Liz Fielding plagiarized*, TJ Klune plagiarizes*: Just another day in romancelandia

Behold the power of Twitter. Author Liz Fielding discovered that someone was passing off  one of her short stories as original work on Smashwords. Within a day or so, the story had been pulled and the plagiarist’s various Facebook, Twitter, etc. accounts were gone. The stated reason for doing it:

“Kay ManningFeb 24, 2012 06:17 AM
Smashwords responded to NOTHING. I took down the story because of my mistake. I know no one would believe it but it was an honest mistake. I put this story in the wrong folder on my computer and actually thought it was mine that I started a long time ago. If I really wanted to ‘steal it’ do you honestly think I would have put it up for free? What do I benefit off it?”

That’s a good one, don’t you think? And apparently it happens to her often, because Jo Bourne discovered another example.

While we were twittering about this and patting ourselves on the back about the power of collective outrage, I ran across another tweet about yet another book.

TJ Klune’s Bear, Otter and the Kid was one of the most popular m/m books last year. It has loads of 5-star raves at Amazon and Goodreads and was named one of Amazon’s Best Gay and Lesbian Books of 2011.

However, as Ann Somerville pointed out and linked to on Twitter, the book’s plot, characters, and setting are lifted wholesale from a 2007 movie called Shelter. W.F., a Goodreads member, lays out the incriminating evidence in his/her review:

I saw the movie a couple of years ago and this book has the same characters, same story development, same guy-gives-up-scholarship-to-take-care-of-small-child plot. Both the movie and this book even start with the same scene — he’s driving to the airport to pick up his wealthy best friend who is coming home from college for the summer. I watched the movie again after reading this book and there is no mistake that complete scenes, situations, etc. were copied — some almost exactly.

His best friend’s older brother comes home from southern California after a bad breakup in both the movie and the book. The scene where the hero and his best friend arrive at the best friend’s house to find the older brother there is nearly the same. The same tension and awareness between the older brother and the hero are there in the book as was in the movie.

In the movie and this book, his on-and-off girlfriend since grade school works at the same grocery store with him — the book even mentions a bench and table outside the front entrance of the store which is in a scene in the movie.

There’s more. When Klune was asked about the similarities, s/he brushed off the question without denying it and called the questioner “funny.” S/he then deleted the comments.

I don’t have screencaps, but I believe the commenters who were erased (the link in this screencap goes to Klune’s blog):

Some of Klune’s defenders on GR have argued that since this is plagiarism, it’s not a crime. This is true. However, it does appear to be at least skirting the line of copyright infringement (if not long-jumping right over it), which makes the infringer subject to criminal and civil penalties if s/he is prosecuted and found guilty.

Dreamspinner has been notified and I don’t believe they have offered a response yet. This does not surprise me, given that they publish a ton of fanfiction; they may see this as similar, or even less problematic if they don’t understand copyright protection of movies. And one of their editors recently wrote a post about how to turn fanfiction into “original” work. Among the expert tips:

First, come up with a new name for all of your characters.  If one of them is named Jack or Will, you can potentially leave it, but don’t leave more than one because someone will probably know that Jack and Will are from “Pirates of the Caribbean.”  Use the search and replace tool, but please go back and read through it afterward.

And my personal favorite:

From a publishing perspective, what I think publishers don’t want to see is something that’s a screaming red flag of copyright infringement.

Um, yes.

TJ Klune is apparently hard at work on a sequel, which DSP will publish. That should be interesting, since there is no sequel to Shelter.


*allegedly [ETA because it is good to be precise. Nothing has been proven.]

ETA 2: Ms. Manning has a very large folder. Click on the link to Liz Fielding’s blog to find even more examples of “her” work.

ETA 3: W.F. has an updated review with an even longer list of comparisons. Click on the link if you haven’t look since I first posted this.

