I Have Had My Writing Plagiarized and It Totally Sucks

Plagiarism sucks. Big time. But only if you get caught.


Seriously, it makes me galactically anxious when I think of the compounding effects that a plagiarizer can have on your career. It’s not just the act of stealing your work, but rather the lingering thought of just what are they going to do with what they have stolen?

There are two instances of known plagiarism of my screenwriting that I am going to discuss today. To set the stage, a little background intel is needed. For several years, I was part of the community on SimplyScripts.com. The site features a sizable repository of unproduced scripts plus an accommodating discussion board where you can leave feedback for the authors and interact with other screenwriters. From 2005 through 2011 or so, I used to post my scripts there…for anyone in the world to find.


Logline: They say a dog is a man’s best friend, but how far would someone go to be with their canine companion?

Yeah, I sucked at writing loglines back in those days, but whatever. This script was my entry for a one week writing challenge centered around a gothic horror theme. I really like atmosphere and characters of this script, and have always been interested in adapting it into a feature.

Clearly, someone else did, as well.

I should point out by saying that everyone on SimplyScripts probably falls victim to plagiarism at some point. Doesn’t matter how decent or crappy your writing is; there will always be someone out there who wants to make it their own. It was recommended to periodically search for your scripts on Google to see where else it’s being sourced or used. To refine my search, I would typically add character names to the title in the criteria, and maybe some other details that are unique to the script. If someone had lifted it word-for-word, then surely it would come up in the results.

And it did.

The script appeared on a website called StudyMode, which allows you to “Browse our Free Essay examples and check out our Writing tools to get your assignments done.”

Sounds like a site that’s potentially ripe with plagiarism.

Anyway, I found my beloved little short script. Some of the names of characters had been changed, but otherwise it had been lifted word-for-word. What’s more is that the plagiarizer, who we’ll call Garrett, slapped his name on the cover page. Yeah, blatant thievery. And thing is: this happens all the frickin’ time. There have been countless stories of writers on SimplyScripts who found their work being shown off on other websites by imposters. I remember one clown actually uploaded the script he stole off SimplyScripts…to SimplyScripts! With his name on the cover page! How dumb can you be?

I immediately contacted StudyMode to report the plagiarism and they had the script removed.


Logline: Many men lost their lives in the Cobb Hill steel mill during the 1930s and 40s, and now a dispirited detective is determined to find out why. As he interviews the ringleader of the operation, he learns of the political coverup of the atomic bomb which rises the question: What would have happened if Hitler got the bomb?

Holy crap did I suck at writing loglines back in those days.

Now, this instance of plagiarism is a little stranger. Cobb Hill Massacres is a 140-page historical epic that has a lot of cool ideas that I was not yet ready to handle as a screenwriter. It had originally been adapted from a 30-page short script that I wrote in 2005. Much like The Lost Ghost, I have always been interested in adapting it into a feature.

In 2012, I received a peculiar e-mail from a professor in the United Kingdom who was inquiring about this script. I should point out here that it doesn’t matter how horrible your script is; if you post it online, someone will want to film it. A kid, a student filmmaker, an ex-con, Garrett from StudyMode…anyone. I’ve received probably hundreds of inquiries over the years to film my scripts. Receiving such a note asking about a script wasn’t unusual. What was unusual was that she actually wasn’t interested in filming the script at all.

What happened was a student in one of her classes had lifted sections of this script and was passing it off as their own. From what she explained, it sounded like it was turning into quite the committee to figure out what was going on. Unfortunately for this plagiarizer, they probably weren’t counting on their professor reaching out to the original writer.

I claimed the script as my own (duh) and gave a little backstory of its history and conception. I also included links to the feature and short script’s discussion threads on SimplyScripts, which are timestamped from 2006 and 2005, respectively. At this point, it’s obviously game over for the thief.

Due to confidentiality issues, the professor wasn’t allowed to give me explicit details on the resulting action or who this student was (though I’d be willing to bet it was Garrett from StudyMode, or maybe his brother). I’m going to go ahead and guess that they were expelled. I mean, this is a specialty school and you’re plagiarizing. Why on earth would they want to keep you there?

What’s so upsetting about both of these instances is that there was clear intent on the part of the plagiarizer. You don’t just slap your name onto someone else’s work and pass it off as your own unless you know for a fact that you’re stealing it. And that’s what makes this the worst kind of plagiarism. You see, even the most infamous plagiarism cases don’t always show intent. George Harrison’s infringement saga over My Sweet Lord went on for years, with the consensus being that he didn’t deliberately copy Ronnie Mack’s He’s So Fine, but nevertheless, the similarities are pretty clear.

And that’s what brings me to my most critical point: career damages. Look, if someone lifts my 11-page sequel to The Adventures of Pluto Nash, I doubt anyone will care. But when millions of dollars are on the line, as was the case with My Sweet Lord? Yeah, people will care. So, what if someone lifts my script, slaps their name on the front, and manages to sell it? And worse…what if it gets made without my knowledge? What if I don’t discover this atrocity until it’s streaming on Amazon or something? Yeah, it’s bad.

I stopped uploading my work to SimplyScripts years ago, partly because I decided I had had enough of the community, and also because I just didn’t feel safe knowing that anyone could lift my work at any second. If and when I want feedback, it’s done in private.

Plagiarism totally sucks. And these are just two cases that I know of. The freaky thing is…there are probably more.