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.
Goodreads Feedback – Announcements: Important Note Regarding Reviews (showing 1-50 of 1,774) – On Friday, Goodreads made the unfortunate decision to start deleting shelves and reviews that “focused on author behavior”. I’m not entirely against the policy of requiring the activity on Goodreads be book focused rather than author focused, but the way that Goodreads went about this was disturbing.
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
Amazon shares hit record high – Did you buy Amazon in 1997 when it debuted at $16 a share? If so, you are swimming in it now. The shares on Friday closed at an all time high of $320.57. Apple’s shares are also up to $478.70 after the launch of the new iPhones of 5C and 5S. Puget Sound Business Journal
Dragon*Con Carpet Cosplayers Copyright – Two Coplayers at Dragon Con dressed in costume made to match the carpet of the lobby where the conference is held. Clever. The carpet manufacturer did not like this and issued a Cease and Desist. The cosplayers capitulated but I’m wondering if this doesn’t fall under satire and parody? The Mary Sue
The Fiverr Report on Melissa Foster – Fake Reviews, Fake Awards, Fake Everything | Amazon Alert: Your Guide to Unethical Authors – Initially I wasn’t going to post about this but since it’s been talked about on Facebook and Twitter, I figured it was important to address it. This article lists a number of self published authors who purportedly bought in excess of 500 reviews from Fiverr.
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
I can’t get over that Amazon doesn’t use Turnitin, or something similar. An obvious solution that gets proposed every time a story like this breaks.
My heart goes out to the authors of Dusty.
With the rise of P2P fan fiction getting published and accepted, more so than ever before, and mainly Twilight P2P fan fiction because of Fifty Shades, I expect more cases of plagiarized fan fiction to occur from those former fan fiction writers who are publishing the fan fiction.
As for Goodreads, I have a feeling more rules are to come on how to write reviews there and how to discuss reviews posted. :(
I believe the cease and desist was because the cosplayers were selling the fabric for a profit on Spoonflower, not because of the cosplay itself (which is made of awesome, btw).
I’d recently decided to finally break down and join Goodreads and now this bullshit. If you’re going to prohibit author focused reviews then at least be consistent and ban them all. To me, this decision by Goodreads is yet one more example of authors and publishers taking over reader spaces. Looking forward to your suggestions on Sunday.
The way I understand it, is that their only “proof” is that fake-reviewers have also reviewed Andrews, Sanderson et cetera, correct? That’s no proof at all! If I were a fake reviewer, I would review some traditionally published as well, just to add credibility to my account. And I would add some 2 or 3 star reviews as well.
There has been more prof to the allegations of plagiarism from a former editor of Shey…..
It sickens me to know that this author has had legal action taken against her and STILL chose to publish a plagiarized book.
“I’m shocked that no one has mentioned the “similarities” of other fanfiction in her stories. Delayed Penalty “borrowed” heavily from HunterHunting’s “The Misapprehension of Bella Swan Regarding the Inferior Intellect of Hockey Players” as well as “Clipped Wings and Inked Armor”. The way “For the Summer” is written is also very similar to CaraNo’s “Our Yellow House”. Cara was one of the first fanfic authors to write addressing the main character: “you pushed my hair away,” “you always loved…” etc.
In an attempt of full disclosure, I will say that Shey hired me to be her editor for “Delayed Penalty”. The minute I noticed the similarities, I brought them to her attention and when she wouldn’t change or remove them from the story, I was forced to take legal action to have my name removed from the work. It caused a huge shit storm, but thank God I made that decision when I did. I’d hate to be tied to this whole mess. ”
“No good deed goes unpunished. I logged onto FB to see where Shey stands on all this because I honestly see good in everyone, but alas I’ve been blocked, within the last ten minutes because I’ve been keeping an eye on her page to make sure my name stays out of anything she publishes. I guess that just confirms the guilt! She’s probably afraid I’ll release the unedited manuscript with my notes pointing out the similarities. “
http://www.goodreads.com/user_status/show/33224067 I think they’ve gone completely bonkers.
I was appalled by the ZonAlert article’s complete lack of supporting evidence. It could be considered a written defamation which is libelous.
I have reviewed some of the authors they claim paid for reviews. One I became acquainted with through a tour company. I did an interview with extremely pointed questions and she was afraid when I purchased her new book to review. I thought the second book was amazing.
