If you're on a deadline, and you need to produce written content, the internet makes it ridiculously fast and easy to rip other writers off.
But people who live by the sword also die by it. Once someone suspects plagiarism, the internet makes it easy to search for other people who used your words first. It also makes it easy to spot-check your other work to see if any of it appears lifted from prior sources without attribution. Finally, once plagiarism is detected, the internet — full, as it is, of both successful and frustrated writers — makes word of the misconduct spread like wildfire.
This week's example: the Movie Junkies.
John Scalzi — who hates plagiarism the way you hate Hitler and the way I hate reality TV — writes the Alpha post, noting that MaryAnn Johanson's review of a film — appropriately enough, "Shame" — was plagiarized at MovieJunkies. As Scalzi notes in an update, MovieJunkies has now edited that review, leaving an incoherent mess that still has elements of the plagiarized work. A screenshot is here, and the sentence fragments, run-on sentences, and other errors are in the original:
A powerful plunge into the mania of sex addiction. The feelings of isolation and all-consuming need so piercingly in “Shame”. Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a New Yorker who shuns intimacy with women but feeds his desires with a compulsive addiction to sex. His troubled sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment stirring memories of their shared painful past and Brandon’s insular life spirals out of control. Sissy is her brother’s polar opposite, and she proceeds to invade his carefully cultivated privacy.
Shame offers something different than I have ever seen on screen in a main stream movie. For the first a main stream audience can see a man with extreme vulnerability. Fassbender is exceptional is expressing is misery and utter weakness in the fight against his obsession and addiction. Most movies that are available to the mass audiences protect the male image and ego. Even male nudity is treated much more tabu than female nudity.
The only issue I had with the direction was that some shots were held for too long where I got a little bored numerous times throughout the movie.
Movie Junkie Rating: GOOD BUZZ :) Note: GREAT HIGH for Fassbender’s performance!
Now comes the part where other writers — and their fans — start looking for other instances of plagiarism. Scalzi's commenters are off to a good start and have found some strong candidates for plagiarism. Mike McGranaghan of Aisleseat indicates he has screencaps of six reviews plagiarized from him, and is tracking down plagiarism of other writers. Things are swiftly becoming very grim for MovieJunkies. The plagiarism is looking serial and pervasive rather than isolated.
Using the comment form on the MovieJunkies web site, I asked for a comment, indicating that I write about various forms of internet misbehavior and wondered if they had a comment about allegations they had plagiarized multiple articles. Here's the response I got — which I feel comfortable sharing because I made it clear I was writing to get a comment for a blog post:
I cannot apologize enough.
It seems some of my views that I passed onto to one of my staff to post on the site have used other sources that should not have been included. I should have looked more carefully and we do so in the future. I apologize for this error. We have removed the requests that have been sent to us.
Please let me know if you see anything else and I will gladly remove it immediately.
Thank you very much.
I find this incoherent and unconvincing. To the extent one can parse the main sentence, it's very difficult to believe. Is she saying that she voiced views that happened to incorporate the exact language of other writers' work, and her staff wrote it verbatim? Or that she referred to other writers' work, and they copied it verbatim? It's impenetrable, particularly for someone who supposedly writes professionally. Moreover, it's not believable. The hasty and incompetent editing of challenged posts — which as of now lack any apology or acknowledgement — suggests a guilty conscience, not an innocent error. The number of posts at issue, discussed above, also makes any innocent excuse hard to accept.
The people who run Movie Junkies are poised on a knife's edge. If they handle this situation correctly, with a convincing display to the extent that critics are mistaken, or (more likely) with abject apologies and acceptances of responsibility, the site might survive, even after this goes viral. If they take a dishonest, self-righteous, or evasive approach, they are done: curb-stomped by the internet they used as a source for stolen text. Just ask Judith Griggs
(If memory serves I learned of Griggs from Scalzi, too. Don't plagiarize around Scalzi. Just . . don't.)
Edited to add: another plagiarism victim.
Edited to add: Mike McGranaghan tells his story, and notes that the Movie Junkies site and Facebook page are down.
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