I’m a Published Author!

July 7th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

Well, sort of….

I recently learned that a book was published last year that includes plagiarized copies of at least two of my articles. Someone told me about the book because he found the text familiar and realized that he’d already read it on my web site.

This was done without my permission, and no credit was given to me in the book. The author is passing off my work as his own. This book is currently still selling both online and in bookstores and was published by a major book publisher. I wrote these articles years before the book was published. They’ve been very popular online, each read by tens of thousands of people.

This wasn’t just a case of borrowing ideas, which would be perfectly legal, since mere ideas aren’t copyrightable. The book reproduced most of my text verbatim, paragraph for paragraph, word for word — at least six pages total (it could be more though, since I haven’t scanned the whole book yet). Even my personal stories were included with minimal rewording to make them seem as if they were the author’s own. Imagine someone trying to resell your memories and personal experiences as his own. Reminds me of an old Seinfeld episode where J. Peterman tries to buy Kramer’s memories….

I’ve already had plenty of experience with copyright infringement from my games business. I’ve seen people steal pages of content from my web site word-for-word, resell my games as their own, or develop identical level-for-level clones on other platforms without permission. At least a dozen other developers I know have had to deal with similar problems. Happens all the time. With web sites it’s pretty easy to handle, since 95% of the time the culprit will take down the offending content within hours as soon as you inform him that you know about it. And if that doesn’t work, you just start sending out emails until you have sufficient leverage (to their web host, the top sites that link to them, sites they link to, associations they belong to, etc). I periodically catch infringers by doing Google searches on unusual bits of text from my site. Hmmm… just identified two more offenders right now. One is even an ISP. Be careful who you hire to write your web content!

In most cases when people contact me to ask for republishing permission for an article, I’m happy to allow it as long as proper credit is given with the original copyright notice and a link to my web site. My articles dating back to 1999 have been republished on dozens of other sites and in some physical media, and this helps drive a lot of traffic. And of course fair use allows people to post snippets of articles and comment on them w/o asking permission. But you can’t just grab thousands of words of copyrighted info off other sites and attempt to pass it off as your own.

When I wanted to republish a piece of text written by another author in my upcoming book, I contacted the copyright holder and got a signed letter of permission. And my book will certainly include that author’s original copyright notice. It’s not that hard to do. I’ll also be sending that person a free signed copy of the book as thanks.

I’ve already talked to an intellectual property attorney about this particular case of copyright infringement, mainly to get information and consider what I’d like to do next. There are several different ways I could pursue this, but I haven’t yet decided whether I want to go the full legal route or try a different approach. Nevertheless, if anyone here can recommend a good IP attorney (or is one) with experience in copyright infringement, please let me know.

I’m at least glad to know that more people are reading my work offline as a result of this book, and hopefully the people who read it will find it beneficial. Of course, I must wonder about the integrity of the book’s other content, and the author has written other books as well. Were other authors also plagiarized? Aside from the fact that the author and publisher are likely profiting from my original work, this situation also creates additional problems for me that could last for years. For starters people who encounter my articles after reading the book may end up thinking I plagiarized content from the book. My writing style tends to be strong and direct and in my opinion, this causes my content to stand out in the book somewhat. The person who first informed me of the plagiarism acknowledged that he was hesitant to do so out of concern that I might be the plagiarizer, so that just won’t do. Also, I reasonably expect I will re-use content from those articles (including my personal stories) in future speeches or seminars at some point. A reputation for integrity is crucial in the speaking business (unless you’re a former U.S. President), and this author’s actions could hurt me down the road. This type of book would sell to the same type of audience that would be interested in this web site.

Right now I’m probably a little too close to this situation to view it totally objectively, so I’ll set it aside for a few days and examine it from a fresh perspective. I’m not interested in revenge or in damaging the author’s reputation, but nor can I permit this plagiarism to continue unchallenged. I don’t wish to name the particular book, author, or publisher at this time (or to approve comments that name them), as that of course opens a Pandora’s Box that cannot easily be closed. But I would like to invite your opinions on this, especially if you’ve been through a similar experience or known someone who has.

What would be the most intelligent thing to do in such a situation? The most honorable? The most compassionate?

What would you do in such a situation?

Oh, what a tangled web we weave….


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