Days later, I noticed that another writer tagged me in their story about taboo topics. But while reading the second story, I got a serious case of deja vu.
You see, Tom’s original story was written in his very recognizable Tom voice. If I’d read his piece without his name attached, I likely would have guessed he wrote it.
This second story was interesting because it was written by a writer I’d never heard of, who claimed she made money writing about taboo topics on Medium. Weirdly enough, they’re not even a paid member, which seems strange for somebody wanting to make money on the platform without much of a following. And somehow, there were these little phrases that kept sounding like Tom. They made “her” story feel unbelievable.
Finally, I found the section where “she” tagged me, and that’s when I knew without a doubt that it was a plagiarized story. I pulled up Tom’s piece about taboo writing and confirmed my suspicions.
This was a work of mishmash plagiarism.
What I mean is that this user copied plenty of Tom’s exact wording, but they added things too.
This person also added some strange comments about abortion and pedophilia that Tom never at all mentioned, but I suppose it was done in an effort to cover up the fact that this was a plagiarized piece.
At least, that’s all I can assume. Why else would anyone go to the trouble of copying and pasting someone else’s words, but adding more verbiage?
There’s a damn good chance that everything was plagiarized in their piece, and they simply chopped up passages from a few different writers.
Plagiarism is all over the internet, and Medium is not immune to the problem.
Who knows how often this happens to you or me? Most of us rely upon others to let us know when they see something suspicious.
Some folks are seriously lazy when they copy, even more lazy than Tom’s mishmash but not quite doppelganger.
Case in point?
I still recall my horror and frustration when a fellow writer found this gem for me. The only difference was the photo ratio.
The reality though, is that if you write successfully, somebody somewhere is going to plagiarize you. Virtually every creative will encounter plagiarism in one way or another.
Here’s what you can do if you spot plagiarism on Medium.
1. Tell the person who’s been copied.
My opinion is that they have the right to know. If you tell them, they can decide if they want to report it. Some folks won’t care. Clearly, many folks will care enough to report it but they’ll also feel a little bit good knowing that someone felt their work was worth copying.
2. Confront the user, if you think it could have been a mistake.
I wouldn’t bother confronting this user. They are essentially a fake profile churning out stolen stories. It’s obvious that they know what they’re doing. If you confront them they’ll probably just block you and hide your comments.
However, there are times when I think you should confront the person who’s plagiarized another story. But that’s mostly in the case of lazy research, or fast-following.
Lazy research looks something like this (and yes, it's still plagiarism):
How I Plagiarized a Story and Thought the Work Was Mine
A cautionary tale for self-taught writers and highly sensitive people who work online.
Fast-following is when a writer only piggy backs off other writers' stories without adding anything new to the conversation.
Like lazy research, some writers don’t know that a fast-follow strategy is frowned upon in writing communities like Medium. You might save a good person lots of trouble by simply letting them know.
3. Contact Medium to take the plagiarized story down.
You can email Medium Support at Yourfriends@medium.com, as well as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Give them the link to the plagiarized story and the original one. In most cases, it will take a few days for Medium to sort it all out, but they’ll take action like removing the story or shutting down that user’s profile.
4. Take a deep breath.
Yeah, plagiarism sucks, but keep in mind that there’s a compliment in there too. I believe that successful writers must learn that they can’t curb all plagiarism online, but they can deal with the random cases they discover in their career.
What about other forms of copying on Medium?
While it’s natural to worry that other people will take whatever makes you unique, it’s also futile. People may emulate you. And if you’re good at your job here, you are going to inspire other writers.
Sometimes, you might feel uncomfortable about that. Maybe they say something that hits too close to home. Or, they might write something that you wish you’d written yourself.
Does it stink? Sure. But that doesn’t mean the other writer is wrong. If you want to make it in the writing industry, I think you need to get used to the idea of having zero control over anything other people do.
I also believe that the most successful and mentally healthy writers will learn to see the brightside when other people try to write like them. If you hold onto a positive mindset about it, you might find yourself encouraged to grow rather than hindered.
Outright plagiarism sucks, but grey area copying of style or voice is much murkier. You’ll do yourself a big favor to quit sweating the small stuff.
Save your energy for your writing.