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October 18, 2011

How Bad Is Plagiarism?

(Read below for updates.) Recently, a thief broke into my brother’s house.  They weren’t home, so no one was physically hurt.  However, the shock of the crime still caused emotional pain.

The thief didn’t take too much, mostly just small things he could carry, but now they wonder if the guy will strike again in a couple months with a truck and a better plan.  They worry about whether he’s been watching them and their comings and goings.  And they’re asking themselves if they could have prevented it.

Crimes create victims, often in unpredictable ways.  Last week, a blogger was outed as a plagiarist.  Terrell Mims stole the content of his blog from Cracked.com, About.com, and other sources on the web.

I vaguely knew him from Twitter, and I’d visited his blog once or twice.  I thought the material sounded familiar, but I read a lot of blogs, so I figured I must have read that article before.  I had—on Cracked—but I didn’t realize it at the time.

He stole material from other hard-working writers and passed it off as his.  He advertised his editing services to take advantage of people who were impressed by his blog.  He got other writers to support him, retweet his blog links, add him to their blog roll, “like” his Facebook page, include his posts in their link roundups, give him blog awards, etc.

In other words, the trail of his victims stretched far beyond those he stole material from.  He stole an undeserved reputation.

That reputation allowed him to take money from editing clients.  He set other writers on the wrong path with his idiotic advice because he couldn’t duplicate his “expertise” in real-world situations.

That reputation allowed him to take time and attention from deceived writers who befriended him.  He took opportunities away from other more-deserving writers.

That reputation was a lie.  And every single person who believed in him is now a victim of betrayal.

Yes, copying and pasting on the internet is insanely easy.  But it’s also very easy to get caught.  And it’s almost as easy to properly attribute material to the original source.  Anyone who copies and pastes onto another location on the internet will be caught eventually.

Every so often, I create Google Alerts for unique phrases in my blog posts.  This same technique can alert you if a scammer scrapes your entire blog to make their spam site look legit. And if I’m using this method, you know the big blogs are too. Maybe the question in the title should be “How Stupid Is Plagiarism?”

If I were alone in the writing world, this would have been a gossipy type story and nothing more.  But I have very good friends who were blindsided by this betrayal.  Rather than spend their weekend writing, they were removing links to his now-closed blog, erasing all connections to him, and trying to undo any wonky changes his poor advice had prompted in their work.

Just like my brother, everyone who believed in him wonders if they could have prevented this.  They also wonder how they could have been so misled.  But Terrell alone deserves the blame.  The fact that he succeeded with his intention to deceive them is not a reflection on their ability to judge someone’s character.

The good news is that many of my friends who were betrayed have banded together, stronger than ever, with a “we survived Terrell” attitude.  As I mentioned in my last post, the power of blogging and social media for writers is the social aspect—the concept of a tribe.

One of his victims, Kristen Lamb, commented on the post that exposed this crime:

“Plagiarism is the treason of the literary world and needs to be met with swift justice. … Thank you … for bringing this disgusting behavior into the light. We have to watch out for each other.”

That we do.  Also, use Google Alerts.  *smile*

(01/22/2013 Update: Turns out Terrell Mims re-emerged on Twitter—even going so far as to ingratiating himself in with the same group of writers he victimized before—under a new name, Chris DeLaune. Thanks to my commenter below for the heads up. Here’s the Storify of the Twitter confrontation with Terrell/Chris.

01/24/2013 Update: Here’s my follow-up post with more links to Terrell/Chris’s confrontation with his plagiarism victims, as well as an update on his one-week-old plagiarism of a Forbes article and his current status.)

Did you know Terrell or had you heard about his crime?  Have you ever been a victim of a crime like this?  Was your material stolen or were you betrayed?  Do you have Google Alerts set for phrases on your blog?

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What do you think?

95 Comments on "How Bad Is Plagiarism?"

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M. Howalt

Great post!
I never understood deliberate plagarism. For me the greatest pleasure in writing is creating, the act of making something that wasn’t there before and that no one else has. Putting something into words in a new way. I also like recognition (feedback of some kind, knowing that I have readers, all that), but if someone commented something I had stolen, the critique or the praise wouldn’t be for me, and so what would be the point?
I think, unknowingly, everybody is in danger of some degree of plagarism. When I was a teenager, I worked on a long story about a bloke who sounded a lot like a protagonist in a published book, but I had never heard of this book until someone pointed it out. But that’s not the same as deliberately stealing, and considering how disappointed I felt that “someone had already thought of the same thing”, I simply can’t understand why anyone would want to take the credit for something they haven’t done. I do mean morally as well as simply how it can bring them any pleasure at all.

