The Three P’s of the Internet. Wish There Wasn’t a Fourth

I’ve given a few workshops on blogging and writing online, and there’s one point I make repeatedly: anything, and I do mean anything, that you write online is public and pervasive and permanent.

It’s public. Even if it’s passcoded or on the high-level security circuit known as a Yahoo email loop, it’s public.

It’s pervasive. If you don’t want it to be everywhere, it will be. It’s the opposite of Visa: it’s everywhere you don’t want it to be.

And it’s permanent. No matter how many times you edit, the original remains.

Which brings me to a fourth P.

On Saturday, 10 October, Leslie Carroll posted a review on her blog Royal Affairs of the Booker prize winning historical fiction novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Tudors, baby. Tudors. Rwror.

The first paragraph of her review is key:

Winner of Britain’s prestigious Man Booker prize, the novel is certainly my cuppa. For one thing, I love “voice-y” writing. And Mantel tells the story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell, the self-made son of a violent Putney brewer and blacksmith, in the third person present tense, most often referring to the protagonist, one of history’s more famous anti-heroes, as “he.” It gives the novel a simultaneous sense of immediacy and distance, a seemingly oxymoronic balance that is hard to strike; yet Mantel finds that razor’s edge and remains there for 532 pages. There are a few drawbacks to this tone, however. Since there are several scenes where more than one man is in the room, referring to Cromwell as “he” occasionally makes for confusion, and I have found myself needing to re-read passages to make sure I know who’s talking. Knowing who’s talking is exceptionally important in a world where one’s political and religious opinions can be calculated by scant degrees.

Then, on Sunday, 11 October, Elizabeth Mahon posted her review of Wolf Hall on her Scandalous Woman blog. I’m linking to the Google:cache version as Mahon has since edited her review.

Her paragraph after the synopsis originally read:

Mantel tells the story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell (1485?-1540), a self-made son and the of a violent Putney brewer and blacksmith, in the third person present tense, most often referring to the protagonist as “he.” It gives the novel a simultaneous sense of immediacy and distance. The reader feels like they are right there in the room as the wheeling and dealing is going on. There are a few drawbacks to this, however. Since there are several scenes where there is more than one man in the room, referring to Cromwell as “he” makes it incredibly confusing at times, and I had to re-read sections to make sure I knew who was talking. It doesn’t help that so many of the characters are named Thomas.

I don’t know about you but I’m feeling a simultaneous sense of immediacy, distance… and repetition.

 

Here’s what I mean by Permanent. There’s Google Cache from 12 October 2009 00:23:41 GMT and a PDF of the same document. And a screen capture.

Carroll ranted about the issue on Facebook without naming names, and later posted an entry about it titled Plagiarism: Setting the Record Straight.

The similarities are far too close for coincidence. Not only have my words been used, but the opinions contained within them. Sure, people may share similar opinions of any given thing, but we would hope they would express those opinions in their own words.

Mahon responded by removing some of the content in her original review, and in the comments to Carroll’s entry on plagiarism, it seems Carroll and Mahon have shaken virtual hands and moved on.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said…

Leslie, I only know that you accused me of plagiarism because someone who knows how history said that you mentioned a former friend plagiarized from you. Who else could it be but me, since we both recently wrote about WOLF HALL. I removed the passages that you felt were too similar to yours and I apologized for inadvertantly hurting you. I deliberately didn’t use your name because I didn’t think it was fair. I would never deliberately use another author’s words without attributing them. If you had emailed privately to say that you thought I had used your words I would have willingly removed the passages and that would have been the end of it.

Leslie Carroll said…

Thank you very much, Elizabeth. I hope you see now, with the passages listed one right above the other how very similar your wording was to mine; and how anyone could see that I might find it impossible to believe that you had not incorporated my words directly into your own review. If there was not such an astonishing similarity that did indeed seem deliberate from where I sit, I would not have called attention to it.

I am glad that you have revised your review. Now let’s put the matter to bed and each get on with writing our own books. Life is too short and our paths cross too often. And if your comment is the equivalent of apologizing and holding out your hand, then mine is the equivalent of accepting that apology and shaking it.

Mahon also posted in the revised version of her review the following addendum:

Addendum: I have removed portions of this review after being alerted that they seemed a little too similar to another author’s review. I had not read this other review, but after doing so, I decided felt the best thing to would be to remove those sections. I have apologized to the author, Leslie Carroll for inadvertantly causing her any distress. I would never deliberately or maliciously harm another author by stealing their work.

I call bullshit. Bull. Shit.

Once again, it’s time to break out the Plagiarism Drinking Game.

Key point: “Acceptance of responsibility and sincere apologies to the offended party.”

Copying occurred. Copying occurred blatantly.

And here we go around again: It was “inadvertant” (sic). It was not deliberate or malicious.

What’s the explanation? Astrophysical disturbance manifesting as malfunction of the CTRL, C and P keys? Out of body experience? Jesus Christ on a Xerox machine, there’s nothing “a little bit” about the similarities. They’re egregious!

So: to recap: text on the internet is Public. We can all see it. It’s Pervasive – it’s everywhere, especially to anyone who can lift a finger (doesn’t matter which one) and hit the ‘Print Screen’ key.

And it’s Permanent.

 

Categorized:

General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    RStewie says:

    Wow.  That’s bad.

    Egregious is still too polite a term.  That is an exact copy, word for word, of most of the sentences.

    I DO think it’s a little funny that she took out the more thoughtful parts of the original, though…

  2. 2
    caligi says:

    That was not smooth. Girl shoulda copped to it and made fun of herself. Lying is never a great defense.

