First, the niceties: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one anywhere. You can read what I know (or think I know) about copyright and fair use, as it applies to the United States, here and here, respectively. Based on my understanding of both, I believe that my use of screenshots and quotes in this post, for the purpose of commentary and discussion, as well as to express my opinions, fall squarely under fair use.
Also, I’m using either do-not-link links, or cached pages from the Wayback Machine, because I’m not giving the assholes at The Hustle hits.
Finally, this is very long. No, seriously; it’s insanely long. You’ve been warned.
And now, on to the post. (Please note the update in the body of the post)
On July 21st, I posted a note linking to Kat Mayo’s rant about John Havel plagiarizing Australian author Anna Cleary. I updated the post with links to follow up pieces, commented a couple of times over there, and thought that that would be the extent of my involvement.
What was I thinking?
Okay, a quick overview. Here is Havel’s piece at the Wayback Machine (archived on July 21, 2015).
Havel’s stated aim was to see whether he could publish a #1 amazon best seller in a week. His implied goal was to prove whether, by gaming the (amazon) system, he could rake in the money. After all, he opens by telling us about someone hiring out non-fiction writing and making $150K a year, so I think it’s safe to infer Havel was aiming at an income at least in the ballpark of that–lets say, just to give him some leeway, 100K per year.
But hey, why invest a few bucks paying a ghostwriter when you could plagiarize? Which he states, plainly enough, was his intention: “My first attempt was artfully combining a public domain romance novel from 1909 with a modern-day erotica.” When that did not meet Havel’s pathetic standards, he took a different approach: “Plan B was more straightforward: find a romance novel, make sure it reads well enough, change the character names, and repackage it. In other words, shameless plagiarism for the sake of science with little to no remorse.”
So he grabbed a novel under copyright, and still on sale,¹ changed some names and other details, then plagiarized a number of actual authors’ bios to cobble together his “own,” and hit publish.
So, when I say that John Havel is a plagiarist? Well, I’m quoting John Havel’s words–this is not defamation material.
And when I say that he is also pretty stupid, I’m stating my opinion, based on the facts available.
~ * ~
First, Havel failed to prove his thesis. As Nate from the Digital Reader notes, not only was the plagiarism flagged pretty damned quick, but the best the assholes could do was hit #897 on the free bestseller (oxymorons ahoy!) list, and sell 9 copies,² after investing $20 in stock photos, paying $2.50 for reviews from Fiverr, and nagging 50 acquaintances to download a free copy and then post a review–that Havel had to write. (Unless, of course, he also plagiarized those–I rule out nothing, here.)
Second, Havel actually admitted to plagiarizing–loudly, publicly and without remorse–and he couldn’t even take the time to make sure the work he was plagiarizing was not under copyright. Hell, when asked whether he would have done something different, Havel’s response (“The obvious change would be to use a different body of work that wasn’t under copyright”) could be construed to imply that he either knew or suspected that Anna Cleary’s work was not in the public domain, or that he didn’t give much of a shit if it was. Pretty damning, any way you look at it.
edited to add: I just realized that Havel’s original plan, which involved “combining a public domain romance novel from 1909 with a modern-day erotica,” basically discounts the fact that the “modern day erotica” would be under copyright, by virtue of its publication date (“author’s life plus 70 years”–US Copyright Office) That benefit of the doubt I was half-willing to give Havel? It just withered into dust.
Third, Havel justifies his plagiarism, his copyright infringement, his chicanery and general dickishness, by blaming amazon’s drive to…make money. Because, clearly, companies should not strive to make money.
And fourth, if I’m not mistaken, by grabbing the top result from a Google search as his “author” photo, Havel may also be in trouble for violating the copyright of that photographer. (I certainly hope the copyright owner here is not as wimpy as Harlequin, by the way.)
Stupid is a stupid does, son.
~ * ~
In the end, and much to my dismay, Harlequin didn’t deem The Hustle important enough to take to court or even give a proper spanking. Not withstanding John Havel’s and Sam Parr’s assertions that they are “on great terms with Harlequin,” I speculate (opinion ahoy!) that The Hustle got a well-crafted letter from the publisher’s lawyers, after which they proceeded to crap their pants, and then posted their half-assed apology.
Unfortunately, from where I sit, Harlequin’s inaction in this instance not only fails to discourage potential plagiarists or pirates; as far as I’m concerned, it actually encourages douchebags to continue being douchebags (see Sam Parr’s continued douchey comments in this post at BookThingo, for example).
And the thing is, John Havel was not doing this in a vacuum.
By his own statements, John Havel is not a small time blogger (such as yours truly), who could be, if not forgiven, at least understood.