32 thoughts on “Liz Fielding plagiarized*, TJ Klune plagiarizes*: Just another day in romancelandia

  1. Thanks to the link to WF’s review. The plot similarity is what drew me to Bear, Otter & the Kid originally (I liked the movie more, TBH). My review of BOatK has recently gotten some traffic. which is a little strange given the age of the post and my general lack of traffic; when I checked, I found that “Bear Otter Kid based on Shelter movie” is what caused the uptick. Interesting.

    • You know, you probably had a note about that in your review but since I hadn’t heard of the movie at that point I didn’t notice. And if you hadn’t reviewed the book I never would have picked it up. A belated thanks for the heads up.

  2. Good lord. This is awful. Why can’t people come up with their own ideas, and understand that stealing material is wrong? Derivative fiction is different, but out-and-out stealing is just bad art, as well as being wrong. Deriving one’s work from another’s has a long tradition in literature (witness Dante’s Inferno vis a vis Virgil and Homer, etc.); but that is entirely different than Dante taking the entire plot wholesale from the Aeneid and claiming it as his own. I don’t actually have a problem with fanfiction on principle, and have played with it myself. But stealing another’s material and just “changing the names” is wrong.

    I see I’m repeating myself from outrage, so I’ll stop there; but I will say I’m disappointed. Here I thought piracy of one’s works was the only thing one needed to be conscious of relative to security. This is just dismaying to think that someone might really steal things and use them – I’ve told my authors in my writing group that it’s not a real threat, but it seems I may be sadly mistaken.

    Thanks for taking the time to report on this; I appreciate the lesson. Have a good weekend!

  3. I sincerely hope DSP makes some sort of statement and not one that tries to defend the stealing of someone else’s work. :(
    But I guess either way, the damage is done.


    • Tamara, I am so very sorry that wonderful authors like you are collateral damage in this situation. I love your most recent book from DSP (The Only Gold), and I am saving Downtime in the TBR as my sure-thing-read for a time I really need it (or an airplane right, when it’s just me and the book).

      It is unfair to you, and for that I feel terrible. If I could figure out a loophole, believe me, I would.

  4. I don’t know the limits between publishing fan fiction, plagiarizing and copyright infringement. I do know that even if the lines are blurred and there’s no real crime there, there are ethical and moral implications. I’m sorry to hear about T.J. Klune because I really enjoyed that book, the story was compelling and original (boy, was I wrong!) even if the book was flawed and needed some editing. Shame on him and shame on DSP. That post about turning fan fiction into “original” work should be titled: “It’s not cheating until you get caught”.

    “I put this story in the wrong folder on my computer and actually thought it was mine that I started a long time ago.”

    Give me a break! How stupid does Ms. Manning thing we are? Yes, I found this book on my computer and thought it was mine, don’t remember writing it, but since it was there what else could it be? Please!

  5. No matter how long this Manning person had the story in her folder (if she actually had it there at all), she’d have to be senile not to recognize it as someone else’s. I doubt that even the most prolific hack would be unable to recognize one of their own stories. And what did she have to gain by offering it free? How about ego? Point friends to it and get their admiration. Get attention for other work you might have or might publish in the future, hopefully your own.

    • “she’d have to be senile not to recognize it as someone else’s.”

      And very odd to be storing *other* people’s work in word processing documents on her computer. Why, one would imagine she always intended to do something naughty all the way along!

      I’ve often reread my own stuff, draft or otherwise, and I’m so far from the place where I was when I orignally wrote it, that I genuinely can’t remember what happens, what inspired it, or how it ends :) But I’m still not senile enough to think someone else’s work is my own.

  6. I was tweeting with an author who writes her books the old-fashioned way (using her own imagination to create them) and we were wondering where this is going to stop. It’s so easy now to find a publisher who will publish fanfic that’s barely had the numbers filed off, or who doesn’t care where the book comes from or what it resembles. And of course there’s self-publishing, which results in both great books and horrible books, and we have to be our own slush-pile sifters. And since Amazon doesn’t do anything before it takes self-pubbed authors’ money and throws up their books for sale, the honorable self-pubbed authors get lumped in with the plagiarists. It’s a mess.

