Eilis O’Hanlon: My tale of a book thief sparked an online frenzy. But what happened next?

11 April 2016


What happened to the money? That was the question which people kept asking after reading how a fellow author clocked up sales worth almost $20,000 in a little over two months last autumn by plagiarising two crime novels that I’d co-written some years earlier.

The story was told in detail in last week’s Life magazine in the Sunday Independent. It explained how I happened to discover, thanks to an eagle-eyed reader called Donna Patel in England, that the first two books my writing partner and I had published as “Ingrid Black” a decade earlier had been lifted and republished on the online bookstore Amazon under new titles, with all names and locations changed to hide the original source.

The plagiarist’s name was “Joanne Clancy”, and she’d received just under $2,000 in royalties by the time her deception was uncovered. (Amazon, being American, calculates everything in dollars). Because Amazon pays the authors of Kindle books every 60 days, that meant there was just over $18,000 still waiting to be paid. So where would it go?

My co-writer and I had been wondering that, too, since discovering just how many copies of our books “Joanne Clancy” had sold.

It wouldn’t go to her, obviously, as she had been exposed as a fraud, but it didn’t seem likely that it would go to us either. Then we discovered, accidentally during the course of a conversation with a representative from Amazon, that the company does actually pay out to the original author of a book if it could be proven that their work has been plagiarised.

. . . .

We were fortunate. We caught “Joanne Clancy” at a vulnerable time. She’d only just discovered that her books were being removed from Amazon and that she was banned for life from publishing her books in the online store, at least under that name. She was also worried about the prospect of legal action, and seemed keen to mollify us.

Had she taken a day or two to think it over, she might well have decided that silence was the best strategy. She certainly vanished off the radar shortly afterwards and ignored all email requests for further information.

. . . .

Legal action is time consuming, expensive, and mentally draining, with no guarantee of success, especially against a shadowy opponent who seemed to exist mainly in cyberspace. Because that was another problem.

The internet is a big place. Many people got into contact to explain how to trace people through their online fingerprints. “Joanne Clancy” had a website, which yielded some further clues, but nothing conclusive. Other authors were able to provide IP addresses from comments left by this “Joanne Clancy” on their pages and blogs.

. . . .

But out of all these thousands of readers, not a single person has contacted me to say that they know this woman, or have ever come across her, in real life. Some are closely involved in the literary community in Cork, which “Clancy” claimed as her home town. They can find no trace of her existence either. She seems to exist only online.

Link to the rest at and thanks to N. for the tip.

Did Dave Eggers ‘Rewrite’ Kate Losse’s Book?

2 October 2013

From The Atlantic Wire:

Kate Losse, the author of last year’s Boy Kings, which outlined the early culture at Facebook from her experiences as employee #51, has accused Dave Eggers of stealing her book idea for his novel The Circle. “Dave Eggers decided to rewrite my book as his own novel about a young woman working her way up through Facebook,” she writes on Medium today. “From all appearances, it is the same book, and I wrote it first (and I imagine mine is more authentic and better written, because I actually lived in this world and am also a good writer),” she adds. Losse, in an email to The Atlantic Wire, admits she has not read his book. “But if you look at the description/plot arc/main character name it is disturbingly similar,” she said.

Both books center around the the life of a woman working at a tech company. Losse’s book is about her experience at Facebook, where she worked for five years; Eggers’s is about the fictional experiences of Mae Holland, who works for a fictional tech company called The Circle, which The Wall Street Journal’s Dennis K. Berman describes as a “mashup of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and PayPal.” The names aren’t exactly the same, but Losse argues: “If you say ‘Mae Holland; out loud it sounds like the same phonetic structure as my name,” she told The Atlantic Wire. “Just similar enough to echo my name without using the same letters.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic Wire

We had a recent post about another instance of claimed plagiarism, but, for those who may have missed the discussion, here’s a refresher on copyright infringement vs. plagiarism from The University of Connecticut:

Copyright infringement is a violation of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder and may carry legal consequences. Copyright infringement can take many forms. Examples of copyright infringement may include borrowing significant portions of another’s work in the creation of a new work, making and distributing unauthorized copies of a sound recording or video, or publicly performing another’s work without permission from the copyright holder, even if the original work is cited.

The law identifies several exceptions and limitations to copyright that do not constitute infringement.

Plagiarism involves using another’s work without attribution, as if it were one’s own original work. It is considered an ethical offense and can be detrimental to one’s academic reputation and integrity.

It is possible to plagiarize without violating copyright, and it is possible to infringe on another’s copyright without plagiarizing. It is also possible to both plagiarize and violate copyright at the same time.

PG has no knowledge of the contents of either book, so he can’t comment about whether either copyright infringement or plagiarism has occurred. He would note that Ms. Losse told The Atlantic Wire that she had not read the book about which she was complaining.

PG would suggest making public claims implying plagiarism or copyright infringement without having read and carefully analyzed the offending work first is not a good idea.

Plots are not a protected expression. PG seems to remember that Shakespeare borrowed the plot for Romeo and Juliet. The plot of R&J has in turn been borrowed a zillion times since then. Jane Austen’s plots have been used over and over again. Every genre utilizes standard plots and plot devices. It’s the fresh twists on the old formulas that many genre readers appreciate.