Paul Anthony Shortt

I don’t know him, but I find plagiarsim deplorable. It’s nothing but theft and lies and there’s no place for it.

Great post.

Amber

TM was one of the first people I met in MyWANA, and I kept him at arm’s length very early on. I posted about it today – guess the topic is on all our minds. I feel awful for those that trusted and supported him.

Your Google Alert advice is great! We all need to be aware of how to protect our work and ourselves.

Patrick Thunstrom

I just found out about this this morning. It’s a sad thing to see, and I’m not even sure there’s more to say than that.

Sonia G Medeiros

My philosophy is, if I’m gonna suck, I might as well suck authentically. 😀 Seriously though, this news made me so sick. I don’t want it to be true that someone would do this. I want to believe it was a mistake somehow, a reaction to a total lack of confidence in the creative self. But I know it has hurt a lot of people and that makes me so angry.

Thanks for the Google Alert tip. Great idea!

David N. Walker

Thanks, Jami. I think your comparison with your brother’s burglary is very apt. The feeling of being invaded is almost worse than the actual loss.

Jami's Tech Guy

Great post Jami.

I spent most of that Friday dealing with the fallout of the TM issue.

While few clients were affected, it hit many friends hard. I spent the day helping them deal with the various stages of grief over the betrayal while helping them go through their sites to help clean their previous ties to TM.

It very much reminded me of going through sites to remove traces of a hacker attack. I deal with hackers all the time. The ones that hack data cause far less damage and pain than the ones that hack people’s trust.

-TG
@jaytechdad

K.B. Owen

Hey, Tech Guy! Thanks SO much for helping me “clean” my blog site on Friday (not much there, fortunately), and for letting me vent to you!

Jami, it’s great being in a twibe with you. 🙂

Kathy
@kbowenwriter

Gene Lempp

And from all of us to you Tech…Thank you with all our heart 🙂

Your help was invaluable in assisting many of us through this difficult time.

Jami's Tech Guy

Kathy / Gene: I’m glad I could be helpful. Hopefully the next time will be under more fun circumstances.

-Jay
@jaytechdad

Carradee

I started freelancing as a college kid. Prospective clients treated me as a plagiarist until they proved my innocence (with a CopyScape check of what I’d delivered them). I couldn’t afford to be insulted when clients saw my work and expressed disbelief that someone my age could produce that.

I finally sat down and wrote an article about why plagiarism’s such a bad idea and how to avoid doing it even on accident, sold it to FreelanceSwitch, and started pointing there when folks started harping on “All articles must be 100% original!”

I’ve had work stolen. I figure it’s part and parcel of being a web writer—but that doesn’t mean I’ll let you get away with it, if I catch you. (Darn it, I did not need that code bunny.)

It seems to me, though, that Terrell used plagiarism to help him commit fraud, which adds an entirely different category to this issue.

Maureen Crisp

Thanks Jami for the news. I will link to this in my weekly roundup.
That is truly a sucky situation and I have great sympathy for the writers who got caught up in this!
Maureen
New Zealand

Nicole Basaraba

Wow. I read about this at your blog first Jami and then hopped around to check out the others. I remember seeing TM all over twitter and I though he looked friendly. I know that I checked his blog once or twice and I got a weird vibe from what he posted and also from the language he used describing his services.

I just hope that nobody was too hurt by this.

Kate Wood

Hi Jami!

This whole situation makes me sick. I found out yesterday over at David N. Walker’s blog…and I was just at Amber West’s blog reading about it.

I feel so badly for Kristen Lamb, especially. She works hard to help us out, and to be used like she has been is reprehensible.

I feel like a moron for believing in him. I took one of his classes…and worked my butt off to try to do the assignments right! He was always really cool with me, and I took his oddities for enthusiasm.

Worse, I feel like I have his dishonestly on me like bits of slime from stepping in a dirty puddle. I need a shower. I removed him from my blogroll, but I have no idea how to remove him completely from my blog – I’ve linked to him in some of my posts. I haven’t had a chance to get on Twitter or FB to remove him from there, but I’m going to at my first opportunity.

Ugh…this just sucks. This whole thing sucks.

