction off for fear of being plagiarized but by doing that they are allowing the plagiarized version to be the only one available AND there is no date of publication thus allowing the plagiarizer to claim that theirs was the earlier work.
They acknowledge that the content that may be violative of their terms of service represented a tiny fraction of user interaction.”Every day we have more than 30,000 reviews written on Goodreads and, on average, only a handful are flagged as inappropriate.”
It seems that this company could have contacted the offending parties, warned them of the impending deletion and provided an opportunity to correct behavior. Further, Goodreads could provide an example of inappropriate behavior.
The wholesale deletion of content without notice is pretty disturbing. Further, there are legitimate reasons why readers would want to avoid certain authors. Some authors and agents, even, have attacked readers. Those are authors that I don’t want to expose my reviewers to.
Further, this is an inconsistently applied guideline. There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of positive reviews that aren’t about the book at all. For example, look at this. There isn’t anything wrong with this comment but it’s really not about the book. It’s about Goodreads user behavior. Rating books before release is super common and it’s done by people who give the pre release 5 stars and those that give 1 star. Only the 1 star ratings are subject to scrutiny here.
One solution that readers had proposed is private shelves. That made a lot of sense to me but apparently that was code Goodreads did not want to implement. The decision to make this more Author friendly is a business one but it seems like Goodreads could have balanced their approach far better.
This Sunday I’ll discuss the technical process of removing yourself from Goodreads and the alternatives there are that exist. Goodreads
Long time readers will recognize the name. We discovered the site last year and even enlisted an author to purchase a Fiverr review and report back on the experience. (Here’s the report).
John Locke famously outed himself for paying for both reviews and for people to buy his work. The reason that this is a lucrative business move is because Amazon’s top 100 list is based on both the velocity and number of sales as well as reviews. The more reviews and purchases you get within a shorter amount of time, the more popular your book appears to Amazon. Once you are in the top 100, the visibility of those lists can take over and drive sales from there.
If a book is 99c, you can get a review from a “verified purchaser” for $5. One thousand of these would easily place a book within the top 50 of Amazon.
However, the person that bought the Fiverr reviewed reported back that the paid reviewer had reviewed a lot of other authors. The folks behind Zon Alert don’t differentiate between those who have bought 500 reviews and those who were simply reviewed by someone who writes reviews for money. That’s irresponsible.
For instance, authors like Ilona Andrews (just hit #1 on the NYTimes list), RJ Palacio (who just won the Newbury), and Brandon Sanderson (was chosen to complete the Wheel of Time series) aren’t buying reviews. First, they don’t have to. Andrews has a huge fan base, Palacio’s book is recommended to every middle school and elementary school in the country, and Sanderson is hand picked to write the Wheel of Time series. Second, their books are priced too high to make it the purchase + review process lucrative.
The ZonAlert crew paint their accusations with a broad brush. Yes, I believe that some super successful self published authors followed the John Locke path and have paid for reviews and purchases for those reviews, particularly the 99c authors. I’d challenge ZonAlert to post their proof. Emails, paypal accounts (with financial information redacted) and the like. Don’t just post something like this without the proof.
On that note, let’s watch this commercial sent to me by reader PatnDoc