February, that strange little month when heart-shaped greeting cards
and candy boxes, and love-struck fellas proffer red roses or diamond
solitaires, while in the background Sam Cooke croons, “Cupid, draw back
your bo-o-ow . . .”
I had my way, I’d tell the chubby little cherub to aim his dart at the
behinds of plagiarists!
Yes, I know, harsh language,
especially coming from the author of faith-based romance novels. But
the subject is fresh in my mind, thanks to the question posed during
the last how-to-write class I taught:
“So, Loree, has anyone ever
plagiarized your work?”
Before I tell you how I
answered, let’s take a moment to redefine what, exactly, plagiarism is:
“The act of stealing and using as one’s own the ideas or the expression
of the ideas of another” (Scribner-Bantam Dictionary).
In simpler terms: If you didn’t write it, but you said
you did, it’s plagiarism.
Copyright law specifies how many
words, lines, paragraphs you can “borrow” without plagiarizing. It also
sets forth clear-cut rules outlining how (i.e.
footnotes and quotes that identify the true author and the source of
the material) you can use others’ words when writing your own.
For example, I’ve written lots
of nonfiction: more than 2,500 articles under my byline, and close to a
hundred more “ghosted” in professional journals. I can count on one
hand (and have fingers left over) the number of times I sought
permission to quote other writers’ works. For the most part, I wrote my
own stuff and did my own research. But on those
rare occasions when I “borrowed” others’ words, I gave credit where
credit was due. Unfortunately, that isn’t the type of “borrowing” I’d
like to see Cupid take aim at . . . well, there’s really no point
(pardon the pun) in restating the obvious, right?
Taking somebody else’s
property—whether it’s written/published words or a jacket from a
restaurant coatroom—is stealing. And stealing is a crime. And
in the eyes of most God-fearing human beings, it’s also a sin.
Having experienced firsthand
what it’s like to have my hard work stolen and passed off as someone
else’s (hereinafter referred to as My Thief), I understand only too
well the frustration, anger, and helplessness other plagiarized authors
what to do?
I could sue My Thief . . . and
fritter away my hard-earned money (but that could take years, and at my
age, I can’t afford to waste one precious minute).
could confront My Thief and
hope for an admission of guilt (and if that isn’t an example of an
exercise in futility, I don’t know what is).
Far better to take comfort in
the old adage “What goes around, comes around.”
think they’re above the law, smarter than the rest of us, able to avoid
being pegged for who and what they are, with no price to pay. You might
say, “It’s what narcissists do.” And My Thief is no exception. But that
smug mind-set is precisely what tripped up Dr. Richard Owen, Stephen
Ambrose, and yes, even H. G. Wells. Sooner or later, the truth will
trip up My Thief, too.
But until it does, here’s my
advice to him:
No matter how cleverly you try
to disguise them, stolen words will never ever be yours.
If you steal, you’re a thief.
If you’re a thief, you’re gonna
And when you do, I’ll be front
and center, whistlin’ and clappin’ when the world learns the truth. And
I’ll be directing Cupid’s aim.
I imagine that’s when you’ll
belt out a line from Jon Foreman’s song: “I tried to find a cure for