Attribute. Cite. Give credit. Why is this so hard to understand?

by Sunita

Concise, articulate, and on target:

M/m originated in slash fiction. Its roots to fanfic are really, really close and I can understand the confusion on the part of newbie writers who don’t see the difference between playing with someone else’s universe or characters for their own entertainment or developing their writing skills, and the huge legal and ethical leap from there to writing the same way to make a profit. I mean, *I* can see a clear division, but for a lot of people it appears blurry. Here’s where you normally have gatekeepers with knowledge about the industry. They are called mainstream agents and publishers, and they are well aware of things like copyright infringement, need for attribution, what is and isn’t plagiarism. M/m doesn’t have these people. The publishers are as amateur as the writers themselves.

Now that doesn’t excuse what Tj appears to have done, both with this one and with Burn. Which is to use huge chunks out of someone else’s work and fit in his own bits and pieces to stitch it together without any attribution or recognition of the source material. Where is it plagiarism and where does it slop over into copyright infringement? I don’t know and I don’t particularly care. It’s unethical and it’s sleazy, and I don’t like what it says about the standards that are okay in m/m especially with this publisher.

As the commenter notes, this is an ongoing issue in m/m. If you’re going to publish derivative works, copycat fiction, and reworked fan fiction, then be upfront about the provenance. Don’t be coy about it:

Just in case I’ve given you a complex and made you feel insecure, let me take this opportunity to reveal that several of Dreamspinner Press’s stories started out their lives as fanfiction.  Some even by our best-selling authors.  I’d never “out” anyone by name, but rest assured that the author used someone else’s characters/world/personalities as the foundation for telling their own story.

I’m puzzled by this paragraph. If it’s ethically fine, why would revealing the provenance be “outing?”

Look, we are not talking about where and how an author gets “inspiration”. This is about taking the plot, characterizations, and dialogue of someone else’s work and importing it into your own work without attribution. Enough with the comparisons to Shakespeare. Commenters are just insulting everyone’s intelligence and revealing their own lack of comprehension when they haul out that chestnut. (I think that comparing the decision to stop reviewing a particular publisher’s books to Nazi policies pretty much speaks for itself.)

This is not Dreamspinner’s first dance ’round the maypole when it comes to attribution problems, by the way. In 2007 they published a Jane Eyre fanfiction piece (the author called it “homage”) that included large chunks of Brontë’s dialogue and narrative. Check out the comparisons here and here. They withdrew that book, but it isn’t entirely clear to me that they understood what the problem was:

The editorial staff here felt we were unqualified to judge a title based on another work, so we had it reviewed by a copyright lawyer and a professor of literature, who both believed it was suitable for publication.  Be that as it may, with the author’s full support, we have withdrawn the title.

This explanation reinforces the point about amateurism in the comment I quoted at the top of this post.  I understand that the cases are difficult to adjudicate at the margins. But Logan’s book wasn’t a marginal case. I have no idea why the literature professor gave the go-ahead, because I don’t know what material s/he was working with. But why on earth wouldn’t a copyright lawyer give a thumbs up? Jane Eyre’s been in the public domain for a while. It’s not a copyright issue, it’s a plagiarism/attribution issue. Apparently DSP didn’t quite get the difference.

What happened to the idea that the benefit of buying a book from a publisher is that they’re gatekeepers who have done their due diligence? I don’t expect publishers to run all manuscripts through Turnitin, but I do expect them to have a working knowledge of the evidentiary differences between homage/inspiration, copying without attribution, and copyright infringement.

Logan’s book was published in 2007, Klune’s in 2011. Reaching for something positive to close on, we can definitely say that DSP’s marketing strategies and cover art have improved over those four years.

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