I’ve written two other posts on plagiarism in the blogosphere in the two weeks, “How It Feels to Be Plagiarized” and “You Don’t Have a Good Reason to Plagiarize.” So, yes, part of me deeply desires to move on, to stop banging my head against a wall, to stop harping on a subject that we should all know is wrong. Yet as the latest plagiarism scandal continues, I find it important to highlight exactly what it’s so problematic that Samantha Reed (Reed’s Reads and Review, formerly Reeds Reviews) has plagiarized the book reviews of a staggering number of other book bloggers and has essentially gotten away with it.
One of the biggest tools in preventing plagiarism is actually a form of fear tactics. If you visit the Purdue OWL web site, you’ll find a plagiarism exercise called “Truth or Consequences,” in which teachers ask students to read a selection of news articles outlining the horrible things that happen to plagiarists who get caught. Students read articles titled things like “Hamilton President Resigns Over Speech” and “Washington Post Blogger Quits after Plagiarism Accusations” and “Hungary’s President Quits Over Alleged Plagiarism.” The message is clear: Plagiarism can ruin your life.
But the Samantha Reed case has shown that plagiarism might do nothing to you at all–and this is a dangerous precedent to set. Of course, there has been some minor fallout from the whole affair. Reed closed one blog, one Twitter account, and one Goodreads account after confronted by Cuddlebuggery with her rampant plagiarism. Yet, literally days later, Reed created new accounts for all three of these web sites, where she continues to plagiarize. Multiple reports to Goodreads and multiple DMCA notices sent to WordPress.com later, Reed’s accounts are still active online. For a week, she has been able to steal intellectual property without consequence.
Yes, there has also been the public shaming, first in the form of the Cuddlebuggery post and later in a form of mass outrage directed at Reed by multiple bloggers on Twitter. But the directed anger of the book blogosphere has not stopped the plagiarism. Reed is still online, still posting reviews. And she is still receiving books and swag from publishers, ARCs from Netgalley, and praise from authors for “her” reviews. At the end of the day, the number of people who have heard about Reed’s plagiarism is a small drop in the bucket of the Internet; Reed knows she will always have followers–they just won’t be the bloggers she plagiarized. To make matters worse, the plagiarism has boosted her “popularity” in the form of stats. When I first found Reed’s new blog on Sept. 4, she had about 400 views. On Sept. 10, she had over 2,300. While most of these hits are likely bloggers scouring her site for evidence she plagiarized their work and not actual fans, many people who visit her site may never know this. She can now also proudly claim to publishers that she averages over 300 page views a day, increasing the odds she’ll be sent ARCs.
Reed is revealing a huge problem for book bloggers; there is little recourse for those of us who have been plagiarized. If web hosts are slow to deal with the issue or decide not to deal with it at all, the plagiarism continues unchecked. If the web hosts do remove the plagiarized work, the plagiarist can just open new accounts and continue business as usual. If bloggers band together and try to shame a plagiarist out of the community, the plagiarist can simply refuse to be shamed. No one can make a plagiarist quit blogging. And no matter how hard bloggers try to spread the word that someone online is a plagiarist, there will always be people who don’t know and continue to follow them and work with them. A cease and desist letter and the involvement of an attorney may be a last resort for those who have been plagiarized, but the cost can be a deterrent.
Reed’s actions are dangerous. Her continued blogging shows that plagiarism (plagiarism that has been caught and proven and publicly outed) might actually have few consequences. Maybe down the road there will be hidden ones: a potential employer will Google her name and choose not to hire her–but she’ll never be told this is the reason she didn’t get the job. And no one else will know either that, two years from now, she finally paid for some way in her actions. From the outside, it looks as if she plagiarized and she won. That means she’s showing other people that they can plagiarize and get away with it, too.
Note: Again, I don’t want to accuse someone of plagiarism without evidence. The Cuddlebuggery post outlines the plagiarism from the first blog. Below I provide screenshots of excerpts of just a few posts that are plagiarized on the second blog. (Some of these posts may have been removed by Reed after complaints.)