Plagiarism—please don’t steal, thanks.


It seems like this is something that is destined to come up, again and again, in the fan community. You make a fan video and someone else steals it and says they did it. You do some Photoshop graphics art and someone else uses it without permission and claims they did nothing wrong. Your fanfiction is republished somewhere else without your knowledge.

Look, even if it’s “fan art” (meaning you based your creative work—video, fan art, fan fiction—on someone else’s movie, TV show, or book) it doesn’t mean it’s okay for someone else to take credit for it. That’s called plagiarism, and it’s NEVER right.

Usually as children we’re taught early on that this is wrong. It’s emphasized in school (or it should be!). Sometimes we learn how much it can hurt when it’s done to us. I think I experienced my first taste of plagiarism in about 7th grade, when a fellow classmate tore off my signature from a drawing I’d given her, and put her own signature in its place!

What possesses people to do this? What gratification do they get? I don’t think I’ll ever understand.

A Timely Example.

I mostly stick in the Richard Armitage fandom (we’re a fun, crazy group of ladies) and recently we’ve been touched by a particularly grievous example of plagiarism.

Fan artist jjkg did an elaborate and painstaking Photoshop manipulation for North & South. Anyone who was familiar with this magnificent miniseries would know that jjkg’s artwork was not merely a still from the original show, but was an original work that took a great deal of time and skill to achieve.

An excerpt of jjkg’s original artwork. The figures in the middle were the product of a painstaking Photoshop manipulation process.

A while later, jjkg’s artwork showed up on a Richard Armitage fan blog, but the artwork had been altered—the central figures (John and Margaret) had been ineptly extracted from jjkg’s background and been placed in a new image. As you might imagine, when jjkg found out about this, she was quite upset. She’d worked very hard on this graphic, and said working on it helped her stay sane during a particularly stressful time of her life. The artwork meant a lot to her and it pained her to see it so uglified by the thief.

Excerpt of stolen artwork published without jjkg’s permission. Note the “raggedy edges” around the two central figures.

Okay, so anyone who has been active in a fandom for any length of time knows that sometimes this happens. Usually the standard practice is to contact the thief, explain what’s going on, and say in essence, “Please take this down! This is my work!”  I’ve had to do this a number of times and usually—usually—the perpetrator says, “Oh, I didn’t know” and they pull down the work. No fuss, no muss, no drama.

But unfortunately, it doesn’t always work this way, as it didn’t with the theft of jjkg’s artwork. The thief, someone named ricrar, denied she had done anything wrong. She went so far as to mock up fake “proof” (illustration shown to the left) that she had been working on a similar Photoshop manipulation, and so it was mere coincidence that it turned out looking identical to jjkg’s work. She added the explanation, “One of my earliest manipulations, that I happened to save, of the John/Margaret pose. I was attempting to add a wrap for Mgt, but decided it looked artificial.”

But no one who compared jjkg’s original work and the stolen work could buy that. There’s only so much that can be explained by “It’s a coincidence” and the similarity between jjkg’s original work and the stolen knock-off was in no way an accident.

What was distressing to jjkg was the position that her plagiarizer was taking. She denied she had done anything, and even went to the trouble to fake “proof”! This shows that the plagiarism wasn’t an act done out of ignorance, but done knowingly and willfully.

At this point jjkg was  very distressed, infuriated, and astonished that anyone could be so brazen. She went so far as to post a detailed explanation of how she manipulated her Photoshop work. It was an intricate process and there is no possible way on earth that anyone else could have “coincidentally” done the same thing.

Jjkg’s illustration showing some of the step-by-step Photoshop work. (Which is TOTALLY COOL, by the way! She needs to write a tutorial for this!)

The thief, ricrar, dug in her heels and wouldn’t back down. She has begun to act grieved and victimized because those of us in the RA graphics community are sticking up for jjkg in this particularly outrageous example of plagiarism.

And so it goes. Ricrar appears to be a particular breed of plagiarist who apparently believes that if she lies for long enough, that the lies will become truth and she can get away with stealing whatever she wants. Well, not without a fight from us artists!

