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View Full Version : So was this considered plagiarism, or was I just a dummy?



Stanhy59
12-31-2012, 10:23 PM
Hi all. I had an experience a few years back that left a sour taste in my mouth, and I was wondering if maybe I can get some enlightmenment on it.

I was working at a newspaper locally, and had started writing for a national magazine about a sports subject that I am pretty well versed in. I received an email from a person across the country about an article that I wrote, asking if I would consider having it used in an upcoming travel guide to these venues.

There is a long story here I won't bore you with, but the Cliff's Notes version is I said yes. I also ended up agreeing to write several other pieces, things that became more extensive as time went on. I told the person that I did not want compensation for the writing itself: instead I wanted to have acknowledgment for the parts that I wrote so that I wouild have this as a publishing credit when the time came to submit my own work.

This was agreed to, and a contract sent to me that stated I would be "acknowledged" for my work and receive X number of books when it came out. I ended up spending a lot of time on this, met the person several times, traveled to some places to accurately write about them, etc. Mind you, I really enjoyed all of this, and was not in the least upset about not asking for money. It was always about furthering my credentials.

In the winter before the book was due, I received a random, unasked for, check for a few hundred dollars, and a note thanking me for everything. I was surprised, to put it mildly, but banked it thinking they were being decent. I was also asked to fill out an 'author's bio', also a surprise.

Fast forward to the spring that the book came out. I waited, and waited for my copies. Finally, a month after it came out (and the folks were being cavalier about sending my copies) I ordered it from Amazon.

Most you you probably already know where this is going, right? My 'acknowledgement' was literally that: a sentence in the acknowledgements in the front, vaguely thanking me for 'my work', which could have been fetching coffee or cleaning the catbox for the specifics it addressed. I was lumped in with about a dozen other people, who assisted in one way or another.

Besides that, inside I found the author even wrote a specific disclaimer, stating in no uncertain terms that "everything in this book was written by me and me alone."

Well, I felt like a total dummy. There is no way in hell I was ever going to be able to point to this book as a credit. To say I was hurt and angry would be an understatement, mostly at myself for thinking that this person wouldn't screw me over and for not seeing how it could happen. I honestly thought there was to be a reference in the front to what I had written, especially since the foreword was attributed to the man who wrote that.

We never at any time stated or agreed that anything that I wrote would be attributed to someone else. I did not expect to be listed as a co-author either, I just thought I would have the pieces (which by now, were a fair number) credited to me.Especially the original one, which was already published under my name.

I asked my coworkers at the newspaper about it. They said that this would be considered plagerism. I told this to this person, who became incensed and we ceased any contact.

So, to those of you with far more experience than I; Was it plagerism? (not that anything will come of it, too much water under the bridge)

What should I have done up front to prevent this?

Do you think the check sent to cover their butts, to prove I took payment as a 'ghost writer'?

Was that really considered acknowledgement for the work I did? My contract was really vague, a fact I realized after it was in print.

Just looking to lay it to rest in my head and learn from it I guess.
Thanks in advance. This site has been invaluable to me so far. How I wish I had found it when this was going on!

jjdebenedictis
12-31-2012, 11:48 PM
Did they use your words--your exact words? Or did they take your words and rewrite them slightly?

If so, to either of the above, then yes, that's plagiarism.

If they used your articles as references and wrote their own articles based on the ideas in your articles, then no, that's not plagiarism.

If you've still got all the correspondences between you and the other person, you maybe could talk to a lawyer about whether there's any point in taking legal action against this person. There might not be; it might be a big expense for no gain.

However, the book's publisher might be responsive to the issue. You could try writing to their legal department and outlining the evidence, then asking whether they would be willing to try to remedy the plagiarism/acknowledgement issue without you getting a lawyer involved. If it's a small publisher, and the evidence is persuasive, they might be very motivated to get your name on the cover to avoid a scandal.

Best of luck with it. I'm so sorry this happened to you.:Hug2:

thothguard51
01-01-2013, 12:12 AM
What exactly did the contract say and specify? Was it a work for hire contract? As to acknowledgement, it appear he did acknowledge your help in writing the book. If the contract was not specific about how he would acknowledge your work, he fulfilled the contract.

Lastly, you accepted and deposited the check without checking with the author on what it was for. To me, it looks like he paid for your assistance and you accepted, thus becoming a for-hire employee.

Just an observation without knowing more about the details, such as if he used your writing, word for word...

Stanhy59
01-01-2013, 12:30 AM
Thanks for the input.

The articles were used verbatim.

When I asked about the check, I was told it was to offset some of the expenses I had incurred because they were 'grateful' for my help. (I had traveled for some of it, spent a few weekends on the road checking some of these places out) I believed them at the time, but later wondered if it was a CYA move.

