This is a guest post from James S. Fell
There once was a great man who was a plagiarist.
In fact, this man was so great – he did so much to advance the human cause – history has largely glossed over his indiscretion. His contributions to society overwhelm his plagiarism to such a degree that I will not mention his name.
If someone plagiarizes, I do not believe it means they are a bad person. They could be a good person who just made a mistake. So I was willing to forgive her.
The fact that she is an amazingly hot bikini model might have had something to do with it.
I am a fitness writer, and not a humble one. I’ll just get this over with and say I went from my first published work (a story about my penis) to nationally syndicated via the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times in just three years. My work is now read by millions of people each month.
It was one such reader that let me know I’d been plagiarized.
I’m also a man so happily married I named my personal website BodyForWife.com. Still, all that exercise keeps the testosterone flowing, so when I saw the scantily clad pictures of the woman who copied my work plastered all over her Facebook page, I said, “Wow,” and surfed a little.
She’s a fitness competitor. I’ve shamed her enough on my own Facebook page, so I’m not going to reveal her identity here. Again, I’m still holding out hope that she’s a good person who made a bad mistake.
See, I think I’m a good person, and I know that I have sinned. In fact, Jessica and I became friends because of something bad I did. I once wrote an article, and it was awful. The site I had recently joined as a columnist suggested the topic, and I suggested an alternative way to present this topic, and they insisted on their way, and I was still new and wanting to impress, and even though my gut instinct screamed at me not to do it, I wrote it. And it was published. And it was awful. And the Internet let me know it was awful.
Jessica was part of that Internet; she blogged about my awful article.
It wasn’t just damage control. I was genuinely sorry. I knew I had screwed up and did the biggest, most sincere and public mea culpa I could manage. I posted in the comments on every blog criticizing this article, taking responsibility and telling the world how sorry I was and that I’d never do it again.
Since that time, I’ve had this sticky note on my desk where I can easily see it:
I did wrong. I knew I was wrong. I should have stood up to the publisher, but I didn’t and it was time to pay for my crime. I was so penitent that even Jessica forgave me.
So you see, I know the proper way to atone for making a mistake.
My attractive plagiarist, who I’ll call Model, took one of my articles from last September that was about burning off post-vacation flab, and she posted it as a Facebook status update on her fan page, which has several thousand followers.
There is more, which makes it blatantly obvious that this was not just a copy and paste, but an actual attempt to pass the update off as her own work. First off, her previous update of the same day was about just getting home from vacation. Second, she removed a couple of facts in the article that would reveal someone else had written it.
I write everything first person and always include personal anecdotes. She removed the location of vacation – the coast of British Columbia – and the mention of sea kayaking. She left in the mention of running, however, because Model is also a runner, although apparently not a sea kayaker. She also swapped in a few of her own words. Overall, however, the status update was about 98% the same as my article.
And it was just a copy and paste with the aforementioned tweaks. No title. No, “Hey, check this out.” And certainly no, “This was written by James Fell” or even, “This was not written by Model.”
Yeah, that’s fucking plagiarism.
I showed my wife, who said I should shame her on my own fan page, which is precisely what I was already thinking. So I did. I did not use the word “plagiarism,” but I linked to her status update and to my article published five months previous.
I have dedicated fans, and the Facebook vigilante justice began. I should have foreseen such a happening and told them in advance not to go apocalyptic on Model, but I was remiss. So, I had to make a second post on my page asking them to please stop, and they did.
The vigilantism made me feel guilty about the public shaming.
At the same time I made the post, I sent an email to Model. The opening sentence was, “I am not very happy with you.” I explained that she had plagiarized my work, and that I wanted her to do a public apology on her fan page saying so, linking both to her offending status update and back to my article. If she did that, I’d consider the matter closed.
I didn’t tell her this, but I was willing to unleash hell if she declined. I would have contacted the supplement company that sponsors her, the magazines that she has modeled in, and the physique organization that she competes in and shown them the evidence of her transgression.
