No, really, plagiarism doesn’t ‘just happen’

8 Mar

(No, I don’t spend a lot of time looking up these stories, they just show up on my horizon.)

If one were very, very charitable, one would imagine that someone who doesn’t read much, or who doesn’t spend much time online, would not know what plagiarism actually is, and therefore, one would be able to excuse/justify/explain people like Cassie Edwards (“oh, she’s so old, she couldn’t have known better”) or Kristi Diehm (“oh, but she’s just a blogger”), plagiarists.

I am not that charitable, by far. My mother is about Ms Edwards’ age, and she knows very well, not only what constitutes plagiarism, but that plagiarizing is both intellectually lazy and morally wrong. For her part, Kristi Diehm had written (and then deleted), a full post on the topic before going on to steal other people’s intellectual content. Also, I’m ‘only’ a blogger *snort* and I’ve known what plagiarism is well before colleges and high schools started using turnitin to catch it.

I’m even less inclined to excuse people like, say, Timothy Parker, who earned a Guinness World Record as most syndicated crosswords compiler back in 2000. Parker gets paid royalties and fees for this work; instead,  he copied old crossword puzzles almost clue by clue, raking in plenty of money over the years, for work other people had already done–or by reusing his own word under fake bylines.

The original investigation was published earlier this month by fivethirtyeight, and the story was picked up by the New York Times and other big news outlets today.

Anyone who has paid any attention to the many, many, many plagiarism stories that happen in relatively small communities, involving well known, wealthy people (Sherrilyn Kenyon is suing Cassandra Clare, for example), will start noticing the usual excuses, rationalizations, and explanations.

(Please note: The quoted text is from fivethirtyeight’s very comprehensive article.)

It never happened!

Parker remained steadfast under the weight of the data. “We don’t go hunting through [other] puzzles trying to see what their theme is,” Parker said. “The thing I’m trying to do is be different from everyone else.”

It’s a coincidence!

When I spoke with Parker on Thursday, he didn’t deny that many of his puzzles exactly replicated themes and theme answers from Times puzzles. “To me, it’s just mere coincidence,” he said. He did deny that themes were purposefully replicated with his knowledge and claimed that he hadn’t looked at a New York Times crossword in years. “We don’t look at anybody else’s puzzles or really care about anyone else’s puzzles,” Parker said.

It’s subconscious/an accident!

When I asked Parker about the 65 puzzles he edited that replicated themes from earlier New York Times puzzles, he chalked it up to the statistical inevitability of having edited so many puzzles over the years. “Out of 15,000, I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “I would expect it to be a couple of hundred.”

It’s envy!

I have no quote for this one, as it happened in a real life conversation, but when it was mentioned that Will Shortz, the crossword editor for the New York Times, stated that it’s clear (to him) that Parker plagiarized, the comment was, “Well, of course Shortz would say that; there’s bad blood/envy, they are competitors, after all.” (Shades of Roberts v Daley, and of when Roberts dared to comment on the Cassie Edwards’ plagiarism scandal)

I am very much a cynic, and I doubt that there will be many, if any at all, negative repercussions for Parker; unless he is taken to court by someone with real clout (in this case, it would seem only the New York Times would have both the clout and the standing), chances are that, at worst, there will be negative publicity but no legal consequences (see Cassie Edwards, whose old books–with all the plagiarized bits–still sell); or, at best, he’ll fade into obscurity (see Kristi Diehm, who apparently closed up shop at some point).

Remember, even though plagiarism is always unethical, it is not always a copyright violation, ergo, it is not always actionable. And even when it is, as the writer at fivethirtyeight discovered, chances of bringing a successful suit for it are small.

~ * ~

edited to add: the title of this post is a reference to this older post.

5 Responses to “No, really, plagiarism doesn’t ‘just happen’”

  1. Lori 09/03/2016 at 1:37 AM #

    Hope you don’t mind but I cut and pasted this entire post onto my blog.

    • heavenlea27 09/03/2016 at 9:31 PM #

      The ‘she’s so old she couldn’t have known better’ comment made me laugh. What; did plagiarism only become a thing when the interweb went world wide?

      Even if you’re so old you dated one of Noah’s kids from the Ark, plagiarism has been around just as long. I’m sure there are a million books out there (for all those kiddies out there, a book is a whole bunch of paper glued or tied together with a pretty picture on the cover that you can actually hold in your hand) that are copied from something else.

      I get that ideas are scarce and you have to have a hook to get a reader but surely it’s not that hard to have a similar idea and put your own spin on it? Or maybe it is and that’s why all the lazy buggers just go and pinch something.

      At least it’s not something I will ever have to worry about *grin*

      • azteclady 10/03/2016 at 5:59 AM #

        The “she’s too old to know” argument was used during the Cassie Edwards debacle, by people accusing the SmartBitches of being ‘mean girls’ bend on destroying a ‘poor old lady’ just for the sake of ‘becoming famous themselves.’

    • azteclady 10/03/2016 at 5:57 AM #


      • Elle Brown 10/03/2016 at 6:59 AM #

        That’s what it seems to be about now – making yourself famous at the expense of someone else. I’d rather not be famous for a minute and still have some integrity.

        And LOL at Lori’s cnp’ing your work bahahaha…

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