Yesterday, I was intrigued by one of the search terms somebody had used to get to my blog – ‘richard ridyard plagiarism’. I was curious enough to put the term into Google myself, just to see what it was all about. Consequently, I landed at Angel Zapata’s A Rage of Angels blog, where I got the full rundown on what this particular individual did. Angel was himself plagiarised, a fact he found out when he settled down to read a ‘zine and found himself faced with a couple of vaguely familiar lines – two lines from a story he’d written, in fact, but which had a different name in the byline. Angel went on to dig a little deeper and discovered something truly horrifying – I won’t bog you down with all the details here (just click on the link above to discover for youself the extent of this man’s [if that’s even his real name] theft – he even plagiarised STEPHEN KING himself, apparently), but suffice to say that when the full extent of the misdemeanours were revealed the writing community weren’t best pleased and the action taken was swift.

Now, my question is, how can anyone think they could possibly have got away with this? It seems utter madness to even attempt it. Furthermore, if you’re a new writer wanting to make it to the big-time, then it’s nothing more than literary suicide. It appears that in this age of the internet, however, with its quadrillions upon quadrillions of bytes of information floating around in the virtual environs of cyberspace, some people seem to harbour this notion that, just because you can hide behind a screen of anonymity, whatever you do you will remain unsussed and therefore you can’t be held accountable for it. The internet is capable of pulling in bits and pieces from all over the place, from the celebrated to the wilfully obscure. Years ago, when the ubiquity of computers and the WWW were still a twinkle in a proto-geek’s eye, plagiarism was infinitely harder to spot. Nowadays, however, type a suspicious line or two of text into a search engine and within milliseconds the answer will come back. Very often, if it is plagiarism, it’s an extremely open and shut case at that – the lines stolen are word-for-word identical.

Mr Ridyard evidently stole from both up-and-coming writers and those who see writing as more of a hobby for the moment. He also stole from the well-established too – you can’t get more famous, or more iconic, than Stephen King. Several of the commenters on Angel’s blog posed the idea that it might be an elaborate hoax or prank of some kind – even the identity and existence of the thief was questioned (for more information, click the link above). Ridyard was supposedly studying for an LLB Law Degree – just the very kind of person most likely to understand the full impact of intellectual property theft. So, the reasoning went, why would he be so stupid as to do something like plagiarise other people’s work and call it his own?

For my part, this case all seems a little weird – but the incident was over a year ago now and I assume it’s been dealt with, so I won’t dwell on it. What I WILL mull over is the idea of plagiarism itself – the verbatim lifting of lines or passages from someone else’s writing (or art) and then passing it off as your own. It’s happened many times before and will happen again, I’m sure. In case of point, one of my friends is a teacher and is also studying part-time for a PhD – as part of her studies she sometimes marks student’s papers, in the course of which she’s comes across at least one example of quite blatant plagiarism. It was quite easily spottable because of the area of study the essay topic was dealing in – it’s a particularly specialised aspect of the study of the classics. In other words, the literature devoted to this area isn’t as extensive as all that, and no doubt my friend had already read the primary texts. Needless to say said student was chewed out mightily about it.

Apparently, it’s becoming an ever-increasing problem in universities – simply because of the simple equation “lazy students+internet=plagiarism” that sometimes applies (and don’t think I am implying that all students are like this – my best friend studied for a degree and attained her 1st Class Honours the hard way, which is the way the majority of othersget their results too). The prevailing philosophy seems to be that “lecturers won’t cotton on because there’s just too much stuff out there and they’re far too busy to check…”. I guess that’s true to an extent, however, there are other clues that give it away, like noticeable differences in writing styles, plus the lecturers themselves have read the plagiarised text? Then there’s the internet – it’s a great tool for finding the obscure and wonderful, but then it means that if you found it, so can others – like those university lecturers for instance.

What it all boils down to a question of trust between an editor and the author submitting the work. He is trusting you that what you have sent him is entirely, and wholly, your own work and has not been pinched from somewhere else, or even that bits of it have. If someone is brazen enough to submit a piece of work to an editor, calling it their own, only for the editor to discover that wholesale passages have been lifted from another story, then it not only hurts the writer in question but the rest of us as well. In addition, the editor him/herself becomes distrustful of other people submitting stuff – he/she is only human and does NOT like being made a fool of. Nobody does, in fact.

Yes, sometimes a line from some other writer’s story you’ve read creeps in inadvertently, and this does happen occasionally. Such instances are not malicious in intent, obviously, but it does pay to be vigilant. The upshot, though, is that if you’re caught stealing blatantly from not just one writer but a whole publisher’s catalogue of them, then you can’t blame the community for unleashing a ferocious backlash against you and your work.

It isn’t the same as having a similar idea for a story as someone else has had before – that’s difficult to avoid (like they say, there’s nothing new under the sun), and it’s nowhere near the same thing as plagiarism. Yes, it’s irksome when you discover that the tale that you’ve just sweated over bears a remarkable resemblance to a published story you’d read after the fact. Rewriting your story, to make it entirely distinguishable from the published one, isn’t that hard to do, however. It’s infinitely better that you do that – the last thing you want is to be accused of stealing another author’s idea. However, if it’s a similar theme but a different treatment then it isn’t plagiarism.

Ninety-nine point nine percent of writers are honest,  legitimate, extremely hardworking, diligent and possess a great deal of integrity- it’s just that 0.1% who spoil it for everyone else. It behooves us to out plagiarists whenever we come across them and to give them the rough ride that they deserve. To keep the taint of intellectual dishonesty as far away from the scene as possible. It’ll never go away completely, of course – I would be naïve if I thought that. It pays to be vigilant and observant and, although we can’t possibly check every single line in our own work or those of others, if we do happen upon suspiciously familiar lines or paragraphs in someone’s story then, just like Angel Zapata did, we must act on those doubts and do some internet digging. That would be doing the writing community, and ultimately you, the aspiring writer, a great service by doing so.

5 Responses to “Plagiarism”

  1. jan edwards Says:

    When I was on an OU course a while back our lecturer mentioned now several OU students had been disqualified for plagiarism, after their essays had been run through a commonly used anti-plagiarism software.

    • Nice to know that universities take this sort of thing very seriously… and set good examples to others, as well as sending out a warning… and these, I assume, were mature adults who did this? That’s even more shameful…

  2. News on the latest plagiarist discovered here:-

    Particularly bad as it appears he’s also passing himself off as an editor, and then sending accepted stories out as his own.

    • Just reading about the Many Faces/Names of David Boyer on the Shock Totem forum… all I can say, good thing that the ‘community’ is so vigilant and close-knit… thanks for the link Peter….

  3. I got involved in Angel’s crusade last year, along with several others. Quite a few other efforts by Mr Ridyard turned up in all sorts of places. I’ve since wondered if he did it deliberately as some sort of research for his thesis.

    Off now to catch up on the latest. No wonder more people are self-publishing.

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