(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?Pin It