  3. 3
    Randi says:

    Do plagerists really believe that people think their plagerism was accidental? Puh-leese. Carroll has more class than I would have, had it been me. Kudos on her.

  4. 4
    Jrant says:

    I DO NOT understand how this happens. I realize that it does happen, Mahone is clearly guilty of more than sloppy documentation, but I STILL can’t wrap my head around HOW. I have such a hard time imagining professional writers copy-and-pasting text from one source into their own material, like lazy and unscrupulous undergrads. Stealing ideas, I totally get that. I can envision someone discovering a plot or a character and saying “yes, great idea, I’m going to use that.” There may even be a legitimate blank in your memory where you forget reading the original source. But you don’t “accidentally” use word-for-word chunks of another person’s writing. That shit requires a conscious decision and deliberate action. I mean, who DOES that?  I want an explanation. I want a show called CSI-MLA.  I want Laurence Fishburne to show me a digital re-enactment of Mahone and Edwards and whoever else selecting and copying and pasting. I want a psychological profile that explains how a childhood trauma destroyed their sense of integrity so, really, this behavior is understandable if inexcusable. If he can reconstruct a smashed iPhone and extract digital recordings of them cackling “no one will ever know!” that would be appreciated.

  5. 5
    Jane says:

    This reader senses deja vu and not the good kind, like when you relive Richard Armitage undressing in front of you time and again.

  6. 6

    Geez, just admit to it.  When I’m writing and my computer freezes up, making me lose my work, I can’t even reproduce my own writing word for word.  “Accidentally” recreating exact sentences multiple times would never happen by chance.

  7. 7
    Lusty Reader says:

    After reading her “apology” my thoughts were so completely manifested in this phrase:

    Astrophysical disturbance manifesting as malfunction of the CTRL, C and P keys

    All I was thinking was copy/paste copy/paste, Ctrl P/Ctrl V soooo obvious! But your phrasing is infinitely more hilarious. And the perfect facetious remark as to how her copying “inadvertently” happened.

  8. 8
    Jo Lynne says:

    Fabulous.  I echo that call of bullshit.  Took balls.  And guts.  Sprinkled heavily with stupidity.

    It happened to me ( a few years back, the editor of a rival print magazine would wait to read my editorials, then write his accordingly – let’s not go there).  It sucks.  And – *eh hem* – it is illegal.

    Thanks for this.  Great post.

  9. 9
    Barb says:

    Urr?  You got busted by clear plagiarism, yet try to claim you hadn’t read the other review?  The words came to you in a dream?
    At least be honest and admit that you read it and then neglected to cite the original review.

  10. 10
    Jo Lynne says:

    I agree with Barb.  In that (utterly dumb) unfortunate circumstance – admitting you did it, making no excuses – is far more honorable than lying.  No one will ever trust, or believe, this blogger/reviewer again. 

    What was her motive?  Did she just love the other review?  Wish her words were as pretty?  Well f**k, just say so.  That makes you more mature than claiming you just didn’t know you were doing it.

    It would also be honorable to say, “I admit, I really learned a lesson from this.”  That would garner a bit of respect.  But plain old denial?  Nah.

  11. 11
    Ros says:

    I remember once asking one of my professors how many words constituted plagiarism (this was obviously in the context of a technical essay, where you would often be using standard phrases that don’t need to be referenced).  He said four.  Then he thought about it a bit and added, ‘Unless X is marking your essay, in which case you can probably only get away with two.’  A whole paragraph?  Don’t make me laugh.

  12. 12
    Brandi says:

    Sometimes the Internet isn’t quite as permament as I’d like, as f’rex Jews of the 50s in 3-D seems to have been lost even to archive.org (or at least, the awesome pictures that made up the reason to go there have).

  13. 13
    Lauren says:

    I want a show called CSI-MLA.  I want Laurence Fishburne to show me a digital re-enactment of Mahone and Edwards and whoever else selecting and copying and pasting. I want a psychological profile that explains how a childhood trauma destroyed their sense of integrity so, really, this behavior is understandable if inexcusable. If he can reconstruct a smashed iPhone and extract digital recordings of them cackling “no one will ever know!” that would be appreciated.

    this is awesome Jrant! I want it too.

    (and look! i just properly used my Ctrl C/Ctrl P keys by showing that Jrant’s words were a quote – and then ATTRIBUTING it)

  14. 14
    SonomaLass says:

    Jo Lynne said

    No one will ever trust, or believe, this blogger/reviewer again.

    I only wish that were true!  Sadly, many people just DO NOT CARE about plagiarism—they still read the blogs, buy the books, whatever.  Even in academia, the rules aren’t as strictly applied as they should be (president of Jacksonville State University?).

    I hate it, especially when I consider the amount of time and energy I spend trying to teach my students what plagiarism is and why it is wrong.  Their overwhelming impression is that if nobody does anything about it in the “real world,” then it’s only a problem in school if you get caught.  Bah!

  15. 15
    Jan Oda says:

    The thing that baffles me is that I quote other reviews often in my reviews, because I like to cross opinions, or explain why I read the book and so on. It’s a very nice way of offering more than 1 opinion on something.

    So why someone would copy paragraphs of another review on the same book (which will probably show up close to each other in google and so on)? Just baffles me.

    And guess what? wrong34 !!!!

  16. 16
    sewjools says:

    Goodgodawmighty!!  I have just had a go-round on this very subject concening a certain book I just finished reading by Karin Tabke that is, as Sarah so apptly put it, BULL. SHIT.  And damn the CTRL C nd CTRL P phrase still has me laughing.

    SONOMALASS, here’s a thought to convey to all those students:  “Any author/blogger worth their pen aught to have enough pride of self to want to use their own words to express their thoughts.”  Yeah, I said that……

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