Dear The Movie Junkies: Plagiarism is Still Not Cool
Posted on March 28, 2012 Posted by John Scalzi 65 Comments
My pal Maryann Johanson wrote a review of the movie Shame on her site The Flick Filosopher on January 16. Here’s an excerpt of what she wrote:
What is shocking about Shame is the male vulnerability, the male weakness, the abject male misery we see onscreen. Movies simply don’t do this. Movies protect the male ego, even to the point of — at least in the United States, thanks to the MPAA’s retrograde puritanism — decreeing that male nudity is much more scandalous and is to be treated much more seriously than female nudity, which may be treated casually. (A penis? Onscreen?Why, men might feel inadequate! Unless said penis is somehow comically small. That’s okay! Male egos remain intact!) (Warning: Fassbender’s nudity may bruise some male egos.)
On January 29, a review of Shame went up on the site The Movie Junkies. Here’s an excerpt of what they “wrote”:
What is shocking about Shame is the male vulnerability, weakness and misery we see onscreen. Movies simply don’t show this. Movies protect the male ego, even to the point of decreeing that male nudity is much more scandalous and is to be treated much more seriously than female nudity, which may be treated casually. What you say? A penis onscreen? Why, men might feel inadequate! Unless the penis is somehow comically small. That’s okay! Male egos remain intact!) (Warning: Fassbender’s nudity may bruise some male egos.)
There’s no attribution to Maryann (or, one assumes, payment), although there is a copyright notice at The Movie Junkies. So there’s that irony.
(I saved a screenshot just in case the text changes.)
I wonder what would happen if someone went through the rest of The Movie Junkies’ reviews with a fine-toothed textual comb.
Here’s Maryann’s response, incidentally:
.@themoviejunkies: Remove the material you lifted from my review of SHAME immediately.— MaryAnn Johanson (@maryannjohanson) March 28, 2012
If I believed in hell, I would hope there was a special level reserved for plagiarists.— MaryAnn Johanson (@maryannjohanson) March 28, 2012
That about sums it up.
Update, 12:11pm: The plagiarized text has been taken down, which is nice.
Dear The Movie Junkies: A public acknowledgement of and apology to Maryann Johanson is something you should do, don’t you think?
Update, 12:18pm: Other possible plagiarisms are being noted in the comment thread.
Wow. So, not only are so many of today’s movies remakes or “re-interpretations” of movies gone by, but even the movie “reviewers” can’t be bothered to write their own opinions anymore? Guess they were absent the day they taught about plagiarism/correct attribution in jr high school.
Go get ’em, MaryAnn Johanson!
“If I believed in hell, I would hope there was a special level reserved for plagiarists.”
And they’d have to spend eternity rewriting The Eye of Argon.
I don’t get plagiarists. Maybe I’m an utter candy ass, but I had the !@#$ scared out of me by Mr. McCarthy in 10th grade when he busted me for copying a large portion of our big research project that year verbatim out of various books. He offered to either fail me then or there or take the time out to rewrite it. Guess what I chose?
Even now the teachers in my daughter’s school will listen to someone reciting a paper, google the phrase and read along to whatever the wee plagiarist has copied off the web. Oy vey!
There was most certainly no payment involved. :->
@changterhune: There is no downside to plagiarism these days. Ben Domenach lifted stuff from my reviews years ago, for instance, and this did not stop him from being hired by the Washington Post.
If it wasn’t cut & paste, then how do the The Movie Junkies explain the extraneous close bracket after “intact!”. Also, interesting how the snark about the MPAA didn’t make the paste. Wonder why?
Stay tuned for their review of the upcoming great new release: The Dark Knight Raises! Bruce Wayne’s triumphant fight against the 99%!
The text has indeed changed, and apparently whoever’s in charge over there can cut-and-paste but is not so much with the writing.
Indeed, they have changed the text. Badly.
I’ve updated the post.
It’s not the only instance. Look at The Movie Junkies’ review of “The Artist”: http://themoviejunkies.com/the-artist/ posted 3/1/12 and Laramie Movie Scopes’ review of the same movie, posted in November 2011: http://www.lariat.org/AtTheMovies/new/theartist.html
Yeah, I’m sure that first paragraph is a total coincidence.
Indeed, they have changed the text. Though not very well.
“Shame offers something different than I have ever seen on screen in a main stream movie. For the first a main stream audience can see a man with extreme vulnerability. Fassbender is exceptional is expressing is misery and utter weakness in the fight against his obsession and addiction. Most movies that are available to the mass audiences protect the male image and ego. Even male nudity is treated much more tabu than female nudity.”
