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The short version: gwendolynflight , a writer in the Merlin fandom, took Among the Living (PsyCop 1), stripped out the names and locations, re-cast the novel in her fandom leaving a majority of my prose intact, then posted it online. Then defended her right to plagiarism with statements like, "Plagiarism is a social construct, which has little meaning outside of specific contexts."  Seeing the title Among the Living and the term PsyCop with another author's name beneath it felt like a suckerpunch.

The fic is down, but here's a bit of aftermath (update...it's all been removed now, her whole journal. The screencap is all that's left.)

And here's a screencap where everyone was praising gwendolynflight about things such as the mood and the subtle interactions of the characters, and she was eating up that praise, until someone said, "OMG you copied this WHOLE BOOK." Then the post came down.

The long version: 
I was at the Wisconsin Book Festival today enjoying Lynda Barry talking about comics as art, literature, communication, and all that good stuff. She said that, for her, comics were a transitional place between the author's interior and exterior life. You can never live directly in her head, but you can read her comics and get a little glimpse.

I thought to myself, all art does that, doesn't it? It's this piece of yourself and your inner world that you put out there for other people to experience. There's really very little in this world that's more intrinsically personal than that.

So to see Among the Living online with a change of names and another name in the byline really violated that transitional space of mine. It certainly violated my copyright. It's been taken down, so it no longer continues to do so, but the transitional-space violation is what's leaving me queasy.

I'd also like to say that fanfic is an entirely different thing. If a reader said, "Wouldn't it be funny if Victor and Jacob got a flat tire...?" and wrote that story, using my characters and storyverse but their own plot and words, that would be fanfic. I've written half a million words of fanfic; it's how I learned to write, for good or ill. This re-tooling of Among the Living was not fanfic.

You may be wondering if this made for good publicity. No, it hasn't. I've sold two copies over this whole devastating mess. That wouldn't even pay for the McDonalds lunch we had on the way back from the Book Festival.

So, what's to be done?
US authors, when you publish a work, for enhanced protection of your copyright you must register it with the US copyright office. For an electronic work, the cost is $35, and it takes about half an hour of your time. I assume it gets faster and easier after you've done it a few times. If your literary work is registered before the infringement takes place and you opt to litigate, you may collect statutory damages rather than actual money lost.

According to Wikipedia: The basic level of damages is between $750 and $30,000 per work, at the discretion of the court.

Plaintiffs who can show willful infringement may be entitled to damages up to $150,000 per work. Defendants who can show that they were "not aware and had no reason to believe" they were infringing copyright may have the damages reduced to $200 per work.

Some of my newer works are registered. By the end of this weekend they will all be registered.


Oct. 10th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)
I did briefly think of taking a fanfic from her website, changing some names, and posting it with a byline other than hers on it just so she could see how it felt. It's really messed up to see the title of your book, someone else's name as the author, then the first few lines of your story. The first line of Psycop was so memorable too, I really felt dismayed to see it with my name stripped away from it.

I imagine the pain of the first plagiarism is the worst one.
Oct. 10th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)
Not that I support plagiarism but I almost would be tempted to do this just so she knew. The fact that she attempts to downsize and ignore the impact is sad. The excuses are even worse. There is not a person alive that doesn't realize copying another book word for word and only changing names is illegal and morally wrong. No one can argue differently and any attempt to do so just shows how deeply they don't care.

I'm incredibly sorry this happened to you. Pirates are horrible but this is even worse. Fanfic is NO excuse and this doesn't even come close to that definition. Your work is unique, delightful, and very you.

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