I wonder if they may be mistaking Book Tour Companies for “pay for review” companies. Book Tour Companies are more like publicity firms which contact reviewers to do reviews, interview authors or “characters,” or post a guest blog from an author.
Bloggers ride a narrow rail: We are damned if we give 5 star reviews and reviled if we give 1 to 3 stars. More than many, we realize what we post is mostly just how we feel and think and not the application of some arcane critical method. Hence, when we want to give a bad review (in many authors’ minds bad = <5 star) we tend to couch it in terms of: in my opinion, to my way of thinking, my point of view, I feel, I think. We OWN it. Generally we try to find SOMETHING nice to say. Blogging is like talking to your neighbors or friends about a book, but probably more politely.
The question that comes to my mind is whether an article that defames authors without offering proof is any better than the behavior they are supposedly exposing. Is alleged libel better than alleged fraud?
What I can’t understand is why authors think they can actually get away with plagarizing. Like I used to tell my students– at some point you will get caught and it will be bad so don’t do it.
Just found your site from Goodreads. Great article :) Authors buying reviews- I find this very distasteful.
Wow you got to admire the stupidity or the gall to go ahead with a book that was pointed out to have plagiarised content. Still leaving the book up which has not be taken down (I checked) when this broke publicly. And who wants to bet her deal with Trident gets cancelled very soon.
Edit: while I was posting this comment it seems her books have been taken down. So that’s good!
That video was sweet. Thanks for posting it.
Jane, you know that I have enormous respect for you but I have to disagree with your statement that it’s probably time for amazon to start checking all self-published manuscripts for plagiarism.
I’m self published mostly because I just didn’t want to go through the stress and trauma of pitching, sucking up rejection and spending years if my life trying to get published. Life is too short.
I’m sorry that there are people out there stealing fan fiction and publishing it, but it’s a small percentage. Why should everyone that self publishes be painted with the same brush? You have a few bad apples making the rest of us look bad so all of us should submit our manuscripts to a quality check to make sure we haven’t stolen it? Kind of like being body scanned at an airport or having my home/car searched because my neighbor down the street did something wrong?
If you want amazon to subject books to a software program that checks for possible plagiarism then they better check every Ebook…not just the self published ones.
I cut my teeth on janet dailey when I was a teenager in the early 8os. When she plagiarized Nora Roberts I didn’t quit reading all of published romance novels because of it. I also didn’t call into question every romance novel published by her publisher.
So I’m just asking that we keep some perspective. People steal. People sell knock off purses. They pirate videos. It’s horrible but it’s reality. Don’t punish all of us for something a few unscrupulous people have done.
Ah, Goodreads was a hotbed of drama this weekend, with far-reading consequences I’m afraid. First the alienating manner the reviewer “slap on the wrist” was handled. And following on its heels, we have an “author” rightfully called out for plagiarism.
The plagiarism incident illustrates the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation writers of well-read (and even obscure) fanfics often find themselves in. If they pull to publish, they are branded as opportunists. If they leave their story up, they are almost asking for their work to be copy/pasted because hey–“It’s just fanfiction”.
I am interested to see what comes of this.
Lexxie, I’m going to disagree with you. If your book is submitted to an anti-plagiarism program it is not a punishment. It could be your best form of protection if someone appropriates your content.
Buying reviews… I’d rather quit writing and donate to charity. But there’s a borderline scenario that has bugged me for years. Buy ad space and get a review. RT, for example. And Kirkus? Correct me if I’m wrong. Many popular review sites. It reminds of why you can’t trust “Car of the Year” from JD Powers, because those are paid for, but you can trust Consumer Reports (as nonpartial, at least, if not accurate).
Don’t punish all of us for something a few unscrupulous people have done.
How is plagiarism checking a punishment? I’m self-published and I really wish Amazon would do it. I’ve had my work plagiarized and sold.
With NY and small press books on Amazon (and other retailers) there are other people responsible for making sure a book is original work – the publishers. Do they fail sometimes? Of course. But that’s part of their job.
I’d be fine with Amazon checking those too, but there is at least some semblance of control there.
You examples illustrate my point. Going through a security scanner isn’t a punishment and neither is plagiarism detection. Do you think its unfair for students to have their work checked, too, just because they’re not all cheating?
Looking forward to your Sunday post about Goodreads alternatives.