UPDATE: Jan 18, 2010. The artist, jjkg, weary of the increasing drama over the theft, held out an “olive branch” to the thief. Jjkg offered to apologize for any bluntness or rudeness on her part when she first discovered the theft, and in return, ricrar would acknowledge that she took the art, and she’d also apologize for all the turmoil she’d put her readers through by allowing this to drag out. Ricrar summarily refused, even after being encouraged by fans of her blog, who all said it was clear she used the artwork. Ricrar cited her “principles” for refusing, to which one blog reader named hannah32 replied, what principles are you talking about - lying, stealing, spreading tales?”

UPDATE: Jan 19, 2010: Finally, FINALLY, the thief removed the offending art. She never would admit any wrongdoing, of course. In this post she stated, “The post the screechers focused on has been deleted in the name of common sense.” (To which I must ask, what common sense? The common sense that failed her for over a week when she refused to admit the art was stolen and therefore refused to remove the page?)

Popular Tactics of Plagiarists.

Since I’ve dealt with more than my share of clip theft, artwork stolen, even my writing has been plagiarized (I’m not that good of a writer!), I am familiar with many of the plagiarists’ tricks. See if any of these are familiar to you, and if you are plagiarized and they try one of these lines on you, point them to this page and tell them, “I ain’t buying it, dude!”

“A friend gave it to me.”

This is an old standby. They get caught stealing your artwork or your video and they use bits of it in their own work (or the whole thing). You KNOW that in all likelihood they got it directly from your YouTube page or site, but they’ll innocently say that “a friend gave it to me” and “they didn’t know” that the work belonged to anyone else.

Variations on this tactic include: “I found it on Google” (yes, that’s called Google image search and Google says at the top that each image may be copyrighted by the original owner, MORON). “I found it on a torrent/Rapidshare.” (Oh really? You mean that someone went to the trouble of making a torrent of a 50 MB fan video that is freely available for download on my fan site? I don’t think so.)

“But you don’t own the work! It belongs to the studio/network!”

Yes, it’s called “derivative” or in some cases transformative work. It may or may not be considered “fair use.” But the copyright issues of creating derivative work have NOTHING to do with plagiarism. Plagiarism is claiming that you created something that you did not. It doesn’t matter if the work you plagiarized is derivative/transformative or not, you didn’t create it and you have no business claiming you did!

“Stop making such a big deal of this! Would Richard Armitage (or Gene Roddenberry, or George Lucas, or whatever fandom you’re in) want you to make such a fuss?”

Yeah actually, I think they would. I don’t think anyone who makes their living (or just invests a lot of time) in creating original works would ever condone letting a plagiarist off the hook. And I doubt that any of these guys (or anyone else whose work we admire) would roll over and allow some plagiarist to steal their work without putting up a fight.

“Don’t you have anything better to do than make an issue of this? It’s time to let it go.”

We’ll decide when it’s time to let it go. And after all, if we let it go, all that means is that we’ll get more of it.

Plagiarists and thieves rely on us getting tired and letting it go. They figure that in the end they’ll win out if they can just hold on long enough. Well, we’re sick of that. We don’t work hard to make original work just so that someone who is lazy or unskilled can take it and claim that they did it. So we’re sticking together and fighting against this. To do otherwise is like giving permission for our work to get stolen, over and over again.

“There are so  many horrible things going on in the world, and you’re complaining about this?”

A variation on, “Don’t you have anything better to do?” Yeah, sure, let’s go with that. You remember that the next time your kid (or your spouse, or your coworker) tries to pull something on you. Steal money out of your wallet? No big deal, there are worse things out there, so let it go. Leave dirty footprints on the floor after you’ve told them and told them not to? You’d better not complain! You should never have cause to protest anyone else’s wrongdoing, because there is always going to be something worse out there!

The use of Godwin’s Law.

To be honest I didn’t anticipate that this would end up on the list, but never underestimate a plagiarizer who is desperately trying to play the victim card in as many ways as possible. Sometimes they’ll sink quite low.

