The Richard Ridyard Plagiarism Affair exposed by Angel Zapata in his blog post I've Been Plagiarized…and I'm Not Alone has been both sickening and fascinating. It's sickening because someone stealing words and claiming them as your own has caused even the most left-wing pacifists to sharpen their pitchforks and warm up their tar. I don't need to go into my own diatribes here: we all hate it.
The experience has been fascinating because it demonstrates both the perils and the pinnacles of the online writing world; a world that I entered myself only a few months ago.
The perils of the online writing world are clear. Firstly, there is so much more material to steal now. So many more people now are publishing in online journals, personal websites, blogs and other forums. This new group of available victims are also the most vulnerable. They are the new wave of talent, the up and coming – or at least they're trying to be. Secondly, there are so many new venues to use stolen material; and these are actually the same new places that people can steal from. This was, in part, the undoing of Mr Richard Ridyard, and brings me to the pinnacles of the online writing world.
Mr Richard Ridyard ripped off a number of writers, but he was discovered by Angel Zapata. How? Because Angel was reading a story in Flashshot and recognised his own work, which had previously been published in Micro 100. First pinnacle: every reader of online material has the capacity to recognise something they've read before, and identify a potential word thief.
In Angel's case, this was easy: he recognised something he wrote himself; but we're only talking about two sentences. The first sentence is loosely stolen, the second sentence is a verbatim theft. It's bad, but not compelling enough on its own to do much about it. Yet, something was very wrong: and Angel started digging. We all have the capacity and the responsibility to dig like Angel dug. The second pinnacle of the online writing world: Google. This is such a powerful digging tool, as demonstrated by the ultimately damming body of evidence that Angel was able to collect and present.
Now, Angel got to work immediately. He notifyied some of the editors and authors that he'd identified as victims of Mr Richard Ridyard. He did this both before and after his blog posting, but he had other things to do with his life. Things like work, family and sleep. But Angel was not alone in his rage. The third and greatest pinnacle of the online writing world is that we act like a community. Our community includes writers from a wide range of countries, with a wide range of talent levels. Many of us have had minimal, if any publication. Some of us aren't very good at all. As a community; however, we look out for each other. We read each other's work and make comments, at blogs and social networking sites like Six Sentences.
When Angel exposed a plagiarist in our midst, we worked together as a community to weed him out. We put links to Angel's post on our own blogs to help spread the word. We emailed editors of online journals and authors to let them know they'd been duped. Those editors got back to us very, very promptly. They were thankful and removed Mr Richard Ridyard's "work" almost immediately. This is a real credit to those editors, and the experience has made me realise that they are just as much a part of this online community as the writers. If anything, their passion for good and honest writing greater than any writer: just look at what they do. They're actually more vulnerable to this type of deception than us writers, so we should look out for them.
Let's not abandon the online writing world because of its few perils. Let's build on what we've learned by The Richard Ridyard Affair. Let's embrace the pinnacles of this world-wide community, and work together to eliminate plagiarism and create beautiful writing.