@Lexxi: The problem is that Amazon (and other online retailers) serve different roles for indies and traditional publishers: for indies, they are the de facto publisher; for traditional publishers, they’re merely a distributor. Amazon (et al) is the only gate between an indie author and the reading public. There’s no other link in the chain where a plagiarism check could be run.
With traditional publishers, however, the plagiarism checks should be run in-house long before those works ever make their way to online retailers. Yet the industry has shown itself quite shoddy at quality control in this regard. Q.R. Markham, Jonah Lehrer, Kaavya Viswanathan, Lenore Hart: their manuscripts went through the entire process of publication without anyone spotting the plagiarism.
What Amazon (and other distributors) should do is require traditional publishers to perform their own plagiarism checks, then provide proof the manuscripts have passed.
And Amazon (and other distributors) should then offer and/or require plagiarism checks for self-published works. I’m fine with mandatory checks, but if it would unduly add to manuscript processing time, it could be optional and maybe pin a badge on the book, like the Verified Purchase badges on reviews.
Plagiarism isn’t endemic to self-publishing, but the differing models of publication require different solutions to verifying content.
A co-worker just asked me if Turnitin would even have caught this, since the fan fiction hadn’t been published as an e-book, but only available online. But I don’t think it needs to be that complicated – at least one distributor does this already: I received a very polite email from Draft2Digital when I published my novella, alerting me to the fact that they’d found part of the text on a website and asking me to verifying that I hold copyright.
As the website was my own, and the text was an excerpt from said novella, I thought it was silly. Now it feels like they have the right idea, and I appreciate the security check. To catch the plagiarism in question, the filters might need to be loosened a bit, but surely that’s possible.
I’m also really looking forward to the Goodreads alternatives. I’ve checked out a few and like them well enough but none of them seem to have everything I’m looking for.
I honestly think that Amazon should use a program that looks at plagiarism. It’s not only fan fiction that is getting plagiarized. I have heard of quite a few original works posted somewhere on the internet that were published by someone other than the original author.
I like your badge idea.
That commercial made me cry.
That would help customers who are wary over buying self published books by authors they’re not aware of.
How would plagiarism checks/software cope with common tropes, cliches and genre-specific dialogue in novels? Overlap exists, right down to specific dialogue without it being plagiarism. Think of the portrait scene in Titanic. How many times does that appear in romance novels with one character asking – Where do you want me? One character rearranging the other character’s limbs and hair. Getting hot as they sketch… Yes, I’ve written that scene too. The same scene was involved in a recent plagiarism scandal and I couldn’t help being amused that anywould would claim ownership to such a common trope. My scene, written 8 years before both books, might have tripped the sensor too. Most I’d be guilty of was being a newbie writer unwittingly using cliches.
Rose above said CaraNo was one of the first fanfic writers to write addressing the main character using You…. (hope I interpreted that right) I did that ten years ago and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the first. How does plagiarism-checking software cope with these variables?
Am I the only one who was floored by the names on that link to The Fivver Report on Melssia what’s her name? These are some of the loudest voices in self-publishing, throwing out advice and telling everyone how fantastic life is and how many books they are selling. And some have literary agents who praise them on their blogs to the highest heavens and innocent, trusting people like stupid ME believe it.
Eh, plagiarism. Same story, different author. Should the ff authors be pissed? Absolutely. Should they make a fuss? Definitely. Should Amazon put only self-pub’d books through a plagiarism algorithm? No. Do all books or none. There’s got to be a TOS, right? Some fine print that will make her repay for all the refunds minus the Amazon cut. If there isn’t there should be. What really amazes me is that the plagiarists think they can get away with it. Take a shortcut + become popular = getting caught.
Question: Is the problem with paying for reviews that they paid for only positive (4/5) star reviews or that the sudden influx of reviews puts them in Top X list? For this jaded long time reader, I don’t care if the authors pay for 4/5 star reviews. I never read those. I tend only read 3 star reviews since those tend to be more telling about the stories and the reader experience.
Not coming at this as an author. But as a reader/shopper, I find paid and “family” reviews incredibly frustrating. I do appreciate a well-written, thoughtful review of books etc in helping me buy something and to have the rubbish ones is just frustrating. More and more I’m going to reliable review sites outside Amazon.
