Word theft

So, I’ve just read about an astonishing tale of plagiarism, by Q. R. Markham (the poet Quentin Rowan), in Assassin of Secrets. This is ostensibly from someone who should know better. But it appears that not only is Assassin riddled with lifted passages, but other things he’s written for a variety of reputable publications include significant portions of other people’s work.

For the most complete rundown, head to Edward Champion’s Reluctant Habits blog. Seriously, just go read it. I’ll wait.

Okay.

All hyperbole and sanctimonious posturing aside — why do people do this? In high school, I rewrote the Monty Python argument sketch as my own and instantly got caught out. And I paid for it. The stakes were small, though the embarrassment was huge, and I got caught in a time where you couldn’t just go Google stuff on your phone. It happened back when you had to go to the library and photocopy pages to get your research papers done.

These days you can copy-paste a phrase into a search engine and come up with its source in seconds. The risk is too high, as are the stakes. Aside from my own personal feelings of guilt and now greatly improved work ethic, I’ll never plagiarize again because I’m dead certain I will be caught out.

So what I can’t get my head around is just what brought Rowan to do this? Was it a slow, slippery slope? Homages that snowballed into outright duplications? We all rationalize things, make excuses for ourselves, until reality and our perception of it are quite removed from one another. Did that process go haywire here?

Or does he feel like he’s pulled one over on all of us? Maybe there’s a sense of delight or satisfaction in fooling so many people, in knowing you’ve made a good bit of money and fame with less than your fair share of work.

Maybe he wanted to be admired as a spy thriller novelist, and was too afraid to rely on his own talent and skill to pull it off. That was more or less why I ripped Monty Python off as a sophomore in high school. I wanted to be popular, I wanted to be praised for good work. And that desire overrode what I knew was wrong about what I was doing. “No one will notice,” I thought, “and if they do, I’ll just pass it off as coincidence.”

There is no coincidence here, I’m afraid, and I’m pretty sure the list of lifted passages — which extends to Assassin‘s page 35 in Champion’s blog post — will keep on growing. Champion’s promised to record as many transgressions as he can (from the book and from other things Rowan’s written) so be sure to visit that post as the week continues to see what else falls out of Rowan’s shaken tree.

I’m curious to see how Rowan will respond.

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About incognitiously

A published author and a produced playwright, I'm someone who spends most of my time thinking about stories, writing them, reading them, watching them or hearing them. In short, I make stuff up, unless the truth is even better. And even then it's an iffy proposition. Currently researching the dialogic nature of transmedia storytelling for a Doctorate of Creative Industries at the Queensland University of Technology. View all posts by incognitiously

One response to “Word theft

  • Aaron Rosenberg

    It’s possible–though unlikely–that he doesn’t understand plagiarism properly. Back when I was teaching it was both astonishing and depressing how many students thought it was okay to lift whole sentences and paragraphs from places.

    More likely, it’s what you said–he was terrified that he wasn’t good enough, and so he lifted passages from people he liked and cobbled them together and maybe rationalized it–if he bothered–with “well, I assembled them myself, so it’s my work, in a way.”

    What’s really sad is that even if he is a good writer in his own right, it’s unlikely anyone will ever know now. He’ll be marked forever as “that guy who tried to pass off other people’s work as his own.”

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