Thanks for letting me vent ;p

~ Kate

Jami's Tech Guy

Kate: Check your Facebook messages, I left info there so you can do more cleanup.

-TG
@jaytechdad

Kate Wood

I’ll check as soon as I get home. Thanks Tech Guy, you are the best! 🙂

Jordan

Thanks for this post, Jami. I’m so glad to hear that Mr. Mims was finally outed. I recently came across his blog immediately after reading an identical post on another author’s blog (the original dated a week earlier). I contacted the author and she already knew about it, but didn’t know what else to do. I’m glad to know at least he’s been stopped.

Brooklyn Ann

What I don’t understand is how a person could plagiarize and maintain any sense of dignity. What kind of deplorable mindset is behind such behavior?

Carradee

What kind of deplorable mindset is behind such behavior?

Entitlement.

Lena Corazon
As a teaching assistant at a major university, I catch at least 2 or 3 instances of plagiarism each quarter. This happens even after we stress the sanctions that will occur for those who engage in such activity, which can range anywhere from failing the assignment, the course, or even being suspended from school for at least 1 quarter. And yet every time, without fail, someone decides that they’d rather copy and paste material from sources other than their own without offering the proper citation. There was an article in the New York Times last summer that basically argued that in the digital age, students don’t know any better (link below). I don’t buy that. We teach (or at least I do, in my classes) students when it’s appropriate to cite. We teach them how to cite. And yet I still have students submitting things that aren’t theirs, even going so far as to reproduce things that I’ve written, and treating it as their own (this is a true story. I TA’d a theory class last spring, and provided a breakdown of Weber vs. Durkheim for them, half of which ended up in one young woman’s paper — no citations, nothing). Really, I feel like these cases demonstrate a helluva lot of hubris, and quite a bit of laziness. It’s not hard to offer proper credit. And sure, coming up with blog topics (or paper topics, or whatever) can be a little daunting, but it’s not impossible. This smacks to… Read more »
Tamara LeBlanc
Tamara LeBlanc

How horrible for the people this person betrayed.
I’m glad you posted this Jami…I didn’t know this about TM and will scour my Tweeps to see if I’m following him. If I am, he will quickly be un-followed. I also plan to Tweet this. Getting the word out to as many people as possible can only help those who might find themselves in the same situation.
I’m so sorry your brother and his family had to go through such an ordeal, and it’s awful they have to worry about being robbed again. You did an excellent job of comparing these two crimes. On the surface they’re different, but at heart, they’re very much the same, both are beyond heinous.
Thanks so much,
Tamara

Marcy Kennedy

Only found out about this now as I’ve sat down to catch up on missed blogs. I still haven’t managed to pick my chin up off the floor. I pay my bills through my writing, and I see plagiarists as basically stealing food off the tables of other people like me. Not to mention the hours that so many honest bloggers sacrifice in order to produce their work.

And I also feel really deceived. I’ve read his posts and tweeted them before. I took it for granted that he’d written them himself. Suffice it to say that I’ve already unfollowed him on Twitter and will be checking to see if I’ve linked to him in any other way so that I can remove those as well. I don’t even want to risk taint by association.

Sara Grambusch
Sara Grambusch

Thanks for posting this. I’m glad people are talking about it so openly and I hope he is embarrassed and ashamed. Intellectual theft feels more like a violation than my physical property being stolen. I knew of him from Twitter and around the blogs which already feels too close to home. He always seemed kind of creepy to me, but you never know on the internet. I love seeing writers band together and defend their community. He only hurt his own reputation.

Andrew Mocete

I caught wind of this mess last Thursday because I’d subscribed to the comments on a plagiarized blog. When Ian Fortey posted a linked to the Cracked article, I clicked it expecting it, at most, to be similar. We know the rest.

Aside from talking to some friends, I decided to keep my mouth shut. Terrell had a lot of support and I honestly didn’t think anyone would believe me. If someone ever tried to say anything negative about my good friends, I’d tell them where to stick it. I knew it was only a matter of time for word to spread. By the time I returned from my weekend at Comic Con, it was all over.

I said this on Amber West’s blog today, the guy obviously had a gift for telling people what they wanted to hear. It’s a shame he didn’t just improve his writing and combine the two. He might’ve been able to be as brilliant as the material he stole.

Jennifer Tanner

Hi Jami!