This weekend my keyboard finally gave out, and even shopping for a new one on Amazon there are obviously fan reviews, which you have to wade through before you get to the worthwhile ones. Can’t prove anything, but reams of “this is the best keyboard I’ve ever owned” gets a bit wearing. So it’s not just books.
As an author, I know it happens a lot, but with street teams and screaming fans, it’s best just to keep away from it. There is a lot of “you review my book and I’ll review yours” going on, but as long as the authors do read the books and write what they think, it’s a marginal area. I don’t feel comfortable doing it. The people who buy reviews don’t exactly shout about it. I also know very successful authors who made it without gaming of any kind, so it can be done.
@CK: No, Amazon does not refund the money. It actually distributes the funds to the offender and requires the victim to sue the offender.
I think the screening proposal responses are interesting and have given me a lot of food for thought so I appreciate the discussion.
Hi, to all the friends I see here!
1. Amazon — and any other commercial e-publisher — could and should check for copyright infringement and plagiarism on every single product submitted. Absolutely. Those of us who have uncovered plagiarism/infringement as well as those who have been infringed know it’s not just the p2p and self-published stuff that incorporates stolen text.
2. Goodreads has imho made a huge mistake not only in the policy change, but in the way they implemented it. I lost one review in the Friday afternoon “massacre,” without warning. But it should also be noted that GR admin monitored the discussion thread and removed shelves that had been created solely to avoid the loss of users’ data. When I joked about changing an “author spams” shelf to “Hormel,” my newly created “Hormel” shelf was deleted about 15 minutes later.
3. I’ve been a staunch defender of readers’ and reveiwers’ rights to speak out about books and authors they don’t like, whether they’ve read the books or not, even if those “reviews” are retaliatory in nature. But a shill or sock puppet review or rating is not legitimate. Amazon used to be pretty good about removing non-legit (my term) reviews, then it shifted to only removing negative non-legit reviews. Now Goodreads is sliding the same direction. This is disappointing to me as both a reader and a writer. It appears the dollar/euro/whatever has trumped honesty and quality once again.
Eh, if Amazon wants to submit my self pubbed work to a plagiarism checker, this isn’t going to harm me. It doesn’t hurt me or punish me. What do I have to lose from them doing it? I write my own work so there is nothing for me to fear.
Those who plagiarize are the ones who would have reason for concern. (FYI, I’m not implying anybody here with concerns are plagiarizing). All these services do is vet the work, basically, if I understand correctly. How does that punish anybody? It protects the original artist.
@In Shock: The list is fake, posted by a bitter liar with an ax to grind. It kills me how someone posts something on the internet with no proof and people just accept that it’s true with no question.
@Mahala: While I don’t see requiring self-published books to go through some kind of plagiarism checking engine before publication as a punishment (seems like to a good idea to me, in fact), I’d also like to see ALL publishers check their authors’ books similarly. How quickly we forget plagiarizers like Janet Dailey (plagiarized Nora Roberts), Kaavya Viswanathan (also plagiarized Nora Roberts), Cassie Edwards (plagiarized numerous sources as documented by Smart Bitches, Trashy Books), Doris Kearns Goodwin (plagiarized several sources, she claims because she didn’t realize her research notes were direct quotes), and Q.R. Markham (whose Assassin of Secrets was pulled from publication because it was found to have plagiarized up to 35 sources).
Plagiarism is hardly an exclusive province of the self-published author, although I will grant that the current potential for making a “quick buck” by stealing someone else’s work and self-publishing it makes the incident rate seem much higher.
I’m all for checking my work. Honestly, I’m beggining to feel like a baseball player during the steroids era. I’d love to have a badge on my work saying I tested clean than have to worry that fans and readers are losing faith in us. I’ve got nothing to fear. I write my own works and if I have to prove it, so be it.
@Mahala: What you said.
And what Jen said.
Lexxie, having amazon check for plagiarism protects YOUR work from being plagiarized by others. How’s that punishing you?
Edited to add: oh, and count mine as another vote for running ALL books through a program that spots plagiarism.
Also, that commercial absolutely made me cry.
Turnitin is far from a perfect system, and we can’t estimate the extent to which it will kick out false positives (calling something plagiarism when it isn’t) and false negatives (not calling something plagiarism when it is) without careful examination of all the written material, and that takes human effort and time (and therefore money). They are a for-profit enterprise, so they guard their algorithm closely. There’s no way of knowing how it actually works. But we do know, from academic research on different plagiarism-detection programs, that false results are a recurrent issue.
