Can Plagiarism Ever be Conquered?

Sunday 3 September 2017

The indie-writing world has been rocked this week with the news that yet another self-published author has had her work plagiarised but what does this really mean to the book industry as we know it?  

In reality, very little will change.  Book plagiarism has been going on for years and yet still authors are continually finding themselves the victims of what amounts to theft.  Sadly, this news has made me question the authenticity and credibility of all authors.  Can we really know and trust our favourite authors not to plagiarise or do we blindly read on in the hope that the book we are enjoying has not been lifted from another source?  With so many books on the market, the chances of stumbling across a duplicitous book are highly unlikely and this makes all authors fair game to those looking to profit from their success.  We all know that the ebook market is hugely rewarding financially to indie authors with many making a decent earning from book sales, so is it the financial incentive that tempts people to plagiarise or is it more for the fame that comes with the media success of writing a bestseller?   With so many book signings taking place worldwide, and new authors popping up and marketing multiple books within their first year of writing, it begs the question: how many people sitting at those tables are genuine authors?  

Since this news broke, I have found myself questioning the validity of the ebook in front of me and I’ve subsequently started reading in a different manner.  Rather than focussing on the story, I am looking for changes in writing style and other signs that the work could be akin to a “cut and shut” form of writing.  This for me is taking the pleasure out of reading and I suspect it will be a while before I can truly let go and just enjoy reading again.

Unfortunately, you couldn’t just opt out of reading books by self-published authors as many well known published authors have also been indicted over the last decade with famous authors also accused of copying sentences and phrases.  This adds to the confusion as to what constitutes plagiarism since authors have assumed they were safe by openly acknowledging their factual sources and assuming that a change of words was sufficient to protect themselves from allegations of plagiarism.  Even books submitted for major prizes have not been exempt from copying and it is even more worrisome that authors can reach such a writing pinnacle without having their work checked for authenticity.  

In my career, I regularly check the credibility of students’ work.  In years gone by, plagiarism was only identified by changes in writing style or conflicting arguments in essays or by “Googling” sentences, but thankfully time has moved on with the introduction of plagiarism checking software.  This makes me question why something isn’t available for authors especially through the largest self-publishing organisations.  Let’s face it, no one should just be able to upload another writer’s words as their own, full-stop.    

It is clear that there is no element of naivety here, as is often the case with students. People who plagiarise or upload pirated copies of books are criminals, pure and simple. They should be identified, they should be prosecuted and they should never be allowed to upload another book again.  This, in an ideal world, sounds easy but with the number of authors using pen names, it is common for these plagiarists to simply reinvent themselves under another pseudonym.  
Authors who believe that their work has been plagiarised can report their findings to their ebook sellers but is this simply too late?   Surely Amazon and other major ebook suppliers need to do more to protect the indie author community by adopting a screening policy before books are uploaded for sale.  Apple, apparently, checks certain well known, and currently popular genres, before uploading them but even their system is not foolproof.  

So what can we as avid readers do?  Well, it’s simple.  If you come across a book that you have suspected has been plagiarised, either in its entirety or just chapters, you must report it to both the seller and the plagiarised author.  Without readers identifying possible cases of plagiarism, authors will continue to be vulnerable to plagiarists so help the book world to put these cheaters out of business and be the second line of defence in the battle against these fraudsters, even if the first line of defence is failing authors by allowing plagiarised work to be sold in the first place!  

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