  7. I was tweeting with an author who writes her books the old-fashioned way (using her own imagination to create them) and we were wondering where this is going to stop.

    I wonder that too.

  8. Pingback: Review: Bear, Otter, and the Kid by T.J. Klune | The Book Pushers | Book Reviews | Book Chatter

  9. Glad you added the allegedly. I’ve seen the movie, read the book & I disagree with the reviewer’s assessment. It’s a review so c’est la vie. Except you’ve picked it up as if it’s viable & absolute truth when it’s just a reader’s personal review.

    The movie Shelter, about a young man whose mother has died & who lives with his sister, her child & sick father & who finds himself having to support them & help with the child because the sister likes to party, bears some similarity to Bear, Otter & the Kid about a young man & his brother who were abandoned by their mother when Bear was 17 so he had to raise the child for several years on his own, but I don’t think they’re identical.

    Did the movie inspire the author or, as he’s told the publisher, he was inspired by his own life? Who knows. But I’d suggest see the movie, read the book then decide, but to base things on what an amateur reviewer on Goodreads says is ludicrous.

    I understand she/he ticked off all kinds of similarities, but all the things that didn’t match, he/she just disregarded as unimportant. Well a lot of those dissimilar things, like the boy being a genius, the plot going on for several years from the time the boy was 5 to 10 (the movie featured a sullen 5 year old. the plot took place in a couple of weeks), the poetry writing of the KId, the custody battle with the mother, all the different side characters that weren’t in the movie, no surfing (as in the movie), Bear not an artist (as in the movie), the kid helping Bear & Otter to reconcile, chapters on The Kid’s education, his teachers & making a friend, Bear & Otter having a past semi relationship & Bear being angry with Otter for abandoning him so they have a bitter reunion(not in the movie), Otter’s ex showing up etc, are all these things not in the movie, that the reviewer just tosses aside because it didn’t match her theory. Those things were actually an intricate part of the plot of the book & took up the majority of pages & is evidence against the plagiarism charge.

    Always keep in mind with reviews, just because this is his/her truth does not mean it’s absolute truth. You’d think people in the book business would be very aware of that. Have you read your reviews Authors???

    • Welcome, and thanks for commenting.

      Viable or absolute, take your pick. Logically, you can’t have both. And the whole point of *allegedly* is that it is NOT proven. The fact that this discussion is on a personal blog and doesn’t include primary-source evidence from me should have tipped people off to that, but just in case, I added the asterisk.

      The two works don’t have to be identical for plagiarism and/or copyright infringement to have occurred. Copyright violation is a legal finding, and none of us here are sitting on the appropriate bench, so it doesn’t really matter what we think (especially since findings of infringement/violation are so case-by-case and dependent on the specific evidence). In terms of plagiarism, Janet Dailey did not copy entire books from Nora Roberts, she copied sections. That was enough. The point isn’t only what was left out or what was left in, it’s the totality. Doris Kearns Goodwin, etc., all took parts of other people’s work, not the entire thing. “Wholesale” doesn’t mean “in its entirety” either.

      The amount of similar situations and plot points make coincidence seem highly unlikely, in my estimation. What would it have cost Klune to have acknowledged being “inspired” by the film? It was a small-budget movie that has a dedicated group of fans. Some people who are fans of both the book and the film feel led astray. Klune could have avoided that. It is, of course, possible that Klune has never seen the movie and it’s a reinventing the wheel thing. It just seems unlikely, especially since whether he was being sarcastic or truthful about copying, he didn’t seem ignorant that the movie exists.

    • Finally, some sanity in this mess. I love the movie and adore the book, and never even once associated the character of Bear with Zach. Two different characters, completely. “Plagiarize” is an awful big accusation to make, and shouldn’t be thrown around based on some amateur goodreads review. Give me a break.

      • @ Debbie: Completely agree! I’ve watched the movie probably 10 times & also adored the book. Never saw the similarities or associated the two!

        After reading the GR review, it does look like a lot of similarities…Planning to re-read the book (as it has been several months), but as of now, I see the book & the movie as two separate plots, running on a similar theme.