In universities that use the program responsibly, instructors are regularly cautioned about the false positive problem, and if you’re teaching a class where you use it, it’s part of your job to follow up and examine all the relevant material (and question the student). I don’t see Amazon doing that, and publishers are cutting their operating expenses, not increasing them, so I don’t have much hope there either.
I am looking forward to your GR alternatives post.
Personally, I signed up for LibraryThing (when it was still in beta) before signing up at GR, too. GR had a great Android app – LT did not. Although Abe Books (owned by Amazon) is part owner of LT now, so I don’t know if migrating will help?
I’ve read FFn since 2009 and feel like I know these amazing and brill authors and fell in love with their writing years ago. I hope they get justice.
According to Melissa Foster this is the work of one man. A man who had been stalking and harassing authors via PM on Goodreads. Foster had him banned, and then multiple blogs came up about her.
Foster hinted that this Twitter account is a sock puppet, talking to the person’s other hand, so to speak.
It is more than likely the entire list is made up. Foster has hired an investigator and attorneys, and apparently has now been joined by other authors.
BTW, an email response from Fiverr:
And Hugh Howey’s response:
Mediabistro has reported about the plagiarism: http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/author-accused-of-copying-twilight-fan-fiction_b78228
Shey’s former editor for her self pubbed work has spoken out: http://www.madisonseidler.com/in-light-of-recent-events/#comment-112
Shey’s twitter is now private and her website is down.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Goodreads changes its policy to approve reviews before they get posted on their site. Like mama Amazon does. And it also wouldn’t surprise me if Goodreads rejects reviews due to profanity.
Looking forward to your post on Sunday, Jane.
“It’s probably time for Amazon to contract with TurnItIn”
Gee, ya think? I can’t imagine why they don’t already. What a quagmire of stink.
As the author of one of the stories Shey Stahl plagiarized–Dusty– I can admit to being absolutely violated, but not at all surprised. Unfortunately, plagiarism is something that happens, and with the popularity of fan fiction rising, it’s happening a lot. It’s a nice thought to have some kind of system that would stop this in the first place, but it doesn’t seem realistic to me. Amazon was really quick in removing her stories once we filed our complaints, and she can say she didn’t mean it or it’s a “misunderstanding” all she wants, the proof is in the pudding.
I may only be a fan fiction writer, but my co-author and I put a lot of heart into Dusty. It’s only been online for two years, but we started writing it two years before we ever posted the first chapter. It’s ours, not hers, and I will see that it stays that way.
@MaryElizabeth: I’m sure this has been very hurtful for you ladies. And one of the appeals of certain fanfics is what you just noted–the heart writers put into their stories. Obviously the readers recognize that and rallied behind you. Please don’t let this discourage you from writing. Stay classy and don’t get sucked into the dredges, and you’ll come through this okay.
On the whole, I think it would be a good thing to scan all ebooks for plagiarism concerns. But it would definitely need to include a non-automated verification process with a lot of common sense brought to bear – otherwise at least one of my books is going to get knocked out for plagiarising a Mr W Shakespeare (as would perhaps one in ten books published in English, I suspect). There are a heap of common phrases which are used over and over again. And yet, while scanning software is growing more sophisticated, I’m not even certain it would pick up the examples shown above.
In theory, a non-automated TurnItIn check-point in Amazon is a good solution to net plagiarists. In practice, though, it would be a logistical nightmare that would require extensive resources on Amazon’s side (and who would ultimately foot the bill, hmm?). They are a business; for them to consider implementing a significant, non-mandated change to their model, it ultimately has to save time and money. They will have to consider not only the various genres, but scholarly publications, anthologies and collections, satire and parody, etc. They’ll evaluate whether the actual snagging of plagiarists is worth sifting through all of the false-positive system hits. Honestly, it would be such a huge undertaking, I can’t see them doing it. Relying on the eyes and ears of their consumers seems to be enough for them.
But at least they acted swiftly in this particular situation–the books were taken off the market while the claims are reviewed.
The other thing about an online plagiarism checker is that it sometimes plagiarism goes two ways. There are authors who have had their stories changed into fanfiction by someone going in and changing all the names and posting it as AU.
