This woman has been in my feed a lot lately, so I just wanted to make an observation or two.
For starters: what she did was wrong. It was unethical. It was lazy. It was theft.
Furthermore: Her fans are misguided at best, gullible in the middle ground, and sock-puppets at worst.
I don't want to say I hope she fails, because that may seem mean-spirited. But I definitely hope she doesn't succeed until she learns her lesson, confesses, apologizes, and then does all the hard work necessary to rebuild her image. Followed by concrete proof that she actually is the one to write her next novel.
And I don't see her doing any of that.
However -- and this is really what prompted me to post -- plagiarism and copyright infringement are not the same thing. Sometimes they happen together, but more often they don't.
So what's the difference? Ugh. For starters, copyright infringement is illegal, and plagiarism is not. I don't know why it's not, but it's not. Also, copyright infringement is only applicable to copyrighted works, whereas plagiarism applies regardless of whether or not the work is protected by copyright.
For the rest... well, I am not a lawyer, but here's how I understand it. Let's say two authors each write a ten page scene where a conversation takes place in the kitchen.
If both authors use the same occasional wording, this is not necessarily a case for plagiarism. Two authors using a standard "good morning" exchange between parent and son, for example, is unlikely to be plagiarism. It's far more likely to be art imitating life.
If, however, the two authors use the exact same sentences or phrasing for a substantial part of the scene, then that is arguably plagiarism. Here, by substantial I essentially mean "more than could be coincidence".
Now, the second case may or may not also be copyright infringement. It depends on what happens in the scene. If it's nothing more than a mother and son talking about plans for the day over breakfast, it's highly unlikely that the scene would qualify as copyright infringement. Largely because I don't think you can copyright something that happens every day in countless homes across the planet. It's a scene that we've already seen in hundreds of books and dozens (at least) of times on film. There's nothing there to steal. So in that case the scene would qualify as plagiarism, and only plagiarism. (ETA: I may be confusing the ability to win a case of copyright infringement vs. the infringement taking place. It's been bothering me ever since I wrote it. As I said, I'm not a lawyer -- take with grain of salt. Basically, though, the greater the likelihood that something might be due to coincidence or commonality, the less likely you are to have a case. I think.)
Suppose, though, that it turns out that it's not just a mother and son having breakfast. Maybe it's a mother and son plotting to murder the man of the house by taking horrible advantage of his pica, and supplying him with common yet poisonous household items he can eat. (I'm sorry, it's late and that's just the first crazy and hopefully out-there-enough-to-be-unique idea I could come up with.) In that case, it's highly unlikely that two people would come up with the same idea, much less write it in the same exact words. Which would make this a case of both plagiarism and copyright infringement: one of the authors is a very bad person.
Finally, if we suppose that both authors write a scene in which this murder plot is explained, but each does so in their own words, then we have a case of copyright infringement without plagiarism.
Clear as mud, right? As another example, though, we can consider Cassandra Clare, plagiarism queen. As many people know, Clare -- writing HP fanfiction as Cassandra Claire, with an I -- plagiarized lines from a wide variety of sources. Usually she focused on quippy little one liners, often taken from TV shows. This was unquestionably plagiarism, but was it copyright infringement? Maybe. Such a case would, I think, hinge on whether or not the uniqueness of the writing elevated the crime from one to the other. Was the Buffy series Buffy because of the story, for example, or because of the writing? Or both? I think a clever lawyer could probably make the case for both. Especially since we now have the term "Buffy-speak", apparently coined because of the unique way the characters talked. As such, she didn't just steal Whedon's words, she stole a portion of what made Buffy Buffy.
That's probably not helping things. This will, though: Cla(I)re also copied from Pamela Dean's novels. And when she did so, she didn't just take words, but entire concepts. Thus, with respect to Dean, she committed both plagiarism and copyright infringement. The words she stole were tied to ideas that were uniquely Dean's.
Now, as I understand it, what Stahl did was take what I'll call "stock" exchanges from someone's fanfic, and reused them in her novel. I call them "stock" because they're not unique -- they're on par with mother and son talking about plans for the day, rather than mother and son plotting to commit convoluted murder. We've seen scenes like these many times before. As such, they're not copyright infringement. However, they are distinctly worded, and Stahl stole those words. So it is plagiarism.
This is important, because Stahl is trying to change the conversation. Her long letter is trying to make the case not that she didn't plagiarize, but that she didn't commit copyright infringement. That's what all that stuff about how there are no original ideas is aiming at. And the beauty of her argument is that she's right: from the samples I've seen, she did not commit copyright infringement. She did a whole lot of plagiarizing, but she never crossed the line to breaking the law. At least, not as I, non-lawyer that I am, understand it. I hesitate to think someone who couldn't write her own stock phrases was clever enough to steal only nonspecific sections, so my guess is that she just got lucky.
However, assuming there is no criminal case pending (and I'd be surprised if there was) then we need to bring the conversation back to our actual complaints, not her fabricated ones. Think of her letter as an attempt to distract us from the (wo)man behind the curtain. It's infuriating, but it's not important. Keep making the point that the problem is not copyright infringement, but plagiarism. It's not the use of someone else's ideas, it's the use of someone else's words.
And the way we string those together still tends to be pretty unique.
Also, if anyone writes a story about a family committing murder by pica, I will hunt you down.
Spanglemaker9 brought another interesting point to my attention in the comments of my post on the Shey Stahl Plagiarism controversy. After doing a little research I decided that it deserved to be examined a little closer. So...