        Klune claims it is semi-autobiographical as did Markowitz with Shelter. Is it seriously so far-fetched to believe that two people could have led similar lives? Most m/m romance is re-workings of a common theme.

        Really sad that this accusation has exploded into such a controversy. I was really looking forward to the BOTK sequel!

    • It showed up in the right place, under FRM’s comment, so it is clear it was a reply.

      Although I’m pretty sure readers would have figured it out anyway.

  10. Wow, your life must really be sad to find issue with a well written, well done book. Plagiarism is a serious and damaging accusation. If someone writes about about a witch and a lake, are they copying the mysts of Avalon? What about a book about a female vampire slayer? Will you accuse them of stealing from Laurel K Hamilton? Just because you do not like a book or an author ir does not give you the right to make such baseless accusations. You make me sick and I hope this author sues your ads for libal.

    • Welcome, and thanks for commenting.

      If someone wrote about a female vampire slayer I would think of Buffy rather than Anita Blake (that’s LKH’s heroine, right?), but that’s just me.

      I assume you meant “sues [my] ass for libel?” That would not be easy, since US law places quite stringent requirements for proof of libel on the plaintiff. If the plaintiff is considered a public figure, it would have to be (a) demonstrably false; and (b) proven to be “actual malice” on my part (i.e., the plaintiff would have to show I knew it was false and published anyway, or had “reckless disregard” for whether it was false).

  11. I hope your ads don’t get sued for libal, VM. That sounds like an awkward situation.

    The Klune scandal and your other post on citation has reminded me of a book I reviewed, Sleeping with the Frenemy. I’d consider this an obvious movie retelling, considering the title. Before I reviewed it I didn’t know what the legalities were, so I did some light research and found a call for f/f movie retellings from the publisher, Ravenous Romance. In the comments, someone asked about copyright issues. They were told to change the names and write characters that are “similar,” but not exactly the same.

    • Hi Jill! Yes, Ravenous Romance does a lot of movie rip-offs. Ryan Field has half a dozen books with titles (and presumably plots) that do that. Presumably there is enough difference in the books that they escape infringement issues? I admit, I’m not willing to read them to find out. :)

  12. I’m not either. :) I’ll assume that the stories they publish differ widely from any mainstream movies. What I’m getting at is that some publishers, not just Dreamspinner, are asking for reworked fiction, seemingly wihtout much regard to the original source. I can see how inexperienced authors would be unaware of the potential problem.

    • Ah, yes, I get what you’re saying now. I agree, publishers are blurring the lines a great deal. When you look at the original DSP group (and this is true of other presses as well), they almost all come from fan fiction. Some of their work is wholly original, some is reworked enough to be transformative, and some is just filed-off numbers.

  13. Pingback: Stumbling Over Chaos :: Liminal linkity

  14. I’m a little late to the party, but here are my comments: I stumbled upon this blog and was inspired to buy BOATK and the movie Shelter. I started the book on Friday and finished Saturday. I laughed, cried and laughed and cried some more. Then I purchased the second book (in e-book format) in the series (yes, people, T.J. continued the story and there will even new a third book in a couple of months) and continued reading through the weekend. Then I watched Shelter – no laughing, no crying. “Cute” movie but very little angst or character development. As I watched the movie, I even tried to picture the characters from the book as the people in the movie. Just didn’t happen for me. BOATK was one of the best M/M books I’ve ever read AND the sequel, Who We Are, is the absolute best. That’s my opinion and I’ve read many books in the genre (Josh Lanyon is my favorite author but T. J. Klune is definitely right up there with him). I thought the basic set up of the movie and book were very similar but also common in many fictional romance stories (whether M/M or M/F). I debated over whether or not to post this because I didn’t want to stir the pot again but, in the end, I wanted to defend a book that meant so much to me. I’ve re-read many parts of both books and still cry and laugh out loud. I gave the book to a friend of mine who didn’t want to read a M/M story and she loves the first book and can’t wait to read Who We Are.