If that doesn’t get detected, barring that person from republishing her book because someone plagiarized it and made it into fanfic if she gets her rights back becomes problematic.
I agree that there has to be something in place, but anything non-automated that actually works will take time and review, which at the rate things are being published now, and anything automated, or barely automated (e.g., checking and then asking “Do you have the rights to this?) will either not catch people who are actively trying to plagiarize or will have so many false positives that it can prevent people from publishing their own work.
I don’t know what the right answer is, but it sucks that there are shitty people out there.
Also, I have to add from a legal standpoint: Adding in something as complicated as a Turn-it-in-like approach, with a reviewing system, may create liability for Amazon that doesn’t exist now.
Right now, Amazon has DMCA immunity for copyrighted materials that show up on its site so long as it complies with DMCA takedown notifications. But the DMCA safeharbor is not available to content providers who have exercised the “right and ability to control” the material. What the “right and ability to control” means at this point is anyone’s guess, but almost everyone agrees it means something more than just the ability to delete. The more hands-on Amazon is with the content that users post, the more likely they are to walk their way out of the safe harbor.
If I were a lawyer for Amazon I would advise them to be reviewing material as little as possible. There’s no point in suing some random self-published author for a few thousand bucks. There is a huge point to a class-action suit against Amazon claiming statutory damages on behalf of all authors who have been plagiarized by self-published authors. Amazon’s got the deep pockets, so they have to maintain their DMCA immunity.
For those who want a pretty darned good overview of the caselaw history of the “right and ability to control,” try this on: http://www.dmlp.org/blog/2012/viacom-v-youtube-second-circuit-punts-right-and-ability-control
Just as an update on the GoodReads situation. One of the GR folk has suddenly answered a few of the questions on specific shelves that were deleted, specifically names that didn’t seem objectionable.
link to comment: http://www.goodreads.com/comment/show/83557449
Comment:Liz wrote: “The biggest example being “Due to Author” which has many meanings and not all of them are negative.”
Ala wrote: “What the hell do “taa” and “icy-hex” even mean? ”
We don’t comment publicly on individual cases, but in general, what we do is look at a shelf and see how it is used in context. In any case where we have decided to remove that shelf, we are confident that the shelf was being used in a way to review author behavior.
That would seem to indicate that when the name of the shelf can’t be interpreted that the GR staff are seeing which authors are on that shelf and then deleting. Or at least that’s how I and some of the folk in the thread interpret that – and I would love to be incorrect.
Still no site-wide announcement of the new policy. This seems so completely illogical and done in a way to needlessly anger people (specifically the delete first email second bit).
Why is judging a book based on author behaviour a bad thing? Why is that not a legitimate factor in deciding whether to recommend a book to others? I’m getting a little frustrated with all this “you can only judge THIS aspect of such and such, and you can’t take context into account” I’m seeing all over the place lately.
I try not to even be aware of the author a lot of the time, I just want to enjoy the story. However, if an author’s behaviour is forced into my awareness, and I disapprove of that behaviour, and it colours my will to buy, read, or recommend his or her book, that’s a legitimate factor. If I become aware that Author Y behaves in ways that I strongly approve of, I may well support him or her in spite of disliking the book. (I became aware of Orson Scott Card’s behaviour before I ever heard of his books, and even in spite of that, I tried Ender’s Game. Couldn’t do it. His smarmy face just covered every page.)
We do it with other products and businesses, and works of art, all the freaking time. Walmart, Chik-fil-a (sp? never seen one in person). People in English-speaking countries, for the most part, can critique any aspect of any thing they want to.
In short, Goodreads doesn’t get to decide what factors *I* take into consideration to make my decisions. I’m offended that they think they can.
Sorry to nitpick! RJ Palacio’s WONDER did not win this year’s “Newbury” — The One & Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate was the medalist. Wonder also did not make the honors list for the Newbery.
Ok, as you were. *puts away red pen*
Hi Jane. Nitpicky correction: If the fanfic authors had registered their work, they would be entitled to STATUTORY damages, which may or may not be 3x (or a lot greater) than actual damages, and attorneys fees. They would not be entitled to “treble damages,” necessarily.
(I’m guessing you were thinking “statutory” and typed “treble.”)
I’m a little disappointed by your piece on ZON Alert. You make it seem like there’s an actual team of folks there doing investigative journalism, and then criticize them for sloppy work. But it really looks like the whole thing is a bit of vindictive BS by a disappointed wannabe.
