When Yes, you plagiarized

So the first bit is a bit of housekeeping news. I haven’t published anything since WordPress switched to its Gutenberg editor. The UI is a huge improvement, but it sucks at the things I need WordPress to do like:

  • Add Media content
  • Save progress as I’m working on an article
  • Allow me to publish an article
  • Let me link to other content I’ve already written.

Gutenberg is terrible at all of those core features, often breaking and making me lose hours worth of work. Then I rage quit, forget what I was working on, start up a new article, and repeat the cycle. A new shiny UI doesn’t mean anything if it breaks the core functionality of an editor. As such, I’ve mostly been posting reviews and news on my facebook group page.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/540394709678045/

Now, onto our main story.

Yes, you plagiarized.

Jason Cheek wrote a whiny blogpost about LitRPG Podcasts, because Ramon caught him plagiarizing.  Let’s now get into the definition of plagiarism.

to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own use (another’s production) without crediting the source

As Ramon documents, there’s definitely some of that in the book. However, Ramon says that most of the story is original.

However, after reading the novel in full, most of it is still original. After the 50% mark of the story, it’s completely original. It’s just a shame that anything like this exists in the story. Copying and pasting from someone else’s work, even in minor instances is just not ok.

Whether you plagiarized one percent or one hundred percent, you still plagiarized. Being generous, I can guess that Cheek copy pasted some elements into his story as placeholders, maybe intending to change them at a later date.

If so, then stating that and saying he’ll change it in a future edit would have done a lot to give some goodwill.  Instead, he is throwing a petulant fit. More amusing than his histrionics is this gem:

An interesting side note, search for LitRPG group and you’ll discover that GreatLitRPG, LitRPG, LitRGPsociety, LitRPG Group, LitRPG Podcast who are all actually sponsored/owned by Alternative Realities Publishing (https://alternativerealitiespublishing.wordpress.com/).

He provides absolutely no proof of that statement and is clearly just a conspiracy theory, as his assertion that the people going after him are “corporate lapdogs”.

To help him out, that company is owned by Matthew Sylvester, who is one of the smallest fishes in the pond. If I need to spell this out, he’s in no way officially affiliated with any of those groups, I don’t even think he’s a moderator on the forums.

If you’re going to pick a bad guy in your Scooby-Doo episode, go for someone who actually has some pull.

It’s also very easy to see that even people who liked his book think he plagiarized portions of it.

If you take “a few ideas and sentances”, then you engaged in plagiarism.  See the definition above.  Whether or not it was a “significant extent” is a separate issue, which we’ll see below.

So this isn’t just sour grapes, even people who like it admit it. Whether you plagiarize a little or a lot, you still plagiarized, no matter how much hand waving you want to do about it.

Like most people who get caught with their hand in the cookie jar, rather than fessing up and making amends, he’s invoking conspiracy theories and accusations.

Copyright Infringement

What many people are getting confused over is the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism.  Plagiarism, so we’re clear, is when you use anyone else’s ideas or thoughts as your own.  Many an undergraduate has failed a course for not understanding this, merely rewriting someone else’s ideas doesn’t make it not plagiarism.

Copyright infringement is much more complex.  The TL;DR version of it is that copyright infringement requires proving the loss of revenue because of the derivative work.  In many cases, the legal standard is “Could a person read this work and then decide not to buy the original author’s work due to the similarities?”  This is what happened with KinderGuide books, a stripped-down and bowdlerized version of classic works.

Both Ramon and other reviewers seem to agree (can’t confirm) that the book has enough substantially new things in it that you could read both Ascend Online and First Login without feeling as if you’ve already read the other.

As such, Amazon made a legally defensible call to reinstate the book.  Amazon is a soulless money machine, and they’re not going to get involved in the ethics of plagiarizing, just the legal ramifications if it’ll cost them money.

Personally, I have no interest in reading anything Jason Cheek publishes because:

  • The grammar and word choice on all of his stuff is awful.  I originally gave him a pass on that, but then read his Amazon bio and found out he went to school here in the US of A, so he’s not ESL (English Second Language).
  • Instead of manning up to a mistake and apologizing, he doubled-down and decided a hissy fit was the best approach.
  • Can’t condone giving money to someone who plagiarizes others, even if it is not enough to make the original author lose money.  I could forgive this if point two above were in play and an honest apology was issued.

Value Additive Question

So this came up in the forums, and I’ll clarify it.  One question is known as the “value additive” question, which comes up in joke plagiarism and other forms of plagiarism.

The value additive question is basically, “How much did the author transform the original work so that it fulfills a different purpose?” This is sometime’s also known as the “transformative” question, did the author significantly transform the original material?

This is the difference between Charles Dean’s “The Merchant of Tiqpa” and Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”.

In Cheek’s case it’s the following.  The MC is:

  • naked.
  • dropped in an area not chosen
  • in a town where the first thing that has to be done is a goblin fight.
  • Needs to save villagers under attack from said goblins.

His purpose for doing this is the same reason Luke did it, it’s the exact same emotional beats.  Let’s look at an illustrative example, Carlos Mencia’s joke vs. Bill Cosby’s joke:

Did Mencia steal this joke?  Absolutely.  He changed the words, but the timing, pacing, delivery, and punchline are nearly identical.  This does not constitute a “transformative” change to the joke.

In the book’s case, Luke wrote that scenario for a few emotional beats:

  1. Immediate sense of danger, MC is alone.
  2. Immediate worst case scenario, fully nude.
  3. Compounding this, MC is not where he is supposed to be.  More danger.
  4. Ticking time bomb scenario.  Because people are being slaughtered and the quest notification is given, the MC has to engage the enemies, as opposed to hiding behind a stack of barrels or some other method.This point ties into point 1 and 3, because he’s not where he’s supposed to be and alone, if he doesn’t save the villagers, then he’ll be completely alone in a hostile area.  This creates the impetus for action, as well as the quest line.

Cumulatively, it gives the start of the book a ton of drama.  Much like Mencia’s joke, changing the words doesn’t change the emotional impact.

If that’s enough to convince you, then look at the direct copy-paste of “Military conditioning”.  According to Cheek’s bio, he’s ex-military.  Luke is not an ex-soldier, so he’s excused from this discussion.

Anyone ex-military should know that the term “military conditioning” is a useless phrase.  Are we talking physical or mental conditioning?  Are we talking about being conditioned to not volunteer for any details?  Conditioned to be used to scrambling like mad and then getting left out in formation for hours?  Conditioned to be able to fall asleep in virtually any position?

So either it’s:

A.) An amazing coincidence that both Luke and Cheek used GrimDawn as their reference point.  And even more amazingly, chose the exact same stats out of the possible table of stats.  This is even more amazing when you look at the table of stats and realize that they both, somehow, miraculously, picked stats that don’t match up to the table of stats.
B.) It’s not an amazing coincidence and Cheek took it from Luke’s book.

Given all the other extreme similarities between the two works, and that any soldier would have at least changed the trait to something that makes sense, (Military Physical Training aka “PT”), it seems more likely that it’s B and not A.

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