    • Thanks for the comment. Even though the post is years old now, I still get people coming regularly to read it, so your comments are welcome.

      There are real disagreements about whether the book plagiarizes the movie, and if so how much and in what ways. Plenty of people agree with your take. I do want to note, however, that plagiarism isn’t about effectivess; a work that has plagiarized another work can be more satisfying and enjoyable on a variety of dimensions while still committing the infraction.

  15. As a writer who has had my work stolen many times this is a subject close to my heart. It’s an on going battle to catch and persecute the thieves.

    There is nothing new to write about, it’s all been done. Read enough romance novels, and I’ve read more than most, and you’ll notice many resemblances out there. A famous writer once said, “Change it 3 times and it’s yours.” (Sorry can’t recall the author’s name.”

    I do not know T.J. Klune personally so I don’t gain anything by writing this rebuttal.

    I have read Bear, Otter & the Kid by T.J. Klune and watched Shelter and can tell you Mr. Klune did not steal Jonah Markowitz’s idea. Yes, there are a few similarities but Klune’s book is different enough that it is most definitely his own work.

    In the movie the kid’s mom is Zach’s sister.

    In Klune’s book the kid is the MC’s little brother.

    In the movie they live in California and are surfers and Zach is an artist.

    In Klune’s book they live in Oregon and there is no surfing and Bear isn’t an artist.

    In Klune’s book the Kid is a vegan genius, in the movie the kid loves hotdogs and macaroni and cheese. He also appears to be average in intelligence.

    It is obvious to me that Klune is a great writer. His book is full of humor and the movie is clearly a drama. His second book is equally as well written and he deserves all of the awards he’s been given.

    You also mentioned being skeptical of his gender. He is a man and at the moment is going through a tough time because of his husband’s health. There are pictures and articles online to back that up if you still have questions.

    Again, I am glad to see fellow writers calling out when they see plagiarism but at the same time, please make sure your allegations are true before defaming the name of someone who is struggling in this difficult profession we all share.

    Pamela N Red

    • I also have seen the movie and read as much of the book as I could manage. The Goodreads reviewer I linked to and quoted in my post has also scrutinized both. Neither of us know or care about either writer, i.e., we have no personal or professional attachments to either. As is clear from the discussion that took place around the time I wrote this post (which was over two years ago), people can look at the same material and come to differing conclusions. You can’t definitively state that the book was not based on the movie any more than I can definitely state that it was; only the book’s author can provide that information, and for what it’s worth the publisher has never reported back on the inquiries it promised to make.

      I am sorry for Mr. Klune and Mr. Arvin’s difficulties, and I wish them well. I wrote this post over a year before Mr. Arvin’s illness occurred.

      If someone had avoided criticizing my work when I was undergoing treatments for a severe illness several years ago “for my own sake,” I would have been furious. I’m not defined by my difficulties and neither is my work. I have no idea why people continue to land on this post (I get hits almost every day on it), but the internet is the internet. And this isn’t defamation, at least not in the US, where both Mr. Klune and I reside.

    • People who “land” on this post are likely people like me who love T.J.’s work and decided to “Google” him to learn more about him. I’d say he had the last word because he did write a follow-up book (Who We Are) that I liked even more than Bear, Otter and The Kid. Then, to follow those books, he wrote a third book from the Kid’s point of view (The Art of Breathing) and I believe there is a fourth in the works. And if those books weren’t enough, he wrote a little something entitled Into This River I Drown that just happened to win him a Lambda recently. I hate that when I “Google” T.J. Klune, one of the first things that pops up is this blog about plagiarism. Apparently, it bothers me much more than it does T.J. since he poked a little fun at this in Who We Are.

      • Thanks for the explanation. If this is one of the first search results, it’s because people are keeping it there. I have not linked to this post in over two years (even when I write about newer plagiarism issues) and I don’t do much publicity for the blog, beyond tweeting announcements of new posts.

        He’s welcome to the last word. As I said, I haven’t sought out information or written about him in a very long time.

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