Home » Self-Publishing Warnings » Self-Publishing and Plagiarism – A New Place to Hide?

Self-Publishing and Plagiarism – A New Place to Hide?

31 December 2011

From Self-Publishing Review:

Having reviewed as much non-fiction as I have, you are bound to come across those who have “borrowed” other people’s work and not given them credit for it. It doesn’t happen often in traditionally-published works, but it does happen. As a green reviewer early on, I missed one that was a direct rip-off of another authors work. It was embarrassing, to say the least.

. . . .

My own recent experience with some plagiarized material turned up an author who, when discovered and rejected by a mainstream publishing house, turned to self-publishing their work to circumvent the process. They skimmed off the Internet and produce e-books of gleaned material, and are selling it to the unsuspecting public. And while we can point it out, there isn’t much else we can do.

When the self-publishing firm was made aware that the material was indeed plagiarized, it was removed. But the works reappeared at the same publisher. It probably would continue even if it was mentioned to the publisher again. And, of course, with all the various self-publishers out there, this material could continue in publication regardless of how often it is identified and removed. All the plagiarist does is move on to another self-publisher.

. . . .

There are some real questions that are going to rise in the self-publishing industry. As these incidents are brought to the surface, and eventually make the front page of the New York Times book section, how is self-publishing going to stand up to accusations of fraud and/or plagiarism? We want this field to open doors for authors who would never have been given a chance to present their work to the public because the publishing houses don’t see enough money in sales or do not have enough funding to publish all the really great books out there. And we have the ultimate question of how is the public going to know if the work is just a rip off of another person’s work?

. . . .

Having discovered plagiarized work and exposed it in the past, I also know what dishonorable authors (read: con-artists) will do when they have their backs against the wall. Some of them lash out and attack viciously. Others just take the money and run. Someone has to say something, and there is never a “polite” way of saying “the material in this book is copied from other copyrighted sources [insert sources here] and therefore is plagiarized.”

. . . .

What is needed is a service that will check all books issued (notice I said ALL books) and report these plagiarized works. What we also need are self-publishers that will use this service and remove titles that have been so indicated. Where would the funding come from? Well, I would suggest all the publishers involved, including big houses, would also benefit from this. It would probably boil down to pennies per book, but in the long run, it would protect the copyrights of legitimate authors, it would protect both publishers, self-publishers and vendors from issues with plagiarized work, and it would discourage plagiarism and copyright theft. And in the long run, give the public honest work.

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review

Self-Publishing Warnings

10 Comments to “Self-Publishing and Plagiarism – A New Place to Hide?”

  1. This is a tricky problem, which will probably get worse before it gets better. I suspect that the hard part will not be proving that someone has plagiarised, but preventing them from profiting from it.

  2. Even though it’s linked and attributed, there something funny to me that this entire post is copy/pasted from elsewhere. Lol

  3. eHow had an automated plagiarism checker which swept the web for articles which were like articles which appeared on their site. Since they did not take exclusive rights, it was tricky and often proved a hassle for the authors, but it did help.

    One rule they had was that authors had to publish on eHow under the same name as they published elsewhere. Since many authors had different screen names on different sites (sometime by necessity, since “JaneSmith” might already be taken) that was the source of most of the hassle.

    It wasn’t perfect, but I would not be surprised to see Amazon or Smashwords using such an automated system to slow down the plagiarists.

    • That would be a start (requiring authors to use the same name everywhere). Though it makes good business sense anyway. I wonder what would happen if a thief decided to help himself not only to your words, but your name as well? Say if you publish a book on Amazon as “Jane Smith,” and I copy the book to Smashwords and call myself “Jane Smith.” If you find out, you can tell Smashwords to delete my copy, but if you don’t, how is Smashwords to know that their Jane Smith isn’t the same person as Amazon’s Jane Smith?

  4. Am I the only one to read this and think the writer hasn’t quite got a grasp of the term “self-publisher”?

  5. Perhaps what is needed is “Honest Publising Seal of Approval”. Run your book through an independent plagariasm checker and you receive a cryptographically secure digital signature that verifies the text is original. This digital sig could be verified by any device capable of displaying an e-book.

    • That sounds as though it would work. Now you just need to persuade ebook retailers to include this signature in the metadata for the books they sell, persuade manufacturers of ebook readers to push out a firmware update that allows the device to check it, and persuade people who read ebooks that they should report any book that doesn’t have a signature or has one that doesn’t check out. Good luck :-)

      Actually, even if you solve those problems, you still have the problem of knowing whether the Jane Smith who’s published a book on Amazon is the same Jane Smith who wants to publish the same book with Smashwords. Solving it would appear to require either a central registry of authors or retailers to have exclusive rights to sell a book, neither of which is particularly palatable.

      • Well, if Amazon decided to do it, I suspect the rest of the market would take care of itself. The “is this the same person” issue is solved by the digital signature itself without the need for a central registry of authors or exclusive rights to books. If you are interested in the mechanisms, just google “public key cryptography”. Authors with multiple pseudonyms would have to decide if they want to use the same digital signature for more than one pseudonym.

        The point I was making is that this is an easy problem to solve if it becomes a real problem. I suspect it will. There is money involved and the crooks will see this as easy pickings.

        • I agree, Amazon could probably force a solution like this on the marketplace. I spent a couple of hours (!) trying to figure out why it wouldn’t work, as I thought it was solving the wrong problem. A digital signature proves that the person who owns a particular public key is the author of a particular ebook. It doesn’t prove that the person who’s uploading that ebook to an ebook retailer is the person who owns the public key. Then I realised there’s a simple way to prove that – the retailer generates a random sequence of characters and asks the uploader to encrypt it with his private key. The retailer then decrypts the encrypted message with the author’s public key. If they get back the original sequence, the uploader knows the author’s private key, so he must be the author.

          You still have the problem of knowing whether the uploader is actually the person who wrote the book. Anyone can generate their own public/private key pair and use it to sign any book they like. To stop plagiarism, the retailer would have to be able to answer the question, “Has the same book or a similar one already been signed with a different public key from the one the uploader is using?”, which brings us back to a central registry – not necessarily of authors, but of public keys and books associated with them. Authors and retailers then have to trust the registry not to produce false positives or get hacked. (That’s if the plagiarism detector works across multiple retailers. If every retailer has their own, a thief can just upload the book to somewhere that the real author didn’t.)

          A couple of stray thoughts… losing your private key would be a real nightmare, as you wouldn’t be able to upload books you’d signed with it to anywhere that they weren’t already on sale (that used the same plagiarism detector). Nor would you be able to upload revised editions of those books. Some public key crypto systems have key revocation built into them. You then have to worry about a thief tricking the system into revoking your key pair, which might let him get a new key pair in your name.

          The plagiarism cases that have come to light among commercial publishers have been where the author has copied a few paragraphs here, a few paragraphs there, from many different sources. This looks a lot like scholarly non-fiction, which often contains quotes from other books. Are anti-plagiarism algorithms subtle enough to tell the difference? If they are, could a thief trick them? I’m thinking that might be more work than writing an original book…

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin