There is a very, very special place in Hell for people who plagiarise other writers’ work and pass it off as their own.
Recently, Lianne Spiderbaby (real name Lianne MacDougall), a well-known figure in the horror industry, who wrote for many horror publications, including FEARnet, Fangoria, Video Watchdog and was one of the hosts of the Fright Bytes YouTube channel was revealed to be a prolific plagiariser by Mike White of Impossible Funky.
Following an anonymous tip, White compiled a detailed and damning report into MacDougall’s body of work, which revealed that most of her articles, including her popular Spiderbaby’s Terror Tapes column on FEARnet, were not her own work, and had been largely ripped off from a number of other writers. Following the publication of this blog post, and the media attention surrounding this story, (MacDougall is, according to reports, dating Quentin Tarantino, himself no stranger to plagiarism controversies), more examples of MacDougall’s habit of passing off other people’s work as her own was discovered.
I’m not going to waste time and energy trying to work out what MacDougall’s motivation was for plagiarising other, and often unpaid writers, because, I don’t care about why she did it. I don’t particularly care about MacDougall, or her alter-ego, or who she may or may not be in a relationship with. I care about the writers she plagiarised, I care about the horror community, and I care about journalism.
When a someone is caught plagiarising, it’s not usually a first time offence. They could have been getting away with it for weeks, months, perhaps even longer. And when their plagiarism is uncovered, they are only sorry that they have been caught. Plagiarism destroys a writer’s reputation, it damages the reputation of the publication that writer worked for and it brings the journalism industry into disrepute. When someone decides to plagiarise someone else’s work, everyone loses.
In MacDougall’s case, each of the publications she has written for has been damaged in their own way, especially those that tried to defend her when the news of her plagiarism went viral. It’s embarrassed the horror community, a community where women aren’t as well represented as men. It will have affected the people who read her work, and her editors, but it’ll have hurt the unpaid or underpaid writers that she stole from, it’ll have hurt the bloggers that write because of their love of writing and film, and those that write in the hope of furthering their careers.
Plagiarists don’t deserve to be defended by publications, or have publications running scared about reporting the news of their lack of journalistic merit or talent, they deserve our condemnation. Plagiarists can’t plead ignorance; it’s well-known that plagiarism is deemed by many industries to be highly unethical. It’s not allowed in schools, colleges, or universities, in fact, it can get you expelled from all three of them. It is, essentially, the theft of another person’s intellectual property; it’s lazy, it’s selfish and it’s a very, very stupid thing to do.
I will never forget the day that I experienced plagiarism for the first time. I was a few months into my role of theatre editor at The Journal when I got a call from my editor, asking about a review written by one of my writers, a girl I will call Emma, for that was her name. Emma was studying a Journalism Masters, she was attentive, always asking for more reviewing work, and often asking for feedback on her pieces. I was pretty new at this editing lark, so I spent a lot of time giving her detailed notes and editing her reviews, which were often over the word count.
One publication weekend, a sub editor discovered similarities between Emma’s review of a dance piece, and a review of the same performance which had been published by another publication a few days earlier. The sub editor then checked her other reviews, and found that they had all been plagiarised in varying degrees from a number of sources, including one national publication and a local paper. In some cases, entire paragraphs had been copied and pasted into her copy. In others, some sentences bore striking similarities to other reviews of the same show. However, luckily, in more than one case, I’d unwittingly removed large parts of the plagiarised copy while editing her ‘work’.
Emma was confronted and denied everything, despite the evidence to the contrary. Emma was fired. However, Emma continued her course, graduated and the last thing I heard was that she was working for the BBC. But Karma catches up with everyone, eventually.
While MacDougall has so far said very little on the subject bar releasing one meagre tweet apologising for the “plagiarism in my work” (here’s a hint, if you plagiarise other people’s writing, it’s not your “work”, it’s theirs) it’s not enough. MacDougall has treated these writers, publications and the horror industry at large with utter contempt, displaying an unbelievable amount of cowardice along the way.
Her failure to answer for her actions, or attempt to redress the wrongs that she has committed is as infuriating as it is disappointing. It’s only right that she should face the consequences for her actions, although some are questioning whether this will happen at all, thanks to MacDougall’s position and her attempts at damage control, which included shutting down her blog and Twitter account, blaming her intern and pleading with editors to remove articles discussing her plagiarism.
Journalism is a very difficult industry to get into, especially given the current economic climate. The industry is constantly being questioned and analysed, it has suffered from recent scandals, from the rise of print journalism, from the loss of revenue. But the industry has suffered most from the loss of trust that has resulted from unethical practises, such as plagiarism, phone hacking and other sleazy methods that hurt people and damage journalism.
Lianne Spiderbaby has been damned by her own web of lies and deceit, and so, it’s up to the rest of us to salvage what we can and start building up trust with readers once more.
After I wrote this post, I read BJ Colangelo’s posts on her fantastic Day Of The Woman blog, naming some of the best female horror journalists working in the industry right now.
These lists are super awesome, and it would be criminal not to celebrate the amazing work that these women are doing in the field.
And no, none of these amazing women are plagiarists!