Whose Words Are These?

Does the rise of artificial intelligence make you want to scream, “AI, caramba!”? *

While there’s speculation that AI may cost some people their jobs, writers worry that AI will lead to rampant plagiarism. All of which reminds me of a time in the pre-digital era when an entire work of mine was plagiarized by a living, breathing human being. It happened in a manner so blatant, it was almost comical.

Fair Use

20th Century Fox Corp.

I was the editor of a national tennis magazine (my first full-time job in publishing). One day, a freelancer who was looking for an assignment stopped by my office to drop off some samples of his past articles.

We had a brief chat about his experience, which seemed fairly extensive, and we planned to talk more after I’d read his work.

Later that day, I looked through the material he’d left and noticed that one item was an interview he’d conducted with the manager of Jimmy Connors, who was a world-class champion at the time.

I had interviewed the same man some months before. So out of curiosity, I chose the freelancer’s interview with him to read first. Its format was a simple Q. & A.

I read the first question and the manager’s response. I read the next question and answer. It wasn’t until the third Q. & A. that something began to feel familiar.

I went to my back files, found the issue I was looking for, and flipped to the page with my interview on it. Everything was identical, down to the last comma and period, except for the photos and the freelancer’s name instead of mine in the byline.

At first, I was amazed at the audacity. It occurred to me that the thief might have stolen so many works from other writers that he never bothered to keep track of whose article he was submitting to whom.

The pilfered interview.

And then I got mad.

The magazine with the pilfered interview was based in Australia, a big tennis mecca back then, with its own national stars like Laver and Goolagong. I sat down and wrote to the publisher, informing them that they had published a stolen article. I included a copy of my original piece, along with my suspicion that there may be more of the same from that individual.

Two days later, the plagiarizer showed up again and asked me what I thought of his work. I let my fury fly while he sat there stone-faced. After I was through, this is what he said: “So, you won’t be hiring me?”

I kid you not.

I never heard from his publisher, and I never saw or heard from the pilferer again. But I’ll always think of him as a lazy, cheating son-of-a-gun, like a grownup and ever-unrepentant Bart Simpson.

Gay Yellen is the award-winning author of the Samantha Newman Mystery Series, including The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and the upcoming Body in the News.


*a nod to Bart Simpson, The Simpsons, Twentieth Century Fox Corp. Free use.




14 replies
  1. Kathryn Lane
    Kathryn Lane says:

    Great article, Gay, plagiarism has always existed and the only difference now with AI is that it’s made even easier for the one doing the plagiarizing.
    I love your “AI caramba”.

    • Gay Yellen
      Gay Yellen says:

      Thanks, Kathryn. I try to steer away from being a Negative Nellie, but one does wonder how AI will be able to avoid the proliferation of this kind of theft.

  2. Debra H. Goldstein
    Debra H. Goldstein says:

    Just think how often it has happened now without A1. Your blog speaks to two things – human nature or the lack thereof and integrity —- and where will this new world exist. Someone showed me a fake letter of acceptance to a college last night – offering a full athletic scholarship to a top notch program – except the kid is a nerd who can barely tie his own shoes. — he created it using A1 to spoof his grandmother. It was hilarious – even had the signature of the coach. This was done in humor but proved how good a piece can be. Scary when you think of things not being done for humor.

  3. Lois Winston
    Lois Winston says:

    Gay, I had this happen countless times with needlework magazines published in the UK, Australia, and Brazil. At one point in the early 90s, Barnes & Noble began carrying foreign crafts magazines in their stores. I’d often browse the magazine section while having my daily latte. When I discovered my designs in these magazines, my reaction was similar to yours. But when I notified the publishers of the U.S. magazines, they did nothing because the cost of hiring international copyright attorneys was too prohibitive. So the foreign magazines continued to steal designs from the U.S. magazines. It didn’t stop until one by one all the U.S. magazines began going out of business in the 2010s.

    • Gay Yellen
      Gay Yellen says:

      My publisher did nothing for the same reason as yours, Lois. I suppose all we can do is feel the outrage, then have a drink and chalk it up to another of life’s little aggravations.

    • Gay Yellen
      Gay Yellen says:

      Thanks, Donnell. The guy obviously had a racket going (pun intended). After seeing Lois’s reply, I guess it’s still common practice among some unscrupulous writers.

  4. T.K. Thorne
    T.K. Thorne says:

    Lazy and unprincipled. I imagine producers just hate having to pay writers. Writers have alway been on the lowest rung in the movie/TV world, even though nothing happens without them. Same kind of attitude as those who steal words. Disrespect.

    • Gay Yellen
      Gay Yellen says:

      Right on, T.K. If there’s a picket line for the WGA where I live, I’d join it. Nothing happens in show biz unless writers write it.

  5. Saralyn
    Saralyn says:

    I had a similar experience with an article I submitted to a bridal magazine. They turned me down for publishing it, but they published it anyway.

  6. Ken Oder
    Ken Oder says:

    How infuriating. The most amazing part of this story is that he didn’t realize plagiarism would disqualify him. It’s disturbing to read in the comments to your article that this seems to have been common practice in those days. I wonder if it persists today. Discouraging, to say the least.

    • Gay Yellen
      Gay Yellen says:

      I was surprised too when other writers mentioned similar experiences, Although, when I was with my first publisher, several writers there found their ebooks being pirated in Poland. Just weird what some people waste their energy on.

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