“You should be flattered that someone wanted to use your work.”

This one always boggles my mind. I once had a schoolteacher (a SCHOOLTEACHER!!!) use a variation of this line on me when he plagiarized a tutorial I’d written and posted it on the school web site. He said he was trying to be “supportive” or something by using my work. No, it’s not flattering. It’s infuriating. And to have the thief  (or some friend or supporter of the thief) say that I should be pleased that my work was good enough to steal? I’m sorry, I can do without that sort of “flattery” or *cough* “support.”

“You’re the one with the problem.” “You’re being mean!” “You’re being rude!”

That’s right. Try to blame the victim (or the victim’s supporters) for speaking up. They dare to complain! They dare to protest! They are mean! Make them stop! After all, the poor thief is powerless! It isn’t like the plagiarizer can do anything about it, like . . . you know, take down the stolen work and apologize. So anyone who repeatedly complains is totally in the wrong for making things uncomfortable for the thief. Can’t they leave the poor plagiarizer alone to enjoy their ill-gotten gains in peace?

“Stop making such a fuss! How will all of this it look to newbies to your fandom?”

How do you mean that? Do you mean, how will it look to newbies who were under some impression that it’s okay to appropriate other people’s work? It’ll show them, before they try something they’ll regret, that it’s not acceptable and there will be consequences. It’ll also show newbies who are nervous about displaying their hard work that there is a support system in place to help them if theft does occur, which in turn will make them more comfortable sharing their work with the rest of the fandom.

Most reasonable people who are paying attention will see that the consequences for an accidental lapse are minimal. That sometimes happens and as long as the work is removed quickly, no big deal. But those who stubbornly feel that they are entitled to claim stolen work—it doesn’t end well. And that’s how it will look to newbies.

“You should expect for people to use your work when you put it up on the Internet.”

Yeah, the Internet has made everything so accessible, which can be a wonderful thing. But you’re right, it means that it’s also made more creative works accessible to plagiarizers and thieves. But that added accessibility doesn’t somehow magically make theft and plagiarism right.

And just as the Internet has made it easier for people to steal, it also makes it easier for the victims to fight back. Like for instance, me being able to write this page. Like the victims being able to gather support from friends all over the globe. Like all of us being able to leave messages and posts telling a thief what we think of plagiarism. These things are also made easier, thanks to the Internet.

“I’ve had my work stolen, and it didn’t bother me.”

Well, bully for you, but we’re not talking about you. If you don’t care if someone takes credit for your work, that’s your choice, but it still doesn’t make it right. And it doesn’t automatically mean that if you don’t care when it happens to you, that no one else has any reason to be upset when it happens to them. If you don’t want to stick up for your rights that’s your business, but there’s nothing wrong with others fighting to protect their hard work.

“You’re just picking on me. I didn’t do anything THAT bad.”

My heart bleeds, really. Look, if you pulled down the work when you were first asked, you wouldn’t be going through this. You don’t get to play the victim card here. You brought this upon yourself, first by stealing and taking credit for something that you know you didn’t create, and then by refusing to do the right thing when you were caught. So okay, you didn’t expect that the artists would actually, you know, fight back? Stick up for themselves? I know, bummer. It’s so unfair that stealing isn’t always as easy as you expect. But when you complain about dealing with the fallout of your actions, you kind of sound like the person who says, “Poor me, I hurt the hand I used to hit you.” 


No clip theft. A page about stealing bits of other people’s fan videos.

Excellent LJ article about plagiarism in the fan fiction community.

(I especially like this ending line, bolding mine.) Plagiarism is wrong, plagiarism is bad, plagiarism is nasty. Pretending it's okay because other parts of the writing are good or because the originals are old or non-fiction is nothing short of abetting a moral crime. And it is not "mean" to point it out.”

LJ community devoted to stopping plagiarism.


Keywords: Plagiarism, clip theft, stolen, stealing, plagiarist, plagiarize, fan art, fan fiction, fan videos, credit, ricrar, allthingsrarmitage,, fanvid, fanfic, theft.