She was away from her computer, and it took a while for her to get back to me, but when she did Model was quite conciliatory, although not admitting full guilt. She said that she did not mean to upset me, and that I would get the credit I deserve. She also referred to it as a “misunderstanding.”
And I knew what was coming: One of those “I’m sorry you were offended” non-apologies that politicians are infamous for.
My mother taught me that people make mistakes, but that sins need to be atoned for. You’ve got to make it right. I once wrote a shitty article, then took responsibility as well as groveled, and people forgave.
I emailed Model back immediately and told her a bit of my “I wrote this offensive article once” story, and said the best way she could make this go away quickly was a complete admission of guilt and full apology. I was warning her not to fuck this up.
She promised that she was going to make a full apology, and that she was not a bad person, and that she’d just made a mistake. I believed her, and I was wrong to do so.
Here is what she then posted on her Facebook fan page:
In early February I posted an article and failed to give proper credit to an author. I want to apologize to James Fell, he wrote a fabulous article on how to get back on track with your fitness after a vacation and deserves credit for that. I never meant to pass this off as my own work, and I am very sorry that it came across like that.
She also included the link to my original piece, and encouraged people to visit my Facebook fan page, but she deleted the post where she’d plagiarized me.
As for the apology part, note the last sentence where it says, “I never meant to pass this off as my own work.” I call bullshit.
I read what she posted, and determined to forestall emailing her back. I wanted to sleep on it and decide what to do. The next morning she sent me another email, telling me she hadn’t slept and was full of anxiety over this issue. I wasn’t feeling terribly sympathetic.
I took some time to mull things over then crafted my reply.
I told her it was not my intent to be vindictive or ruin her career, and that I did admire her for being willing to apologize, where others may have failed to admit any wrongdoing. I had actually done some searching of other’s reactions to being plagiarized, and found one author who, when he confronted a plagiarist who had copied his article by about 95%, received a reply from the offender that it was “uncanny” how similar the articles were, yet denied that he had copied it.
Model wasn’t in such full denial, but certainly partial denial
I pointed out that I did not believe her statement about not intending to pass it off as her own, because she had made specific changes to the piece that identified someone else as the author. Nevertheless, part of me understands how difficult it would be to come out and admit to your own fan base that you stole someone else’s intellectual property, so I came to the conclusion that this was about as much as I could expect from her.
I told her I considered the apology barely sufficient, and let her know I was on to her, and that she sure as hell better not ever do anything so stupid again. She didn’t reply, and the way I worded my email, with the degree of finality it contained, I would have been surprised if she had.
I don’t think she will ever plagiarize again.
In fact, I hope she becomes a better person for this. I know that I did from my own transgression. That sticky note serves as a constant reminder to do the right thing, and I think I’ve been pretty faithful to it. Hopefully Model will remember this unfortunate event for a long time to come, and she will make better decisions in the future.
It’s important to learn from your mistakes.
If you actually read all that, permit me to ask a favor unrelated to plagiarism or this story at all. I have a gift for you. Well, it’s more of a trade. I have gone into a partnership to launch a new fitness website, where I’m in full control of all content, meaning it contains brutal honesty, and nothing resembling the bovine droppings rife in the realm of fitness and weight loss.
This new website has a free Weight Loss Report and a free Metabolism Report, and all it will cost you in trade is subscribing to occasional emails from me (from which you can easily unsubscribe if you decide you don’t like me).
But the URL for this website may throw you. A lot of money was put into its purchase to drive traffic to the site, but know that our tagline is “Hardcore and more.” That “and more” means we have something for everyone, regardless of shape, size or gender. The new website is www.SixPackAbs.com.
So please check it out. There are lots of exclusive articles, celebrity interviews, and a section specifically for women. There’s even a shirtless picture of yours truly, if that’s your thing.
Thanks for reading.