Let's talk about timelines.
In Stahl's public letter, on her website, she admits to posting her books as fan fiction form "back in late 2009" and said that none were completed before being pulled.
I can only find evidence of four fan fics posted under Stahl's two different fan fiction accounts. While I can confirm three of them were pulled before completion, Lapped Traffic was completed and outtakes were posted for it before Stahl pulled it down. There are copies of the completed Lapped Traffic with outtakes circulating on the internet.
However, what's really interesting is the date that Stahl claims to have posted her fan fic, "late 2009."
Stahl used two pen names (that we know of) to post fan fiction, Jaydmommy and pitprincess. What's interesting about them is both were created after 2009. Jaydmommy was created in 2010, and was the account under which Stahl posted Lapped Traffic, which went on to become the Racing on the Edge series (the first books that Stahl published). While the pitprincess (created in 2011) was used to post Moab, which was published as Everything Changes.
Why would Stahl contradict the date stamps on her own Fanfiction.net accounts? Simple, because all of the fan fics that she copied from were posted in or after 2010.
The Misapprehension of Bella Swan (2/25/10) [Lapped Traffic]
A Gilded Cage by MissAlex (10/21/11) [Happy Hour]
This is important, because it looks like Stahl is trying to give the impression that her fan fiction, which was the basis for her books, were posted first. Which would be important to any case, legal or for the sake of public opinion, that she is not only not a plagiarizer, but the victim of this situation. Unfortunately for Stahl, she never bothered to delete either of her fan fiction accounts.
All this maneuvering aside, what really intrigued me was something I found while collecting the posted dates of the fan fiction that Stahl plagiarized and publishing dates of her books.
Stahl actually pulled her fan fiction in 2011. Lapped Traffic (Happy Hour) and Watching Waiting were pulled in February of 2011. While Moab and Air Conditioner From Hell were pulled in December of the same year.
Interestingly enough several of these fan fics that Stahl plagiarized were posted after Stahl pulled her fan fiction from the internet. Which is a strong indication that Stahl was not only plagiarizing while writing fan fiction (like Lapped Traffic), but that she continued to "borrow" from Twilight fan fic while "rewriting" and editing her books (For the Summer and Everything Changes) for publication. In the case of the fan fic Pickup Truck and For the Summer, Stahl was even copying the summaries for fan fiction to create blurbs for her published books.
When you look at the sheer scope of the copying Stahl's claims that any similarities between her work and the fan fictions listed are coincidentally don't hold water. Rightly so. This kind of plagiarism could never happen by accident.
I've seen a lot of people dismiss plagiarism as "lazy." After investigating the Shey Stahl controversy, I have to disagree. Shey Stahl did a lot of work to camouflage other writers words to pass them off as her own.
Stahl not only had to source her stolen words from multiple sources, but she had to conceal her theft by melding her writing with the work of others. She achieved this through rearranging sentences, changing tenses and even rewording sections. Which explains why her books (as she claims) "pass a plagiarism checker." Those kinds of programs are looking for exact words, and specific sentence similarities. Looking at how Stahl disguised another author's words as her own it's easy to see how she could fool a computer program.
It's no wonder after all this work to rewrite other writers words that Stahl feels she's earned the right to call it her own creation. The question is has she convinced anyone else.
[Read the detailed post following the entire controversy from the start click here. This post is updated with new information.]
Click here for the full story of Plagiarism controverys surrounding Shey Stahl.
Just when we thought we had seen the last of Shey Stahl, she returns to share her side of the story and reassure her remaining fans she will write again.
She returns to the internet armed with an eight page letter explaining the what she has done isn't plagiarism, but rather that her works were simply "similar" to other Twilight fan fics. [The letter was tweeted out by the Dear Author blog. It was posted on her website, that is now up and running again.]
Nothing is 100% original. How could anything we write be 100% original, given that we share similar experiences as human beings and use common language so that we can communicate out emotions and ideas?
Spanglemaker9, the author of the Twilight fan fic The Art Teacher, which Stahl borrowed heavily from, still disputes this claim. She tweeted in response to Stahl's letter sharing a document that compares her fanfic to Stahl's work.
Please note: In the entire time I've been following this controversy I haven't witnessed any of the images of Stahl's family that are mentioned in her letter. There was most definitely disparaging remarks about her and her character on Twitter, Facebook and GoodReads, but nothing about her family. They could have been emailed directly to her, but several exhaustive searches of the internet turned up nothing online.
She also accuses her former editor of lying. Saying that she was only ever cautioned against using character names that are reminiscent of Twilight. Which would make it obvious her books were once Twilight fan fiction.
Stahl also accuses her former editor of giving out her personal information to whomever asked for it. I personally, have a hard time believing this statement since never in any of the private message conversations I had with Max, Stahl's former editor, did I once receive any personal information about Stahl. Max keep to the details of the plagiarized passages, and her request to have her name removed from Stahl's book. All the information that I have on Stahl was obtained from her public facebook account and following the trail of her old fan fiction accounts.
At the end of the letter Stahl reassures us that she has run all her books through a plagiarizer checker, and will continue to do so with her future books. She thanks her fans and to the other authors involved she wishes "all the success they deserve."
On that ominous note, I'm left wondering how will this controversy affect the future prospects of Stahl's work and if readers can ever truly trust that her work is original. Or if they must accept that, as Stahl says, nothing is 100% original.
If Stahl is right, how can we ever hope to draw a line between inspiration and imitation?