John Havel writes for The Hustle, which advertises itself as a media company. (In fact, Havel’s LindedIn profile–thanks, Alex!–says: “Hustle Con teaches startups tactics through our conferences and website. Kinda like TED Talks but not as hoity-toity and more actionable.”)
Please take a few minutes to digest that.
The Hustle is a media company that publishes an article by someone who proudly admits to plagiarizing, yet no one there fact-checks whether the work in question was under copyright or in the public domain, as stated.
A media company where the reaction, when called out for being assholes, is to shut down the comments and edit out the details of the copyrighted work that was plagiarized.³
A media company with a representative who, when posting a link to a rebuttal published at The Hustle istelf, writes “Eat your hearts out”–and who can’t even take the time to hyperlink properly. (Then again, the byline for said representative reads, “I run a media company: Hustle Con Media. Started/sold a few startups in the past. Pix from my latest xcountry motorcyle trip:” followed by yet another naked link).
I don’t know about you, but my confidence in such a media company would be rated in the negatives.
~ * ~
Last week, I linked to Casey Lucas’s fantastic piece, By Any Other Name, in which she examines the rampant misogyny in Havel’s article, and in all the choices he made–from the genre to the tropes to the author’s bio and photograph. Please do go over and read it, she makes several excellent points.
There are more reactions from several different quarters, as the level of what the actual fuck in Havel’s piece of shit is high indeed.
For example, since Sam Parr could not stop being a dick on twitter (apparently, he still can’t), Eden Connor engaged him, which led to an offer to write for them (which seems to be his modus operandi with anyone who interacts with him in any way).
Ms Connor offered instead to write a rebuttal, and basically dared Sam Parr to publish it in The Hustle.
To their credit, they did.
Note: with Ms Connor’s written permission, I’m re-posting that piece in its entirety at the end of this post (copied from the Word document she emailed me, not from The Hustle’s page); please be aware that I have edited the link to the Havel piece to a cached page, and I am not linking to Ms Nunes’s GoFundMe page because I have issues with that crowdfunding platform’s policies; you can find out how to help Ms Nunes here.)
However, Sam Parr and The Hustle seemed to take the opportunity to double down on their douchebaggery. Witness the image of the screaming angry woman serving as banner for the article, as well as the little comments Sam Parr inserted in several places when he published the rebuttal.
So John Havel writes for a media company but doesn’t tweet?
People, I’m the next thing to a Luddite. I don’t tweet (or facebook, Pinterest, tumblr, Instagram, etc), but please, for the love of all the puppies, tell me: How the fuck do these idiots expect anyone in possession two brain cells connected to each other, to believe that a guy in his thirties, who writes for a media company, and is trying to expose the big bad wolf that is amazon, does not tweet?
Oh, and John Havel is not a white anglo saxon male?
So, what, he just happened to grow up in a bubble where racism doesn’t exist? And, even though he writes for a fucking media company, he was never aware of the implications of the phrase “jungle fever”?
Seriously? Look, asshats, I am not white. I immigrated to the US as an adult–which means that a helluva lot of local cultural references and pitfalls are invisible to me. Plus, as stated above, I am very much not media savvy, and yet, even I am aware of the implications of the phrase.
I’m forced to repeat myself: Bitches, please.
And hey, a search of titles and descriptions on amazon will turn up the phrase “jungle fever,” so it’s a legitimate choice for a media savvy writer publishing an article on a media company’s website to use it–instead of the more acceptable, and very much searchable, “BMWW”
Sorry. I got nothing on this one; the WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING??? factor is too large for me to parse.
~ * ~
Interesting as well that, even though it was stated that the piece would be sent to Ms Connor for approval of any edits prior to publishing, that didn’t happen.
Also interesting is the book, and its review, that Sam Parr chose to include in that tweet: a fairly early work by Ms Connor, published ca. 2010.
In the author’s words: “Wildly Inappropriate was groundbreaking stuff in its day; a young black submissive, who becomes a sex slave to a white man, who is into domestic discipline. Written by a white woman. (grin) Now, it wouldn’t raise a brow, but at the time, it was controversial. Still sells to this day, and over the years, the tone of the reviews have changed dramatically, from African American women as well as my non-IR crowd.”