I am trying to recall the exact wording of the contract (this was about 7 years ago now) and it was vague. It said something along the lines of that in exchange for the writing I was doing, I would receive acknowledgement in the book. And that term 'acknowledgement' was key. It didn't say credit. And I did not realize what that meant. My bad.

At this point, I won't take it any further legally, because really, what would I gain? At the time, this person got really angry and very hotly told me I was wrong and that they did nothing wrong, yet my coworkers said this was plagerism.

I felt pretty burned by it all, yet wondered if I had the right to feel that way. Sounds like maybe I did. :(

Old Hack
01-01-2013, 01:04 AM
From what you've written it sounds like you were given the acknowledgement you asked for, and you were given money on top of that, even though you said you didn't want any payment.

An acknowledgement is just that: your name in the acknowledgements of the book. A credit is something else.

It is important to be absolutely clear about what you're asking for, and what you're prepared to contribute in return.

I'm sorry you feel upset about it. It's a hard lesson to learn.


1I received an email from a person across the country about an article that I wrote, asking if I would consider having it used in an upcoming travel guide to these venues.


I told the person that I did not want compensation for the writing itself: instead I wanted to have acknowledgment for the parts that I wrote.


This was agreed to, and a contract sent to me that stated I would be "acknowledged" for my work


My 'acknowledgement' was literally that: a sentence in the acknowledgements in the front, vaguely thanking me for 'my work'

veinglory
01-01-2013, 02:44 AM
It sounds as if you no longer have a copy of the contract? That makes it pretty much impossible to take any legal action. You could make nice and draft a letter outlining the parts you wrote and get him to sign it. That would establish some kind of proof of your contributions.

Susan Littlefield
01-01-2013, 04:28 AM
Stanley,

Sounds like a horrible experience. it's too bad you couldn't find a copy of your contract to ascertain exactly what the terms were.

If he used your articles verbatim, and he did so without your permission, then that would be plagiarism. The question is whether you gave him that permission via the terms of your contract.

It sounds like you gave him permission to use an article in his book, but did you give him permission to say it was his writing?

Did you talk about how your work would appear in the book?

Did you talk about exactly what acknowledgement would look like?

Was all of this in writing?


It sounds as if you no longer have a copy of the contract? That makes it pretty much impossible to take any legal action. You could make nice and draft a letter outlining the parts you wrote and get him to sign it. That would establish some kind of proof of your contributions.

I don't understand the part above, which I put in bold. I mean, I don't know what it would accomplish, and even if this guy would sign it.

Jamesaritchie
01-01-2013, 04:29 AM
Without a copy of the contract, there's not much you can do. Even with the contract, there's probably not much you can do. But exactly who does it say wrote the articles? No byline does not mean plagiarism, if there was a contract, and an acknowledgement is what you actually got. I'd go with lesson learned.

I'd also remember that money matters. Money not only gets you a contract where everything is spelled out, it also brings credentials that matter. Writing for free usually does not.

veinglory
01-01-2013, 04:36 AM
It would accomplish recognition of original authorship to the extend possible without the contract. Alternatively one could request a copy of the contract.

Susan Littlefield
01-01-2013, 04:37 AM
It would accomplish recognition of original authorship to the extend possible without the contract. Alternatively one could request a copy of the contract.

Got it.

Stanhy59
01-01-2013, 05:15 AM
I am not looking to do anything about it. There has been too much time gone by, and it is indeed a "lesson learned" thing. And it isn't like this book was a runaway bestseller, hardly. It is a niche book that languishes in Amazon at a cut rate now.

My other concern then, and now, is that I am leery of making a stink and perhaps inadvertently branding myself as a troublemaker in the industry. The publisher is one that I would indeed query if I were to do something in their genre again (they also were the parent company of the magazine that I had written several articles for, including some features) so I really didn't want to start a pissing match over my failure to comprehend.

No,at this point I am simply trying to get insight from those of you more experienced as to whether or not I screwed myself over or if this was a sly way of sliding one past me. I honestly thought I had practiced due diligence in my talks with this person. We met several times, all across the country. We spoke often both online and on the phone. They told me there was a European version of this in the works, and would I consider signing on formally for that? They even sent me business cards (quite fancy ones at that) listing me as a writer for their company, saying it gave me credibility for accessing some of the people I needed to talk to. Until the bitter end, they seemed very upright with me.

The sad thing was, I enjoyed my time writing for them. If they hadn't done this, I would have been happy to continue some sort of a relationship with them.

I have the contract still and some of the correspondence. I have not dug it out, again because I am not looking to do anything with it, other than learn from it and not fall for something like this in the future. And, it has bugged me over the years too. I did not tell a lot of people around me about what happened because I was embarrassed by it. But some of them asked about the book off and on, because they knew I was doing it.

