As you may or may not have heard, Shia LaBeouf is a serial plagiarist, and an unapologetic one at that. Seriously, the media went apeshit over this whole affair, and honestly, I cannot think of a more deserving target. I hated Transformers 3 that much, and allowing him to be in an Indiana Jones movie was the final insult from fucking Lucas and Spielberg. Thus, when LaBeouf was caught stealing the work of another artist and claiming it to be his own, I felt a moment of schadenfreude (how did we get along without this word in our vocabulary for so long?) at the idea of this rich, terrible actor stealing someone else’s work.
The reason I bring it up isn’t to kick a man when he’s down (although I cannot think of a better time to do so), it’s to share a little secret with you. Okay, it’s not a secret, it’s the title of this essay. You see, I am a plagiarist.
Not a deliberate one, mind you, although don’t they all say that?! In this case it is true, however, and if nothing else it gives me a cute little story to share.
Last year I took a course from EdX on Globalization, as taught by Dr. John Hoberman. To make sure I understood everything we covered, I copied his lectures into text documents for future reference. Unfortunately they came out in this crazy format and I had to edit them into something readable. When I was done, they looked like actual essays.
Good idea, right? Well, the problem was that I didn’t bother to type “by Prof. John Hoberman” on any of the documents, I just named them according to the chapter we were covering. What could possibly go wrong?
Fast-forward to last February when I get a writing gig for a strange new web venture that pays in cryptocurrency. You might want to check it out, but it’s in the embryonic phase right now and kinda dumpy looking. Anyway, I got a gig writing there with the conditions that they only wanted original work (cue Jaws theme) and they would accept fiction or nonfiction with very few other restrictions.
So I decided to finally do some episode recaps for some of my favorite TV shows. I would get to do what I love, write, and I would finally get paid for it. Such a deal! So, the first thing I did, I decided I would set up a framework for the shows, and I would start with Adam Reed’s oeuvre: Sealab 2021, Frisky Dingo, and Archer. (cue Jaws theme again)
Well, the problem was I copy-pasted the Wikipedia articles on these, then edited them to something more of my style.
Hang on, hear me out, people. If you’ve ever checked the Wikipedia entries for these shows, it’s basically a character list with a personality sketch included. The plan was to completely rewrite those character sketches since most of them suck out loud. Then, once the laymen knew who all of the characters and their quirks were, they would be able to understand my recaps without me having to explain things in detail.
I just never got around to doing it. The reason I got sidetracked was that I had the brilliant notion that I could also publish some of my old college papers that I had! All I had to do was rewrite them a bit to make them more readable for a general audience!
So I go into my notes from EdX and I find all of these essays on globalization and as I read them I’m thinking “The fuck was I thinking when I wrote these? This shit doesn’t sound like me.” With that in mind, I proceeded to make some changes, but left the bulk of it intact, then posted it.
So, a few weeks go by and I don’t hear anything from the site about payment. Curious, I try and do a search on my word-count and don’t find anything. I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on, so I started asking for some assistance. Soon enough a Good Samaritan happened along and offered his assistance if I was sure I didn’t want to be publicly embarrassed.
Confident in my writing ability, I accepted the offer secure in the knowledge that my work was solid. First things first, I listed my work and made sure to remark that my Adam Reed stuff was unfinished. I know how easy it is to catch a plagiarist in the 21st Century! Help me find the source of my problem Kind Citizen!
As it turns out my new friend had already done some plagiarism checking on my behalf, but rather than send me a private message telling me “Hey, guess what? I found out you had plagiarized a bunch of shit! Here’s the proof, now get your shit cleaned up!” he opts to try and play Colombo and bait me into a clever trap!
And boy did it work like a charm! When he showed the evidence I immediately said “Oh, shit, I done fucked up here.” You know, a true plagiarist always admits their misdeeds when caught out. They always say “Oh fuck me, did I really just do that?” as opposed to denying it somehow.
The best part of it, for me anyway, was when he posted statistics showing how my original content was continuously increasing as I worked on the Adam Reed stuff. Almost as if I was rewriting the Wikipedia stuff into something interesting. The first entry was less than 20% original, the second was about 45% original, and final entry was 80% original, which kind of indicates that I was working from a template. Someone wrote an article that covered the main points, but did it in a shitty way. I was just fixing it, and by the time I was finished, there would have been about 3% of the original content remaining. That is to say, the names of the damn characters.
So, anyway, excuses and rationales aside, I am now a plagiarist. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, however, since I have very good company.