Geez, I will never understand why people plagiarize other’s work. As writers, we’re creative, capable of putting our own spin on our observations.

Maybe one day TM will pen a bestseller. But within the community of writers, what will he be remembered for?

Sarah Pearson

I don’t know this guy and I’m not involved in any way but it makes me really sad. Maybe I’m an idiot, but that somebody could do this, and use and betray people, never entered my head. I guess I need to learn to be less trusting online.

Teresa Robeson

I’m so sorry to hear about the break-in at your brother’s home. How very scary. Once you’re violated like that, it’s so hard to go back to feeling safe. 🙁

I’ve not heard of Terrell and his plagiarism, but I feel for his victims. I don’t think I’ve ever been a victim of plagiarism…maybe it’s because I don’t write enough. :} That is great advice about doing Google Alerts for unique phrases from your blog posts!

Barbara McDowell
I’m sorry to hear about what happened to your brother Jami. That is such a cruel violation for someone to break into his space. During 11th grade chemistry, I had someone steal money out of my purse (I was across the room n the lab), and that yucky feeling still resonates. I’ve also had work/ideas stolen in the business world and it burns my guts. My sister used to do tons of genealogy research, write articles and give speeches. An online thief lifted her work in a similar copy and paste situation and kept doing it even after being notified to stop. I get the sense that some unscrupulous folks online think that they can do whatever without consequences. I also think they figure the attempt is worth it because there are so many sites that people may not stumble upon identical text. Then they get away with it and keep going. I’ve used Google Alerts a few times on titles, but not phrases. How much text should we put in the searches to make them the most effective? Thanks for this post Jami and for the highlight of the continued strength of his former friends/student clients that were hurt the most. I’m new to the MyWANA tribe and in the short time I’ve started interacting with the community, reading and commenting on more and more blogs and tweeting for interaction, I’ve felt the welcome and support. The high level of helping and giving. I hope that this jerk’s actions… Read more »
Sophia Chang

Ack! So sorry to hear that. Someone smashed my car window for my GPS in my own driveway. I do live in L.A. county, though. Too common.

Plagiarism pisses me off. I just heard an NPR piece tonight about Bob Dylan ripping off artwork and lyrics. sigh.

Susan Sipal

So sorry to hear about your brother, Jami. I know when that same thing happened to my friend and critique partner, it took a long time and a move before she felt safe again.

One thing I’m curious about regarding online plagiarism that you might know the answer to — I’ve seen posts on my blog copied online and reprinted on spammy-type blogs, but with proper attribution. My son say’s they’re doing it for internet marketing purposes. Since they did at least give my name as the author, I’ve not done anything about it. Do you know anything about this?

Jami's Tech Guy

Hi Susan,

Those “internet marketing” sites are very grey-area. If it bothers you, you can submit a DMCA take down notice and hope they honor it. If not, then you can to go to their ISP and try to get their site shut down.

Good luck!
-TG
@jaytechdad

Kristin Nador

I’m a little late to the discussion, having first read it on David Walker’s blog while I’m catching up on blog reading. What a cautionary tale for writers/bloggers. It is just terrible that so many people were affected by one person’s bad choices. I have to wonder if Mr. Mims found himself slowly getting in over his head as far as his writing skills level and resorted to stealing others content, kind of the frog in boiling water situation, or did he maliciously make a conscience decision to deceive from the get-go? I’m sure no one will ever know, and in all reality it is a moot point, he broke trust and the damage is done. A really sad situation.
Thanks for the post, Jami, and especially the tip about protecting yourself with Google Alerts. Spot on as usual. 🙂

Darcy Peal
Darcy Peal

I hope Mims was reported to Google and Yahoo by the people whose work he stole.

http://www.plagiarismchecker.com/report-cheater.php

Dan Kleinman of SafeLibraries

Excellent blog post. I am about to write about the American Library Association’s repeated use of plagiarism in significant ways. Some of the evidence is already in the public domain and I will simple point it out. Your blog post will help me to explain to my audience the effects of plagiarism. And I will likely quote you and give you full attribution via a link or other means, as honest people always do. Thank you, and I am sorry for the victims of plagiarism.

Victoria Mixon

I had a post lifted a couple of years ago by a then-new ‘writing’ site that advertised their paid services in negotiating down the rates of editors such as myself. They posted all of my post but the last paragraph, throwing in a link at the end to keep from being prosecuted for plagiarism.