~ * ~
After I saw Kat Mayo’s update, I contacted Ms Connor to ask for permission to re-post her piece. Among other things, she told me:
I wish I’d been calmer when writing my rebuttal, because the one thing I didn’t work into my piece was the very thing that ignited my anger. So many of my fellow IR writers are black woman who define ‘hustle’, in my opinion. They’re the ones who possess real entrepreneurial spirit, not these posers who read The Hustle, looking for the shortcut to riches. These women get up at four a.m. to write that next chapter, before they wake their kids and/or get ready for work. Oftimes, a college degree was denied them, so they learn their craft as they can, and they polish, and proof, sometimes giving up essentials to pay for the things they must outsource in order to make their dreams come true, like edits and cover art.
They see Amazon for the chance it is, a chance for their words and their stories to be published and read by a ravenous audience, eager for more.
And the authors know that my closing remark in the rebuttal piece is the truth, that the doors of traditional publishing are still closed to them, even to those who regularly hit #1 in the IR category.
To game these women? Unforgivable.
And the slur, “jungle fever,” cuts twice as deep. His entire project makes a mockery of their hard work, on top of the racial insult.
I did an event last Sunday, called #OneLove, where we offered readers two free eBooks, just for coming by. One mainstream romance, and one IR romance. The spirit in that room was profound, and the contrast between what happened there, and how we felt reading The Hustle’s piece, couldn’t be bigger. I had the chance to see many of the young women I’m referring to, just pouring their hearts out about their work, about their hopes and their dreams.
This ass just turned around and made all that gained ground feel pointless, to them.
(For those of you who get facebook, the room is visible/readable here.)
~ * ~
So what, exactly, was the point of this exercise?
On The Hustle’s side? I honestly think this was trollery from beginning to end–as Sam Parr himself tweeted, “thanks for the views.” I mean, before this, who had even heard of this outfit?
On my part? I care about intellectual honesty, and I write about plagiarism (much too often, damned be the state of things), to educate people such as Nicola Prentis, who commented over at BookThingo.
Ms Prentis says that she’s an author, and that she would be happy with the “free publicity” being plagiarized would give her. (This reminds me, strongly, of the argument that authors should be flattered when their books are pirated, because it means readers like their work. To which I say: fucking bullshit.)
~ * ~
Finally, here’s Ms Connor’s piece:
Shaking the Leaves on the Amazon Jungle, by Eden Connor
For openers, I get that the irreverent tone is part of The Hustle’s shtick. Allow me to reply in kind.
The recent article by John Havel, purporting to expose Amazon’s failings in regard to plagiarism and the ease with which the system can be gamed by get-rich-quick entrepreneurs, landed inside the romance community with all the aplomb of a fart in church.
See fellas, you cannot say on one hand that you chose romance as a category because it was popular and stood to make your fake ebook the most money, while insulting those who legitimately write in the genre. I’ll leave it to Harlequin to take you to school on the issue of your plagiarism of one of their books. But, yeah, that’s me giving you the side-eye for not knowing the difference between stealing someone’s copyrighted work and what material might lie in the public domain. Two someones actually, writer and editor.
I got another bone to pick.
You allowed your bias to taint an article that otherwise, I could wholeheartedly support.
See, I also believe that Amazon needs to clean their own house before they point fingers at mine. As an indie writer who self-publishes on Amazon, I’m stunned that no one has called the powers that be at Fiverr on the carpet for allowing postings for fake reviews, knowing that such reviews are against the terms of service at Amazon. I don’t feel that saying the suppliers of the demand would just move to Craigslist, for example, gives Fiverr a pass. I’m even more incensed that Amazon lets the gamers and get-rich-quick schemers fill up their virtual shelves, making discoverability almost impossible for the legitimate writers.
I see, almost daily, in the various author promotion groups I frequent, posts like this one, asking for ‘review exchanges’, also prohibited by Amazon’s TOS.
Or this one, which is a screen cap off the profile page of some random person who sent me a friend request. See the two Facebook groups where people join in order to trade reviews to bolster their books reviews?
So, yes, there is a problem at Amazon, one I’d love to see genuinely addressed. Amazon probably has How-To books on its virtual shelves right now, that detail the process of gathering fake reviews in the quest to be ‘an Amazon best-selling author’. Rather than going after those books–which might make them a buck–they’ve decided to go after legitimate reviews instead, turning many away on the grounds that the author and book blogger might be Goodreads ‘friends’.
But if, as I’ve been assured, the editorial intent here was to get Amazon’s attention, then I fail to comprehend why the author of the article was allowed to fart in church. Why include the dismissive language toward writers in the romance genre, as well as those who write in the interracial romance subcategory
All you’ve done is given Jeff Bezos solid, unimpeachable grounds to overlook your project.
Oh, the slur toward honest authors who had Fabio on their covers was tongue in cheek? We should all get that? It was…gasp…sarcasm? Okay, let’s talk about the use of ‘jungle fever’, which stirred up dust on a much deeper issue.