Character archetypes are similarly not a protected expression. How many fantasies have old wizards? How many science fiction stories have robots like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation? Nobody makes serious claims that use of these archetypes is plagiarism or copyright infringement.

Absent a trademark, character names are not protected.

“For the Summer” Plagiarized?

24 September 2013

From Dear Author:

I had put the news piece to bed when my inbox blew up with links to a Goodreads review of Shey Stahl’s For the Summer. In the DNF review (rated one star), the reader details eight instances of similarities including exact verbiage and scene blocking to a highly beloved Twilight fan fiction called Dusty written by Sarah and Mary Elizabeth.

. . . .

As for Stahl, she vehemently denies any plagiarism and her fans are out in full force. (The fan fiction authors have stated that they have been blocked by Stahl and that she has messaged them and claimed she never read their fiction and that her work is her own)  Fans of Stahl accused the Goodreads reader of trying to ruin Stahl’s career and have demanded “Legal Proof”.  On her facebook page, people are suggesting that the real way to handle this sort of thing is to take it to a court of law.

. . . .

In this instance with Stahl maintaining her innocence, it is possible it won’t be taken down until legal action does occur.  For the fan fiction authors, given that their work is not registered with the US Copyright office, they’d only be entitled to whatever the text has earned so far.  If they had registered the copyright, they would be entitled to treble damages.

It’s probably time for Amazon to contract with TurnItIn and require all self pub manuscripts be run through a plagiarism checker.  As for Stahl, I don’t doubt the fan fiction group is combing through her every work now. I feel for her fans. I saw one blogger post a facebook update which pretty much indicated she was devastated.

Link to the rest at Dear Author and thanks to Randall for the tip.

To be clear, PG hasn’t reviewed any of the works involved and, consequently, has no opinion concerning the plagiarism claims that have been made.

A couple of points, however:

1. In an internet age, you’re a dope if you plagiarize. It is simply too easy for plagiarism to be detected with electronic works. And social media will spread plagiarism claims like wildfire.

“For the Summer” no longer shows up on Amazon. PG doesn’t know whether Amazon has taken it down or Ms. Stahl has done so. Amazon does have the ability under its KDP Terms & Conditions to remove all books by an author from sale. Other online bookstores can do the same thing.

2. With regard to the Dear Author recommendation that Amazon run all self pub manuscripts through Turnitin, here’s a question – Do commercial publishers run their publications through Turnitin or otherwise routinely perform any checks for plagiarism prior to publication? Commercial publishers have published plagiarized works. See Kaavya Viswanathan for just one example.

It would be difficult for a successful claim for copyright infringement and damages arising from a plagiarized work to be made against Amazon for listing an indie book for sale since Amazon isn’t the publisher and would undoubtedly assert the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as a defense. That would not be the case with a traditional publisher who published a plagiarized work.

In either case, however, both Amazon and the publisher of a plagiarized work would, in turn, be suing the author for any damages or attorneys fees they incurred. Another good reason not to plagiarize.

For more on plagiarism detection tools, go to Plagiarism Today

A Golden Age of Digital Plagiarism Checking

26 September 2012

From The Digital Reader:

Providing numerous examples, [author Greg] Beato posits that we are “living in a golden age of fact-checking,” but instead of that happening before publishing, the burden has been shifted to afterward thanks to all the numerous informational resources that are out there at the public’s disposal, and the thousands upon thousands of netizens who are happy to put in some of their spare time doing the legwork.

And Beato doesn’t even bring up tools like Turnitin, the plagiarism checker which can check submissions against hundreds of thousands of web documents.

. . . .

One thing I’m curious about, though, is whether this plagiarism really is more widespread in the digital world, or simply more likely to get caught by the resources we now have. Were newspaper writers doing this same sort of thing before the Internet came about, and just not noticed as much because we didn’t have the resources to find the borrowing?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

I am a thief, a plagiarist. I am not an author.

26 February 2012

From Dear Author:

So an RWA member, the treasurer of the Kiss of Death RWA chapter no less, is found to be plagiarizing. Name is Kristal Singletary aka Kay Manning | K.S. Manning | Payton Bradshaw.  The first signs were revealed by a fan of Liz Fielding who reported to her that “La Maison Romance” by Kay Manning, a free download on Smashwords, appeared to be a copy of Liz Fielding’s story “The Cinderella Fantasy”.

. . . .

Ms. Manning has commented and provided an apology:

I’ve gone back and forth on how to address this for several hours. A personal blog post would not be seen by enough people. Nor would a response to Ms. Fielding’s blog. When Dear Author posted this blog, I felt it was the answer I’d been looking for. I couldn’t find a more public place than this.

To all the authors, publishers, and editors I stole from, I am sorry. There is no excuse. All distributors have been notified and those I couldn’t take down/remove myself are being removed by the third party as soon as possible.

To all the authors, publishers, and editors I’ve met and known over the years, I am sorry. I know you will never forgive me and you shouldn’t.

To anyone associated with the Kiss of Death Chapter, you can be assured that all funds relating to the chapter are well managed and controlled by a dedicated President and Board. I have not had access to any accounts where wrongdoing could have occurred without their immediate and swift action.

Finally, so there is no misunderstanding. I am a thief, a plagiarist. I am not an author.

Link to the rest at Dear Author