I agree, the "acknowledgement" term cooked me. But, in light of the multiple conversations I had where I specifically stated that I was more interested in a publishing credit, I honestly can say I didn't see it coming. I never in a million years gave the acknowledgement thing you see so commonly one thought. :(

Edited to add; the author put in a disclaimer stating that s/he alone wrote everything in the book, an unusual disclaimer I thought. And my original article ( the one s/he contacted me about originally) had actually been published twice by me, once in our paper, and once with the magazine (who knew it had been previously published). It was used verbatim and credited to this person by this person. That really shocked me. And no, I did not give them permission to do that. My work was to be credited to me, but they could use it.

Old Hack
01-01-2013, 12:58 PM
My other concern then, and now, is that I am leery of making a stink and perhaps inadvertently branding myself as a troublemaker in the industry. The publisher is one that I would indeed query if I were to do something in their genre again (they also were the parent company of the magazine that I had written several articles for, including some features) so I really didn't want to start a pissing match over my failure to comprehend.

I don't think you'd get labelled as a troublemaker if you objected to what has happened: but you might well find the publisher reluctant to work with you again, if it seems to him or her that you signed up to something then changed your mind after the fact.


No,at this point I am simply trying to get insight from those of you more experienced as to whether or not I screwed myself over or if this was a sly way of sliding one past me. I honestly thought I had practiced due diligence in my talks with this person. We met several times, all across the country. We spoke often both online and on the phone. They told me there was a European version of this in the works, and would I consider signing on formally for that? They even sent me business cards (quite fancy ones at that) listing me as a writer for their company, saying it gave me credibility for accessing some of the people I needed to talk to. Until the bitter end, they seemed very upright with me.The part I've put into bold there implies to me that you were writing for the company under a work-for-hire agreement. Why would a company provide you with business cards listing you as their writer if they weren't employing you as a writer? Under such an agreement, what happened was only to be expected: you were employed by them to write stuff, and they could then do what they liked with it.


Edited to add; the author put in a disclaimer stating that s/he alone wrote everything in the book, an unusual disclaimer I thought.

That sounds like a pretty usual copyright statement to me: if you look in the front of most of the books on your shelves you'll find something similar, I bet.

You should get hold of a copy of the contract you signed. It might well be that you signed away all rights to these articles and if that's the case, you should be aware of that.

I doubt that there's any value in your pursuing this. You are unlikely to receive any financial recompense and if you do, the amounts are likely to be tiny; and if you do want to submit to the publisher concerned, why risk shutting that particular door for something that happened some time ago, which could have been due to a misunderstanding on your part and which only concerns a small amount of work?

I understand that this is painful for you and I sympathise, I really do: I've had similar problems in the past. But I think that the most productive course of action, based on what you've said here, would be to get your contract so that you can understand exactly what happened here; and then to move on.

cornflake
01-01-2013, 03:48 PM
I'm going to go a different direction here - the magazine that originally published the piece is the wronged party, imo.

I mean yes, the person plagiarized you, but the magazine that you were writing for owned it, presumably, and they're the ones I presume gave permission for the reprint - unless you had a specific deal with them otherwise.

Thus the mag is the one available to theoretically sue or complain or what have you.

I realize you wanted to be credited, and the credit/acknowledgement thing is what screwed you and you're not interested in pursuing it and I'd guess the mag isn't either or it would've. Just saying.

veinglory
01-01-2013, 09:23 PM
The magazine has a claim only of the writer does not, and therefore had not eight to enter into the contract at all. I wouldn't go there.

victoriastrauss
01-01-2013, 09:38 PM
I'm so sorry to hear of this experience--very frustrating and a tough lesson to learn.

I agree with Old Hack that it's sounds a lot like a work-for-hire arrangement. If you find the contract, I'll be glad to take a look at it and give you experience-based (not legal--I'm not a lawyer) commentary--my email is beware [at] sfwa.org.

There are a couple of take-aways here, as I see it. First, unless you've already got a lot of experience, don't assume you understand publishing contract language. Always try to get qualified advice.

Second, verbal assurances are meaningless. All that counts is the wording of the contract. For the purposes of an author-publisher relationship, if it's not in writing, it doesn't exist.

- Victoria

Jamesaritchie
01-01-2013, 10:22 PM
I've done work for hire that appeared under another writer's name several times, and probably will many more times. Work for hire means you don't own anything, even the byline, if the contract gives all rights to whoever you're working for, and with work for hire, you are working for someone else.

If you don't understand contract language, and how rights work, never sign one until you have it looked at by someone who does know, which usually means an agent or an IP attorney. Even another pro writer is better than nothing.

Stanhy59
01-01-2013, 11:33 PM
Thanks for all of the insight. This is the kind of stuff I was looking to find out. I will be the first to tell you, I was for sure more of a newbie about it than I even realized. And again: I am not looking to pursue anything other than learning from this. There will be no contacting the publisher or lawyers from me, because I feel that I contributed to this from my own ignorance.

The magazine had a one time right to the article. There was no conflict there. And the publishing company owned that magazine, so often things were used in books that had already been out in one of their magazines. (They have many titles).

They had three project ideas (that I was aware of anyway). The first was this one,which was pitched and sold, and under deadline to complete (hence the eagerness to have me write so many pieces)

The second one would have involved cuisine and unique dining experiences found at unusual venues. Then the third was the European version of the project I was working on.

Supposedly, having the cards would make it easier to access people at these places for the purposes of interviews, gave credibility. At least that is what I was told. And truthfully, I didn't need any help, being as I had been involved in this sport for a long time, and knew a great many of the people I was interviewing anyway. Which was part of the attraction: feeling like I was part of a cool new project involving something I loved.

You know, the cards were sent to me randomly too, like the check. They simply showed up in the mail one day, and when I called about them, I was told about how they would help me, and that they were kind of a thank you and a gesture of looking forward to working on many projects together.

I still don't know for sure why either came to me like that. Deception? Genuine gratitude for what I was doing? Maybe there was a change of heart later about including me? I don't know, and probably never will.

As far as I know, none of those other projects ever came to fruition. And the little "company" is defunct.

What I am realizing now, was that there were a lot of nuances that I did not catch. I really hope to avoid the repeat of this should I land a contract for representation or publication some day.

I also hope that my experience was more due to bumbling on the part of these folks rather than outright deception. I had always felt (hoped?) that was the case. I am as much bothered by feeling like I misjudged people as I am by how the project turned out.

I also never knew for sure who was correct about the plagerism claim: my coworkers at the paper or the people with the project. I did bring my contract in (unfortunately after the fact) and they said how it was out in the book was plagerism. The folks at this little book company reacted like I had tossed a grenade into a garden party when I told them this.

I will pull the contract and reread it. Maybe I signed away rights without knowing it, although I do remember reading that I would be acknowledged FOR WHAT I WROTE. Which was what made the actual acknowledgement and disclaimer a shock.

What is most important about this now is that I really hope to find the resources I need to avoid anything like this in the future. Again, I wish I had found this site back then.

In a way, I do owe these folks some thanks. They crystalized my certainty of wanting to do my own projects and to be published. Who knows if I would have gotten the same kick in the ass otherwise?

backslashbaby
01-01-2013, 11:57 PM
Maybe you can still use it as a credit? If they used your work verbatim, and you had business cards, etc, there might be an acceptable way to write that up under your credentials, I'd think. I wouldn't let on that you are angry about it, because that would turn folks off, but perhaps you can still use it.

Others with industry experience would have to tell you if that's ever done well :) It's just something I'd ask. Good luck!

Terie
01-02-2013, 12:18 AM
I agree with others who have said this probably ended up being treated as work-for-hire.

But the one part that I find a bit dodgy is the book author claiming that everything in the book was written by him, when one (or some) of the pieces were reprints of articles previously published by our OP. That makes the claim of authorship demonstrably untrue.

Being as how your work, Stanhy59, was previously published, you can definitely use the articles as credits and, if you feel it would be helpful, state that they were reprinted in (book title). After all, just because a ghostwriter's name doesn't appear anywhere on a book doesn't mean the ghost can't use it as a credit when writing up a bio for a query/cover letter (unless their contract specifies that they can't). Everyone knows that few celebrity authors' autobiographies are written by the celebs themselves, and the writers do get private credit within the industry if not public credit.

areteus
01-02-2013, 01:42 AM
Maybe you can still use it as a credit? If they used your work verbatim, and you had business cards, etc, there might be an acceptable way to write that up under your credentials, I'd think. I wouldn't let on that you are angry about it, because that would turn folks off, but perhaps you can still use it.

Others with industry experience would have to tell you if that's ever done well :) It's just something I'd ask. Good luck!

I agree with this. There are ways you can spin this on a CV or in a cover letter to be almost as good as a shared credit. Something like 'worked with X company as a writer for hire on Y project'. You have enough physical evidence that you did indeed act as a wrtier for hire for this company to convince anyone of this should they choose to question you (but most will not).

Of course, one thing you have to ask yourself is if the book is so low in the sales, is there really any point in linking to it? Do you consider it to be a success? Will it actually serve you well as a publishing credit? Or is it better buried and you focussing on more successful credits (such as all the articles you have obviously written for your newspaper which must have got a decent circulation, more than this book?).

Jamesaritchie
01-02-2013, 07:18 PM
I think forgetting all about it is best. I wouldn't even attempt to use it as a credit. The good news is this; if you're good enough to write for them, you're good enough to write for others, so spend your time writing and building credits elsewhere. You can obviously do so.

Chalk this one up to experience, and move on.