I really do hate Twitter…
…because that tweet directed me to this Medium post from a writer I did not know… and is therefore responsible for this post. Immediately, I felt sympathetic toward that author, Felicia C. Sullivan. She is beyond fed up and writes here on Medium:
After a lot of thought and quite a few emails, it feels as if Medium isn’t the best long-term home for my work. Every single essay and article I write is systematically stolen, republished, and monetized.
Her entire piece is scathing. She really lets loose – and is not wrong in doing so. She has a right not to have her writings stolen.
There was copyright here in England (as a major example) in the 1600s and 1700s, but the laws were not really enforced, and most writers earned livings doing something else or did not need to live off their book sales. Attempts at enforcement started to appear in the early 19th century when authors began to try to defend their work IN ORDER TO EARN LIVINGS. In those days small publishers – sometimes, it was just a guy in a shop – would simply reprint “hit” books without permission to try to make some money… but the original author of course NEVER SAW A CENT from such sales. Early 1800s U.S. writer Washington Irving (“Rip Van Winkle” and “Sleepy Hollow”), the first American known to have supported himself through writing fiction, became one of the first high profile “modern” writers regularly to resort to suing in order to try to protect his copyright.
Plagiarism (taking someone’s work without attribution and using it as your own) is not itself usually illegal, but is severely frowned upon and may get you an “F” on your school history term paper or even fired if you work in academia and/or journalism, whereas copyright infringement (defined by the U.S. Copyright Office as “when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the permission of the copyright owner”) is more technical, illegal, and may get you dragged into civil court.
Regardless thievery of all types still goes on, and our tech has now made it far easier. My advice for writers online has long been this: DO NOT PUBLISH ANYTHING that is IMPORTANT to you MONETARILY that may be EASILY CUT and PASTED. I have had blog posts lifted in the past – I know it goes on.
I post my novel excerpts – which are truly important to me – as screen captures because those are a little tougher to reproduce on the net. Nothing gets fully published outside of Kindles or paper books. The .pdf of my free short story is probably the easiest to steal, and I am unaware of any theft as of yet; but just because something is free to read, does not mean it is meant to be free to be stolen.
Theft is the reason I also treat manuscripts very carefully – because they can be stolen. I do not email manuscripts to anyone I do not trust implicitly, which is why I do not use so-called “beta readers” or “editors” who advertise on that Fiverr site. (I would have to be blind drunk or gone insane.) I try to at least make stealing what I have written something of a “challenge” for a potential plagiarist or thief. Yes, someone determined to smash a window will get into my house, but I am not going to be stupid enough to hand him a front door key.
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Still, even if you try to protect yourself chances are your book, or more likely parts of it, will be stolen in some form by someone(s) – and you may never even know it.
There is apparently an entire industry in fraudulent/gibberish e-books on Amazon’s KDP – often produced in countries where our copyright is not much enforced and perhaps our laws do not easily reach; and money launderers have even gotten into the act. Closer to home, some writers employ “ghostwriters”/ “researchers” who occasionally, uh, “consult” “little known” books (or sometimes even better known ones) and “borrow” some bits from this one and some other bits from that one, etc. There are always rumors and claims (often made for what appear very good reasons) of new authors’ contract-seeking manuscripts being “mined” by publishers/agents and the ideas given to established authors, or even lesser-known already published books being used for “research.” (Even if, say, you the “querying” author or the already published one finds out about such don’t kid yourself and imagine you “got ’em” and you will win. You almost certainly lack the financial means to challenge a large publisher’s battery of lawyers defending their “high-powered” and “famous” author in court in the face of your copyright infringement suit. You would be the one ruined, not them – and THEY know that.)
Despite all of that, incredibly some actually think the idea of copyright itself is dated, particularly mostly regarding, it seems, so-called “fanfiction.” (“Copyright has become obsolete, and is now preventing cultural, social, and educational advancement.”) Authors disliking “fanfic” has become characterized as some heavyweights who are just killjoys aiming to squash others’ “creativity.” It is not nearly that simple an issue. My view of “fanfiction” of copyrighted works is summed up this way: If you want to be “creative” write your own original tales, with your own original characters, and don’t – not even for the love of them – “steal” from someone else’s… because even if you personally are not making money off of them, they are still NOT yours.
Author Kirsten Hacker wrote on Medium in 2019:
…sites like Amazon have been flooded with plagiarized material for years. Producing a modern adaptation of your mom’s collection of romance novels from the 1970s is illegal, but it is done on a regular basis. Even new works are being plagiarized in this way. My novel was plagiarized within four months after it was published.
A year ago, watching a television program I will not name, what I heard voiced on screen several times really unsettled me.
Set in current day France, some lines of what I would NOT consider to have been “commonplace” dialogue strongly resembled what I had published at least a year (and more) before that episode was produced. It may have been a coincidence (I hope!), but regardless my stomach turned over. I had never felt that way before, and I admit I have become much more conscious of and sensitive to this issue since that evening.
Protecting original writing is incredibly difficult. It is not merely about authors being overbearing or awkward. Who among us would honestly not be seriously annoyed to find out someone had stolen our original characters and original ideas?
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Then there is this, and I am sure there are others just like “her.” I had never heard of “Bella Forrest” until yesterday. That name appears on Amazon as the author of over 100 novels – and they are each around “300” pages, it seems – since just 2013, and WE ARE LED TO BELIEVE “she” sells millions.
Yet “she” manages also to have no Wikipedia page (which is decidedly odd given that level of “fame”). Also “she” appears to have exactly one photo (if it is even “her”) in Google (again, not the norm for that level of individual success). And “her” web site “bellaforrest.net” is entirely “business” and tells us nothing about “her.”
On Twitter, some have long been suspicious:
The least likely explanation of “her” seems to be a woman alone who is just that obsessively private – another J.D. Salinger? – who writes every hour of every day.
A second explanation that would be acceptable is if “she” is a cohort of writers all using that one pen name to try to sell. (Isn’t “Bella” the name of a Twilight character? Is that just a coincidence?) A group of writers is more likely than just a “she” given “her” prodigious writing output.
Indeed, a horde of ghostwriters… employed – if that is the right word – by a company in Cyprus, writing as “her”?:
Worst of all is this: Are those “ghostwriters” stealing material from published fantasy books – and those original writers are unaware?
So who knows what the heck is going on with that “Bella.” Interestingly, though, since those tweeters in May 2020 above, all of “Bella’s” publishing STOPPED with a July 28, 2020 release. There have been no (apparently new) English language releases since then from “someone” who had been releasing – if you look at “her” Amazon author page – at least a book every few weeks for years. Among “reviews” for that latest, we see comments wanting to know what happened to “her.” Are they from legit readers?
“Her” web site does make reference to a “delay” in publishing “her” latest:
That delay – which had been until August – is now many months. No further explanation.
Welcome to just some tiny bits of the known theft and misrepresentation that besets authors and undermines reputable publishing, 2021 version. We don’t like to think too much about that stuff, but it is sadly reality. Online reviews are full of fraud and fakery (which is one reason I pay no attention to them), your work might get plagiarized by some “beta reader,” or copyright infringed by that legit agent/publisher after your “query” was rejected by them, or even stolen by criminals in “East Who-Knows-Where.” And who knows what else…
And Washington Irving thought he had it tough? It could all almost drive to despair someone trying quietly and legitimately to write good novels for legitimate readers. But we must all – writers and readers – be confident and believe in what has always been so: good writing lasts, while garbage frauds do not.
Despite all of that, uh, have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