The Movie Junkies and Plagiarism: Follow Up

The Movie Junkies site, which featured scads of movie reviews plagiarized from other movie critics, is at least temporarily down; right now if you go there you get the notice you see above, “Maintenance Mode,” apparently being a polite, or at least shorter, version of the more accurate description “Oh CRAP I Have So Much Plagiarized Material Here That I Can’t Get Rid of It All In One Panicked Burst Mode.” Given that the site appeared so rife with plagiarism that it might be more efficient to ask which reviews weren’t cut and pasted from elsewhere, the site might be down for a while. The Movie Junkies’ Twitter feed is also down; so is its Facebook page.

Film writer Eric D. Snider writes about his own interaction with The Movie Junkies’ proprietor Michele Schalin, in which Ms. Schalin attempts to call a wholesale plagiarism of one of his reviews an “error,” rewrites the review so it still contains substantial amounts of plagiarized material, and then when he calls her on it, gets snippy with him and suggests that just because she just happens to use words in sentences almost exactly as he has, it doesn’t mean it’s actually plagiarism. This assertion, may I suggest, works better when one hasn’t already been caught plagiarizing. Elsewhere, Ms. Schalin attempted the Griggs Maneuver, i.e., blaming the problem on “staff”. Oh, well, staff. We all know how that is. Good help is hard to find.

In the real world, Ms. Schalin and The Movie Junkies multiply plagiarizing multiple writers was definitely an error, but, I rather strongly suspect, not in the way Ms. Schalin was trying to suggest. Her use of “error” implied that this plagiarism was all a mistake and misunderstanding, whoops, let’s fix that. It’s evident, however, that the error here was having a Web site whose business model was predicated on taking the work other people did without their permission and passing it off as one’s own. There’s a lot of ground between the first definition of “error” and the second.

Hopefully Ms. Schalin has learned something from this, other than “The Internet is mean when you plagiarize other people’s work.” Well, yes. Yes, it is. But there’s a reason for that, you know. Figure out why that is, Ms. Schalin, and you’ll be better off.

23 thoughts on “The Movie Junkies and Plagiarism: Follow Up

  1. The internet TV show she hosts is laughable, as is any writing she has done herself. She clearly has no concept of the English language, or how words work. I suggest she watch (the non-Rifftrax) version of Sense with Sentences.

  2. The internet is bipolar, in some regards helpful (as is this case) and in others not so much (piracy).

  3. I initially was thinking, the Griggs Maneuver, was that a Star Trek thing? Then I remembered the recipe shouting match which developed much like this one. I’m sure that the exchange Eric Snider had with this woman wasn’t that enjoyable to do but it certainly is fun to read about. But it is really sad that people do this. Is compulsive lying on the uprise or do we just see it so much more laid bare on the Internet?

  4. @Kat Goodwin

    I think it’s just that a) google got better and b) people are sensitized for it, so that yes, they look out for cases.

    There always has been compulsive liars, it’s just a bit easier to catch them on the internet.

  5. In cases like this, it’s always good to see a plagiarist get what she deserves. However, I have one quibble.

    From what I’ve seen, “The Internet is mean when you plagiarize other people’s work,” isn’t as accurate as ““The Internet is mean when you plagiarize other people’s movie reviews and/or recipes.” If the Internet was interested in squashing plagiarism in general, David Boyer would’ve been taken down a long time ago.

  6. So, if I started a website called The Movie Junkies, and copied her stuff, would it still be plagiarism at this point? Or parody?

  7. There’s a subtle difference between Griggs’s and Schalin’s apparent infractions. They both appear to have published materials without permission (or payment) from the original author, but at least Cooks Source acknowledged that Monica Gaudio wrote the article.* This Movie Junkies site, on the other hand, didn’t acknowledge the original author at all, but passed it off as their own material.

    *This doesn’t justify or excuse the appropriation of her work, of course.

  8. I can’t determine if there are truly more acts of plagiarism or just better means of catching them. Your post did make me wonder, assuming there are more actual cases, why would this be? I thought of two possibilities. I don’t endorse them but I’d like to know what you think. 1) The supposedly unlimited access to data in this age means that it is impossible to be “original” and therefore “borrowing” is simply a means to keep up. 2) There is gross misinterpretation of the idea that once something is shared in the public space it is up for grabs.

  9. Speaking as a scientist, author, editor, publisher, former Activemember of SFWA and MWA, and former elected representative of both individual content-creators (as Agent) and of writers organizations (7 years on the Steering Committee of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Writers Union, and my being a delegate to our annual national meeting, as part of United Auto Workers, my position seems so simple.

    All I own is my reputation, and my Intellectual Property.