Using my own words to try to attract my potential clients to their services against me, without so much as politely asking.

Yeah.

When my sys admin notified them that that material was copyrighted and asked them to use only as much as Fair Use allows, they simply removed the post without an apology or even an, “Ooops! Didn’t understand copyright law. Honest mistake!”

And they’re still out there now, flogging their site heavily to the online community.

Be aware, people. Be very aware.

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[…] Friedman talks about fear most authors have: idea theft. Jami Gold talks plagiarism, examining one man’s scam and the wave of victims it […]

yikici

Heya Jami,

I finally got round to your blog and post (these weeks are just getting too hectic). I am totally shocked to hear that TM has done this; however, I do have to add my initial encounter with him (much like many others), he immediately dismissed me as a writer without any credentials -this miffed me. I left it at that, and at times on twitter had chats but that’s as far as it went.

I did pop over to his blog a few times but each instance made feel restricted -a strong negative vibe kept coming through which luckily prevented me from growing any further interest (I considered giving out a blog award but my gut said nooo!). Having said this, I am saddened to hear so many people have been affected by his malicious intentions. I can’t understand how someone could do such a thing as I couldn’t bear even considering such a thing –let alone carry it out again and again and again.

News like these will hopefully make us stronger, more wary and above all ready to take on whatever is out there.

Amber

PS – From comments here and elsewhere, I’ve concluded that your tech guy is fabulous. I officially have a harmless geeky crush. 🙂

Renee Schuls-Jacobson

Grrrrrrrrr. This stuff makes me so mad. But it will be fabulous to show my Comp-101 class when we talk about plagiarism. Thanks Jami. Consider yourself a primary source. 😉

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[…] likes a cheater, and Jami Gold explores How Bad is Plagiarism? and its damaging […]

julie gardner

Great post, Jami.

I did not follow Terrell, but out of curiosity, I went on twitter and searched him to discover many #FF suggestions including him just yesterday.

One of them is someone who #FF’d me, too.

Shameful. In every way.
And scary.

Thanks for spreading the word here…

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[…] Jami Gold asked How Bad Is Plagiarism? […]

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[…] Gold wrote in detail about how people were affected in the post “How Bad Is Plagiarism?” Many writers worried this person’s actions would reflect poorly on them and spent the week trying […]

Judy Stone-Goldman

I just read about this on Kristin Nador’s blog post http://bit.ly/mRTso7 and came here to get the full story. Thanks for the sorry details along with the Google Alerts suggestion. Your post really speaks to the power and potential problems of connections–all the spirals of people affected by his false reputation and claims.

Plagiarism bothers me in my gut. Very deep level. I don’t think I’m alone.

Thanks for spreading this unfortunate word.

Judy Stone-Goldman
The Reflective Writer

Nathaniel Matychuk
Nathaniel Matychuk

A “friend,” of a friend plagarized Neil Gaiman on facebook. He was passing himself off as a wannabee writer and a lot of people, me included, bought his act.

He was not only a literary fraud, but a womanizer who victimized several individuals. While it is difficult to tell if his world truly fell apart when he was outed, can’t verify what I see on social networking sites, I know that the hurt he caused to others was deep.

I don’t know this Terrel Mims character, but I know somebody who might as well be him.

Chris Doherty

Someone should do a followup on this guy about hypocrisy and hubris. It seems he’s separated himself from the discovery of his past and now spends all
His time on FB pontificating about how righteous he is , continually dogging our public figures and just saying all sorts of disgusting things about people who don’t have his views as if he’s never done anything he regrets in his life. Hmm…maybe a guy like Terell Mimms doesn’t regret anything he’s ever don’t in his life. Glad I found this, justifies my being disgusted with the guy.

Chris Doherty

Oh, and he now goes by the writers name of Chris DeLaune. It’s quite pitiful he is changing his name in attempt to scam people again.

https://mobile.twitter.com/AuthorCDeLaune
http://chrisdelaune.wordpress.com/author/chrisdelaune/

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[…] a year ago, I helped spread the word about Terrell Mims’s plagiarism. That post is on my Most Popular Posts sidebar because it continues to get a fair number of hits […]

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[…] I mentioned in my post about plagiarism, I didn’t state that Terrell Mims was a plagiarist without vetting the accusation first. […]

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[…] up Google Alerts for phrases from our books. I’ve recommended using Google Alerts to protect our blogs from content scrapers, and we should do the same for our […]

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