Twice in my life that I know of, I’ve had original creative material stolen by others.
Once I drew a cartoon of a peacock for a friend. He knew I had been a caricaturist while I was in grad school and asked if I could create a certain image for him. I didn’t ask him why he wanted it. Imagine my surprise when the cartoon I drew ended up being printed on hundreds of t-shirts for a corporate event. The really galling thing was that the t-shirt shop took credit for the design. I thought long and hard about how to handle it, and finally just decided to forget about it.
A year or so later, I opened a monthly newsletter from another branch of the outfit I worked with and began to read a column written by a younger friend, a protégé of mine. His column was word-for-word exactly what I had written the month before. There was no attribution to me anywhere in the article. Indeed he went to pains to make it appear he had written it. Once again I wrestled with what to do about someone using my original material without my permission. And once again, I chose to do nothing.
There was eventually a third occasion in which I encountered plagiarism—the attributing of creative work to oneself that is actually the work of another. While I was researching my doctoral dissertation, reading mountains of books and articles—everything in print, it seemed—about one minute topic, I found a quote in a newly published thesis that I had read and annotated several weeks before in an old book. I sat staring at that unattributed quote, wondering what would happen to the “scholar” who used it as his own creative work if I pointed out to the right people what he had done. In the long run, partly because the thief’s dissertation was pretty lousy anyway, I did nothing.
This past week I’ve been revisiting those three experiences and asking myself if I did the right thing. Not pointing out the use of my cartoon on the t-shirts probably cost me a couple hundred bucks at a time in my life when I could have used it. Apart from that, those instances of plagiarism seemed to me to do no harm.
Last week, however, I encountered plagiarism again and this time it could not be ignored. To make a long story short, it was brought to our attention that an individual had entered a short story in our Murder in the Wind anthology contest. The story was quite excellent, a finalist for inclusion in the anthology. The only problem was, the purported author had not written the story at all! The story had been published by its true author on the internet.
When we discovered what had happened, we immediately 1) removed the story from the “visible” part of our blog (we’ve kept the illegal submission and accompanying emails should we ever need to document what happened); 2) apologized profusely to the true author; and 3) banned the person who submitted the story from submitting to or participating in any Second Wind process or contest. This was a case where real personal and financial harm could have been done to the author and also to our new publishing company. Had Second Wind published this story in one of our anthologies, in addition to the financial nightmare it would have created, there would have been a stigma associated with us indefinitely.
For these reasons, as the Publisher of Second Wind Publishing, LLC, I want to affirm it is our permanent operating policy that only original material can be submitted to Second Wind for publication or for inclusion in any of our contests or promotional events. Should any person be found to have submitted plagiarized material, that person shall be banned permanently from participating in any Second Wind literary process or event.
There are so many wonderful, unpublished authors out there, so many delightful story ideas and possibilities yet to be created. Why on earth would anybody take something that belongs to someone else and represent it as her or his own? —Mike Simpson