Also, I’m pretty sure Amazon already has a bot to check for originality. Perhaps you mean their bot should be more thorough, and that’s reasonable, though I understand that even the current system generates lots of false positives.
One last thought: plagiarism (and related forms of writer malfeasance) is also troublesome among trad-pub books (plenty of scandals there in recent years), and trad-pub houses have always paid for reviews–it’s part of the business plan. I’d like to see an investigation into that. Let’s not assume that these are simply indie problems.
@Jacques: Buying of reviews is a terribly believable problem. John Locke came out and admitted to buying both reviews and purchases of his books. I have no doubt that there are others who do so.
Buying copies of one’s own books to get on best seller lists is an age-old trick. Jacqueline Susann did it back in the day.
Granted, but it’s not an indie-exclusive problem. I’d go so far as to say that it’s a sporadic problem among indies, but an endemic problem among trad-pubs. I’d like to see Amazon do more to curtail the entire practice.
Of course, I’m mainly thinking of prominent indies, and not the millions of one-offs published by non-serious writers who then get friends and relatives to write implausible reviews… and you might well argue that this distinction is too vague to be useful. In that case, one could fairly say that millions of indies get fake reviews. Still, I think the problem is much more troubling among trad-pubs. After all, they don’t have the excuse of being naive, starry-eyed dreamers. These are people with a polished business plan and the capitalization to carry it out.
@Jacques: John Locke is a man with a polished business plan and capitalization. The cost of trad books makes the likelihood of this scheme highly unlikely.
That’s true. And he’s not the only one who did it, and those folks should certainly be decried–they deserve it. But I still think it’s not quite comparable to the trad-pub problem, and to focus exclusively on him and his ilk stigmatizes lots of hardworking indies who’ve achieved success without stooping to such tactics. Drawing attention to the endemic practice among trad-pub houses might bring some much needed perspective to this otherwise secretive, bare-knuckle industry.
The cost of trad books seems to me to make the likelihood of the practice much greater, though we hardly need to speculate about likelihoods in this.
Sorry, I missed the second part of your post. The cost of trad books seems to me to make the likelihood of the practice much greater, though we hardly heed to speculate about likelihoods in this.
@Jacques: The reason it is less likely is because the author must provide the paid reviewer with a copy of the book. If the book is $8, the paid review becomes much more costly than if the book is $1.
@Jackie Barbosa: Thanks, Jackie. That’s a fair point, though I doubt those costs are actually prohibitive given the scale of practice. But it’s also worth remembering that there are no book-costs to fake reviews when the reviewer does not actually read the book, as is likely with many reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
But @Jane and @Jackie Barbosa, I don’t mean to argue with you, since it is very likely that you are wiser than I in this. Just color me suspicious, and a lifelong lover of the little guy.
I think it would be difficult to find a site more supportive of indies than DA, and I certainly can’t fault Jane for covering the dark spots as well as the bright.
@pooks: absolutely right on both counts! That’s why I love this site, too!
@Jacques: For paid reviews to be useful to an author, the author must be able to afford to purchase them in relatively large quantities. In addition, Amazon reviews are given more “weight” when the reviewer is an “Amazon Verified Purchaser.”
The scheme John Locke engaged in involved paying $5 for each review, 99 cents of which the reviewer would use to purchase the book from Amazon. This means the cost to him of each review was actually about $4.66 cents (since he earned about 34 cents for each book sold to a reviewer). This means he could purchase 100 reviews for less than $500, which is less than the cost of many other forms of paid advertising.
By comparison, a traditionally published author whose book was available in digital for $8 a copy would have to pay $12 for each review (to cover the cost of the book plus the $4 for the actual review). The traditionally published author receives 25% of net for each book purchased, so the net cost of each review will be about $10.60, but keep in mind that the traditionally published author won’t see those royalties for up to a year after the purchase, as opposed to a self-published author who will see them after 60 days. This means cash outlay for those same 100 Amazon Verified Purchase reviews is way more than double what the self-published author would pay to achieve the same “value.” From my perspective as an author who’s been published both ways, the investment just doesn’t look worth it for the traditionally published author.
In other words, the reason this scheme has been utilized more by self-published authors than by house-published authors is because it’s so much cheaper for the self-published author.