Copying a story

Interesting situation with a recent crowdfunded anthology:

The editors had sent out the ebook version of the anthology and were preparing to print the printed version, when a reader let them know that one of the stories in the book was a close copy of something published on Tumblr in 2017, specifically the first part of “The Adventures of Todd and Granny.”

The story in the anthology didn’t use the same character names or directly quote specific phrases (as far as I could tell in a quick perusal), but it was definitely (as the anthology editors put it) a “beat-for-beat” copy of the Tumblr story. Most of the details were slightly different; for example, the grandmother’s glasses went from being “beaded bifocals” held by a “crocheted lanyard” to being “tiny glasses” held by a “beaded chain.” But the plot was the same (not just in a general “there are only 47 different plots” kind of way, but very specifically exactly the same), and the setting was the same, and even some of the details were the same, just described in slightly different phrases. If the two stories had been movies, I would have called the anthology story a remake of the Tumblr story. Perhaps not quite a shot-for-shot remake, but heading in that direction. Or shifting away from the movie metaphor, I might just call it a close paraphrase. At any rate, it’s quite clear that the anthology story is copied from the Tumblr story; it’s far too close a copy to just be coincidence.

(Before you ask: The anthology editors checked, and the author of the anthology story is not the same person as the author of the Tumblr story. And the Tumblr story has a Creative Commons license, but it’s an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license; the anthology story definitely does not conform to that license, given the lack of attribution and the fact that the anthology paid the author of the anthology story.)

The author of the story in the anthology is a published author who’s active on social media. I think they made their Twitter account semi-private after the news broke, but it may have already been semi-private, not sure. They haven’t posted anything about this situation publicly to other social media yet.

I’m not naming the author of the anthology story because it feels to me like it would be punching down for me to do that; they’re not an established professional (and they’re a member of multiple marginalized groups), and I guess I can vaguely imagine their having honestly thought this was an okay thing to do. (Maybe if they misinterpreted the CC license?) I’m not excusing them—I think at best, this demonstrated really bad judgment—but I’m not going to point people at them.

Anyway, I thought it was an interesting situation. And just in case any other authors were thinking that it was okay to rewrite a story from Tumblr without permission and submit it for publication as your own work: Nope, that’s not okay.

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