A Fork in the Road

Today I found myself faced with a difficult decision. Recently, someone in one of Facebook Critique groups to which I belong shared a poem, asking for feedback. Turns out, part of the poem was lifted from The Great Gatsby. When this was pointed out as plagiarism, the person in question told us we were wrong. When he was told how to fix it so that it is not plagiarism, he told us we were wrong. He stated that he will not change anything about the poem – there is nothing wrong with it, in his opinion.

He later added that this is “benign plagiarism”, and that he alone understands what Fitzgerald meant because the rest of us have “over-inflated self-images”. Whatever.

He apologized eventually. If you count the “SORRYNOTSORRY” apology as legitimate. He isn’t sorry he stole someone else’s words – just that he was caught because he recognizes that will change how we view his posts going forward. As far as he is concerned, we owe him critiques in “good faith”. Well sir, I believe you owe us either 100% original content or cited works in GOOD FAITH. That’s how this works, right?

Needless to say, I could not just swallow this whole ball of manure. There is no such thing as “benign plagiarism”, and I stated this in group. It went downhill from there, with him verbally attacking me. To which I responded. Because honey, I ain’t your bitch.

So here’s my NOTSORRY: I am not sorry that I called you despicable. As an artist, I take plagiarism seriously. I am not sorry that I said I hope your words are one day stolen so you can maybe understand the severity of your actions, nor am I sorry that I implied they will not be because, frankly, you suck. I am absolutely not sorry for calling you out, no matter how offensive you feel I was.

Now for my SORRY: I am truly sorry that you have destroyed the trust my fellow group members and I should have – in GOOD FAITH. That sense of security in knowing our words will be safe within the confines of this group? Gone. I am especially sorry that the administration do not seem to understand how this is going to affect group morale. I may be the loudest voice of objection, but we all know I am not the only voice.

And that brings me back to the decision I must make: do I remain a member, or gracefully bow out?

I actually enjoy this group. Except for this one individual, I believe my fellow members to be smart, funny, and talented. I enjoy reading what is posted. I enjoy learning from others.

But how do I ignore what feels like the ultimate betrayal, the coddling of a plagiarist? My trust was not broken by his actions alone – they were not my words stolen. No, it also comes down to how the situation has been handled.

I have been told it is not plagiarism, but rather a case of improper citation. No. Were that the case, he would have copped to the mistake, perhaps offered an apology, and fixed the issue. He did none of this. He does not feel his actions are wrong, and he absolutely flat out refuses to acknowledge that he needs to give proper credit.

I have read too many posts from people who are already scared to post for this exact reason – they fear their work will be stolen by another member of the group. I thought they were being silly, irrational – until I realized that we have a plagiarist in our midst, and he is not being asked to leave.

So, here we have members who want to better their craft, who could benefit from sharing and critiquing. Over there? Someone who not only steals words to claim as his own, but refuses to accept critique of those works, or to even correct said theft.

And that’s a big issue, you know? He doesn’t want critiques. He wants our accolades. He is not interested in bettering his craft – he is convinced he’s better than everyone else.

And still, he is a member of this group.

I am not an administrator of this group, nor do I want to be. But should I even be a member? Never mind that the security of the entire group (1347 members) has been deemed less important than the ego of one individual. Let us forget that for the moment…

I now longer feel as if I can safely share my words within this group. And if not to share, to learn, why am I in this group?

Not only is this individual still a member of the group, we have not been told that the issue is resolved (nor has it been, as far as I am concerned). Not once since this started has the group been reassured that the admin staff takes plagiarism seriously or that it will not be tolerated. By their very silence on the matter, I feel as though the staff is sending the opposite message: no one cares if your words are stolen, so don’t come crying to us because plagiarism is how things roll around here.

We have, however, been told to act “professionally”. Not sure what business y’all are in but theft is taken seriously in my line of business. It sure as hell isn’t swept under the rug and ignored.

As for my decision? Well, it’s going to take longer than a day to decide. Why should I let this one despicable piece of garbage ruin an otherwise good group?

What are your thoughts on plagiarism? Has anyone ever stolen from you?

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