See, I’m from South Carolina. You might have seen us in the news recently. How did you miss the underlying message from mass murderer Dylann Roof, that his irrational fear that black men were ‘raping white women’ was his justification for trying to start a race war?
Let me deconstruct that phrase for you, since I think your gender and/or social status might have protected you from the bitter realities of the world. ‘Jungle fever’ is code for something altogether unpalatable. The phrase encapsulates the very real fear among otherwise sane white men, that led to the foundation and rise of the KKK. It’s the phrase that contains every drop of the hatred that led to teenager Emmett Till being tied to the back of a pickup truck and dragged until his own mother didn’t recognize him. His crime? Why, he might’ve looked at a white women with lust in his heart.
What? That’s not what you meant? Well, it’s by God what you insinuated. That white women everywhere just can’t wait to jump on some big, black schlong, (wink, wink), so let’s just change the ethnicity of this character we’re stealing, for bonus points.
Grow up. You sound like my last trip into a frat house,which would’ve been… let me think…. 1982? I see nothing much has changed.
Except…. the world. Thanks to a thing called the internet, we can now run you to ground and call you out for what you are. Turning off comments and switching Twitter links won’t save you, either. The first thing any entrepreneur learns is to not insult people as a matter of course.
Make your shouts of “PC police” if you must. But you do not get a pass for talking out of school and calling it humor, or crying that it’s your ‘angle’, while at the same time asking to be taken seriously on the issue of Amazon’s shoddy plagiarism policies.
Pick one, because casual racial slurs thrown out in the name of laughs, and integrity on any matter, cannot exist side by side.There are any number of romance writers who’d have given you permission to use their book. Five minutes’ of internet research would’ve led you to Rachel Ann Nunes’ Go Fund Me campaign, for example, where she has tried for nearly a year to raise the funds to fight the plagiarism of her work in court. I guarantee, she’d have loved to provide a quote. And a ton of her research, all legit.
But rather than seek any sort of assistance, you let pass an article that demeaned every woman who ever wrote an interracial romance. And doubly insulted the women of color who write them. And who read them. Oh, we aren’t your target audience? Whoops.
See, putting it out there in the blogosphere means you get feedback from everybody. And turning off comments, and letting the author hide behind a Twitter link that cuts to the publication and not directly to his Twitter profile, is farting in church a second time, gents.
So, you got your giggle from the frat boy types who dislike the way the world is changing. And a much larger lesson on what it means to be a responsible journalist, I hope.
But at least you did learn that hitting #1 in the Interracial Romance category on Amazon ain’t a walk in the park. I’ve only managed that feat once, out of several tries.
But allow me to acknowledge what you did not. That there are women of color who regularly hit the #1 slot on Interracial Romance on Amazon, whose work still wouldn’t get a second look from one of the Big Five publishers–and her complaint is far more legitimate than mine.
See, I, like Mr. Havel, am white. And unlike him, I accept that the world will offer me breaks that some do not get. And I will not trade on that misery in order to get a laugh.
In summation, I’ll defer to the words of a woman of color. To Kaia Bennett, an outstanding indie writer, who commented on my Facebook profile. (Which is public, so y’all come right on over to express your outrage that someone dared piss in your frat boy cess pool of ‘humor.’)
Writing is a profession in which we all must acknowledge that words have weight. Those who engage in comedy and satire don’t get a pass because ‘it was funny’ when people are dying every damn day.
Clean up Amazon? I daresay you have a more immediate task.
So, what was really accomplished here? You stole a book from someone, and in doing so, opened yourself and your publication to a lawsuit. You insulted every romance writer I know, and slung an extra measure of dung on the writer of color, writing in the interracial romance category, who checks her Amazon account and knows damn good and well that if she’d made both her characters Caucasian–or made up a profile purporting to be a white, middle aged woman–her books would reach a wider audience.
But she, and I, continue to write the legitimate interracial romance, because we believe that everyone deserves to be the heroine.
But some of you got a good laugh.
~ * ~
¹ You can purchase a copy of the original work, Untamed Billionaire, Undressed Virgin, by Anna Cleary, at amazon. This is not an affiliate link.
² Sam Parr from The Hustle confirmed this, by commenting at BookThingo that they “made $9.” Way to rake in the money.
³ In the immortal words of John Havel, the ‘explanation’ for these unprofessional actions is easy: “Removing the references and the comments on the article was a knee-jerk reaction to a problem that we were aware of but didn’t want to escalate. We weren’t expecting the type of response and immaturely ran upstairs to hide under our beds, hoping it would go away.”