The Emotional Toll of Plagiarism

Posted by Jonathan Bailey on Apr 6, 2016 11:30:41 AM

Author Eilis O’Hanlon

Eilis O'Hanlon is a journalist and author based in Northern Ireland. She, along with her partner, Ian McConnell, wrote under the pseudonym Ingrid Black, and published four crime drama novels: The Dead, which achieved widespread success, as well as the three sequels to the book The Dark Eye, The Judas Heart and Circle of the Dead.

The stories focused on a former FBI agent named Saxon who was living in Dublin and working as a true-crime author, solving very real crimes along the way. But while the story of a crime novelist having to investigate real-life crime makes for great fiction, it became a true story for O’Hanlon after she discovered her novel was being plagiarized on Amazon by a mysterious author named “Joanne Clancy”.

The tip came from Twitter. Eager to publish and promote her books as ebooks, O’Hanlon had created a twitter account for Ingrid Black. When she checked on a new follower, she discovered that this person, at that time a stranger, was accusing Clancy of plagiarizing Ingrid Black’s novels.

After investigating, O'Hanlon learned just how accurate the allegations were.

Clancy’s novel Tear Drop was a clear rewrite of The Dead. Though settings and names were changed, the plot, the quips and characters were all the same. O'Hanlon and McConnell waited for the release of Clancy’s next book, Insincere and found it to be a similar rewrite of The Dark Eye.

After seeing that, they wasted no time in filing a complaint with Amazon, which eventually sided with O'Hanlon and McConnell and removed not only both books, but also  Clancey’s entire account.

But while O'Hanlon’s story could be seen as just another case of the all-too-common problem of plagiarism on Amazon, it’s anything but. O'Hanlon, in her piece at the Independent, describes the intense and often conflicting emotions that come with being a victim of plagiarism.

This ranges from the anger at having hard work so callously misused, to confusion as to why one would do it at all. She even dove deep into the feelings plagiarism victims don’t like to talk about including the near-obsessive drive to learn everything about the plagiarist and even sympathy for the plagiarist after it’s all over.

As anyone who has been plagiarized can tell you, it is often a deeply emotional affair and those emotions aren’t straightforward. When I discovered my first plagiarism 15 years ago, white hot anger gave way to confusion and sympathy similar to O’Hanlon’s, but it then distilled into a quiet determination to tackle the problem.

While, obviously, not every plagiarism victim makes fighting plagiarism their life’s work, the intensity of the feelings is there for almost everyone.

The reason is because creation, whether it’s a novel, a script, a research paper, a dissertation or anything else, represents a sacrifice of time and expertise. Creators, generally, feel a degree of ownership of their work because that work is a piece of them.

To see others exploiting it and claiming ownership of it can feel like a very deep violation. In addition to plagiarism being an academic or business problem, it’s also very personal.

The main thing that creators need to understand is that, when confronted with plagiarism, there’s no right or wrong way to feel. As O'Hanlon’s story shows, the feelings are often complex and can seem counter-intuitive.

Unfortunately, support groups for the victims of plagiarism are hard to come by, even online, but stories like O'Hanlon’s should remind us just how difficult plagiarism can be and just how strong and conflicting the emotions that come with it are.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, Jonathan Bailey of Plagiarism Today, and do not reflect the opinions of iThenticate.