Imagine this if you will.
It’s Friday. (It doesn’t have to be a Friday, it could be any day, I’m just using Friday for analogical purposes). You’ve had a long day. Hell, scrap that, you’ve had a long week. You’re looking forward to getting home and having dinner with your husband and son (you can change characters to fit your own story). You pull up outside, put the key in the lock and walk in – only to find another woman sitting in your seat at the dinner table. She’s wearing your clothes. She’s sitting with your husband and son. And even worse, she’s eating your damn dinner.
You ask her what the hell she is doing there and she just shakes her head and smiles. ‘No, no,’ she replies, still smiling. ‘These may look like your clothes. This may look like your husband and son. This may look your dinner table, your chair, your house. But it is all mine.’
You look in her eyes and realise she actually believes this. She is staking claim to your life and she is sure – no, wait, she is insistent – that it all belongs to her.
It has the makings of a horror story, doesn’t it? Crazy woman stealing your clothes, your family, your life and the whole time she is just smiling at you, like it’s nothing. Like it doesn’t matter.
Well, this is what happened to me yesterday. Okay, so I didn’t come home to find some mad woman stealing my life, but I did come home to find that someone had stolen one of my stories on Wattpad. Only this particular person messaged me to ask my express permission to steal one of my stories. That’s new, right? A wannabe plagiarist asking permission to plagiarise? Let’s forget, for a moment, that the plagiarist wasn’t a wannabe at all, in fact, the crime had already been committed so she was asking after the fact. Instead let’s look at what she said:
‘I love your story The Fan and I want to write something similar. Only it won’t be your story, it will be mine. I want your permission.’
Hmmmm, I thought, raising an eyebrow. Somebody who feels the need to ask for permission surely must know that she wants to write something remarkably similar.
So I asked her what she meant by ‘similar’.
‘I want to write a story about a fan who gets stuck in a lift with (insert name of famous boy band member) and he kills her. But it will be my story. I just want to make sure that if anyone reads it they will know that you said it was okay.’
Ooooooooh well obviously that’s okay then! (insert heavily sarcastic intonation).
After explaining to Plagiarist Girl that actually it would be MY story but with different characters and that, no, I would not give her permission to plagiarise, I discovered via a Wattpad friend that PG had in fact, already posted ‘her’ story. It wasn’t her story. It was my story. And I mean, actually my story with a few minor word changes. It wasn’t just similar. It was a direct copy.
Well after reporting her to Wattpad and warning her that she had been reported with a request that she remove the story immediately, PG thankfully did just that. She apologised. I said okay. She asked to credit me on a new story. I said no thank you. Case closed, Dr Watson.
But the point is, apology or not, PG took a story that was not hers, changed a couple of very small details, and tried to stake claim to it. And then had the gall to ask for my permission. I wonder if she ever really thought I would say yes? What sane person would give up their life and let someone move into their home and take everything for themselves? She knew it was wrong and yet felt perfectly comfortable in stealing it as long as I said it was fine. And isn’t that just the problem with plagiarists? Ultimately they don’t care.
I have to say, however, that I am one of the lucky ones. Of course, I have to thank PG for alerting me to her own theft in the first place. Others I know haven’t been so lucky and this is happening on a regular basis on Wattpad and to many people who have posted their work on other writing sites. You can’t blame the site itself. It’s not something they can control. They can only remove the offending stories and warn the users when they themselves are alerted to the crime via the support ticket system or by somebody contacting one of the moderators. Wattpad writers have to rely on the beady eyes of their followers and friends to spot evidence of plagiarism. And unfortunately the more visible you become on the site, the higher the chance of you falling prey to the plagiarists.
In my case, I became what is known as a Featured Writer.
‘Well, that sounds wonderful!’ you say. ‘Hold on. What’s a Featured Writer?’
Getting ‘featured’ by Wattpad means that they have deemed one of your offerings as worthy of making their Featured List, which is basically Wattpad’s recommended reads. It’s the Go To List for all new members. It’s also the place for existing members to find something new to read that is officially supported by Wattpad.
Now I admit to punching the air with glee when I was contacted by one of the site’s lovely ambassadors and told the news. After all, a few of my closest Wattpad buddies had been featured and have seen the reads, comments and votes rocket, not to mention gain followers and have their work make the Hot Lists. So I was extremely happy and honoured that Wattpad would want The Fan to be featured. I still am. The Fan climbed to number one in the horror hot list and the current reads stand at almost 170,000 since it was first featured in April. I’d be a fool not to appreciate that.
But make no bones about it, getting featured isn’t all hunky dory. I’ve been lambasted for posting a copyright notice at the beginning of the story (why that should offend people, I have no idea). I’ve been accused of not knowing how to spell because I write in British English and apparently there are some people who aren’t aware that different versions of the English language exist outside of the US borders (to be fair these people probably don’t know that anything exists outside of the US, nor that the earth is round or that it orbits around the sun). I’ve been scolded for the use of swear words in the story. I’ve been harassed by readers who think it’s too short (the clue is in the short story genre tag, duh!) I’ve been plagued a gazillion times by people advertising their story on mine, most of whom haven’t even had the courtesy to read my story first. I’ve had people tell me it’s crap. The list is endless.
And now I can add plagiarism to that list. The difference here is that if this was just bottom-dweller trolls, I could block them and the harassment would stop. But you can’t block a plagiarist from seeing your stories and potentially stealing your ideas. The block function doesn’t work that way. It stops them from commenting on your stories and from contacting you, but for me, that really isn’t the issue. Plagiarist Girl has been very nice in all her communication. She even commented on another of my short stories and left some positive feedback. Ultimately if she wants to take another of my stories and copy it, she could, although I hope that she will now appreciate that all beady eyes will be on the look-out for this.
This isn’t a horror story about getting Featured, far from it. All in all, I am still very grateful for being Featured. I’ve received some amazing feedback. And getting the backing of Wattpad is very gratifying. It makes you feel like you’re on the right track after all and maybe not everything you write is a pile of steaming donkey poop. But there’s no denying that the latest ‘free gift’ is one that I’d like to return to sender. It doesn’t taste good. And it’s certainly left me feeling slightly disillusioned and itching to delete my works. I don’t want to of course, and most likely won’t, the pro’s vastly out weigh the cons for me (although this hasn’t been the case with some of my friends who have recently left the site).
Plagiarism hurts. That’s a simple fact. It hurts, not only because someone else is trying to stake their claim on your property, but it makes you think about what you had to do to write the damn thing in the first place. It’s not just someone staking a claim on your life, it’s like someone is stealing a little piece of your soul. And I don’t even make money from my stories. Can you imagine if I did? It would be like someone reaching into my bag and stealing my purse. It would be like someone frogmarching me to the cash point on payday and making me withdraw a month’s wages.
If you’re considering copying somebody else’s work, don’t. Find your own ideas. Create your own damn stories. Trust me, it’s far more gratifying to see your ‘light bulb moment’ grow and develop on the page. Far more pleasurable to be able to sit back and say ‘This is mine. I created it. It belongs to me.’
And if you can’t write your own, then just read the ones you like and leave it at that.