    Someone who damages one enough to cost me real money, or who steals what I legally control in copyright, trademark, or patent, has attacked me at the core of my being.

    The Justice System is there to protect me, if I am willing to spend the time $$$ necessary to defend my core property and good will.

    If I fail to protect my Intellectual Property, then the next thief can say: “I though you were an easy mark, because you let that one guy on the internet slid.”

    So one cannot give the crooks any slack.

    Don’t get me started on my $2,000,000 in damages and legal expenses over the years. This is not about me. This is about the solidarity under the law of ALL authors.

  10. This gives us the opportunity to understand the difference between “sorry” and “sorry you got caught”. Most people’s morality is based on a fear of consequence (i.e. if I lie I might go to hell). Remove that consequence (there is no commandment about plagiarism and stealing is “different”) and they tend to act is very bad ways.

  11. Dan,
    Some people believe that morality is necessary for the proper functioning of society, independent of if any individual gets caught out.

    Regards,

    Hans

  12. The best part of her crime is that google and the way back machine have copies of her website which can prove that some or most of the website was plagiarized. One of the great differences with the internet is that it has become practically impossible to hide your crimes and indiscretions.

    /sooner or later those pics of Scalzi are going to come out. ;-)

  13. Dan, there are plenty of things that I find morally wrong that have nothing to do with the fear of some dire consequence. Plagiarism is on that list. I do not engage in it because I am worried about going to hell, getting a bad grade, or being called out for doing it. It is because someone else worked hard to create something and for me to steal it and pass it off as mine is both lazy and wrong. It would anger me if I were the victim of it, therefore I don’t do it. I don’t think I am unique in this manner. In fact, most crime statistics would point to the fact that fear of consequence doesn’t do much to deter, well, any crime. I suspect that this woman, like most folks who engage in such things, figured she would never get caught.

    On a side note, the “my staff did this” seems to be the higher end of what a cop friend refers to as the “not my pants” defense. This is when someone is stopped by the police for some reason, and drugs (stolen goods, weapons, etc.) are found in a pants pocket during a search, at which point said suspect immediately responds with “but these aren’t my pants!”

  14. There must be some sort of Plagiarist paradox here. You plagiarize to get content to increase visitors to your site, but the more visitors you get to your site, the more likely you are going to get caught. It’s like an intellectual ponzi scheme with no satisfactory end game.

  15. Unrelated:

    Michele Schalin is, quite literally, one letter off from my mother’s name.  I keep doing a double-take when I read posts about this.

  16. I have begun marking my calendar for 30, 90, 120, and annually from various release dates on my stuff, and just do distinctive string searches on those days. I find interesting things that way, many of which are neither illegal nor unwelcome. If everyone who writes did that, I suspect word would eventually get around.

  17. Jack Lint: “There must be some sort of Plagiarist paradox here. You plagiarize to get content to increase visitors to your site, but the more visitors you get to your site, the more likely you are going to get caught. It’s like an intellectual ponzi scheme with no satisfactory end game.”

    — See, that’s why I keep saying I don’t think it’s done out of a belief that the person won’t get caught. I think adults plagiarize to see if they’ll get caught or not. It’s a sort of compulsive personal dare with a good streak of self-destruction to it. Remember Quentin Rowan, who went to elaborate lengths to plagiarize thriller writers for his spy thriller? And his apology explanation that this became a weird new addiction for him out of rehab? He kept wanting to see if he could do it, if it would be caught and the fear of that prospect made him miserable, but also gave him a thrill. And some plagiarists don’t get caught, and keep doing it, but that this woman did not simply plagiarize but did it really, really badly and extensively seems to indicate either a problem understanding consequences or a need to keep testing the waters to see if you’ll drown.

  18. Late to the game (vacation). I was startled about two years back to find that an article I wrote for a smallish trivia website had been plagiarized wholesale (with just enough paraphrase to make it hard to search for) by a medical student, and was being featured as a “germ of the week” paper on said medical school’s website. I was torn. On the one hand, plagiarism is not a reassuring habit for a budding doctor. On the other, I, as a mid-west housewife, had managed to write a research paper that was both good enough to get me paid, and score an ‘A’ from a medical school.

    I was definitely startled to find that anyone had deemed a small article, on an obscure subject, from a completely unknown author, to be a good candidate for plagiarism. Or had even found it to plagiarize.

  19. Update: Apparently, The Movie Junkies has left “Maintenance Mode” and has entered Contemplation Mode.

    The site’s URL now leads to a blank white screen. I looked at it for a while, and contemplated several things, and it was satisfying. Thank you, The Movie Junkies, for encouraging originality of thought and expression. At last.

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