Damn it! Sorry about the double commenting, but the comment form appears to have been designed by Vogons. I couldn’t even log in with my contact information because WordPress has the email address on file, so you get a link to my never-used WordPress.com site instead of the almost-as-old-as-Whatever site I actually use. Grrrr.
“There is no downside to plagiarism these days”.
I still remember the Christine Pelton story from, wow, must be about twenty years ago, give or take. She was a HS science teacher who warned all her students on the first day of class that any cheating would be “rewarded” with a Big Fat Zero. As it turned out, about 75 percent of her graduating seniors that year decided to plagiarize large chunks of their final research paper, which was a large percentage of their final grade. Ms. Pelton found out, and gave everyone involved a zero, as promised. At first, her school and school district backed her up, until the parents of the failing students started complaining. So many of them were whining that, because of Ms. Pelton, little Johnny wouldn’t get into an Ivy League school, the district backed off their position and tried to get Ms. Pelton to back off hers. She refused, and resigned. The story made the national news, and suddenly she was inundated with teaching offers from across the country.
I gotta wonder what kind of country I’m living in when the parents are more upset with the teacher for punishing a cheater, than they are with their own kid(s) for cheating in the first place.
Heh. I actually know the owner over there, and sad to say, I’m less surprised than I would wish to be. Too bad.
Not these folks, but a couple of years back, someone informed me that a review of mine on the Syfy Channel’s RIVERWORLD movie had been lifted whole cloth to a website and claimed by the site owner as theirs. People were checking and virtually every post she wrote was from other folks blogs. By the time I got there, complaints had been made and LiveJournal had taken it down, with a note that Kittystrife had thirty days to justify it or it would be permanently deleted.
Why would you be surprised with a site named “The Movie Junkies”? It’s certainly not the first time anyone has stolen to support their addiction.
So I’m a little bored at work and decided to poke around the Movie Junkies reviews. From the first paragraph of their Hunger Games review:
Children of a future realm are plucked from a lottery and forced to fight to the death in a domed outdoor arena. Suzanne Collins book series sold approximately 8 bazillion copies. The idea of teens killing each other off in a PG-13 movie is a bit strange? But I guess it’s no different of the same premise for the wildly succesful trilogy of young adult novels.
From Amy Biancolli’s review of Hunger Games on SFGate.com:
Teens killing each other off: Why, that’s a splendid premise for a PG-13 movie, isn’t it? Just as it was a splendid premise for a trilogy of young adult novels.
Yes, I am making light of “The Hunger Games,” in which children of a future realm are plucked from a lottery and forced to fight to the death in a domed outdoor arena. Suzanne Collins’ YA series sold approximately 8 bazillion copies…
It appears that they take the work of competent writers, mangle the words until human brains and search engines can barely parse them, and then click ‘publish’. And this was just the first instance I found after about five minutes.
Ralf the dog said,
[blockquote]Why would you be surprised with a site named “The Movie Junkies”? It’s certainly not the first time anyone has stolen to support their addiction.[/blockquote]
One of my commercial websites was copied, right down to the navigation graphics from a competitor in India. I could not take any legal action against them, however, they were quickly laughed out of the industry. If it happens again, I would contact their advertisers and their hosting company. Nothing wrong with getting scum shut down.
Looks like “they” are going to throw unnamed “staff” under the bus. I wrote the site asking for a comment or reaction before I wrote about the story. The response:
That’s some straight-up bullshit. You don’t “pass on views” based on “other sources” to staff and wind up with word-for-word copying.
This reminds me of the Judith Griggs/Cooksource matter, which as I recall I also discovered from our good host. That ended badly for Griggs – in part because of her entitled attitude. Let’s see if this site can handle it better.
Had a gifted and talented student a couple of years back who needed a wee bit of extra credit. I asked for a movie review of a film based on a novel we read and studied. He turned in an excellent review, written originally by Roger Ebert. He did not get his extra credit.
@Ralf the Dog: I assume you meant “copied … by” rather than “copied … from”, right?
Seems like an important distinction in this context. :)
Now that she’s taken out the plagiarized portion, I see why she did it: she can’t write.
My first question would be “Why?” Why copy a review from another critic.
After a few seconds of thought, I think I know the answer. They need content to attract visitors, and visitors to attract advertisers.
Knowing they have done this makes me far less likely to be one of their visitors. Why would I want to read a review on their site when I could read the same review on a site where the author has been credited? And since I my faith that they have even seen the film is shaken, any changes they make to the review could change it from someone’s opinion to no one’s opinion. I may as well be reading “old Vladivostok telephone directory” (if you know what I mean).
Hmm, a bug-hunt! Should be fun.
Went to the movie junkies site, went to reviews, picked the first “big” film there other than Hunger Games. Which was “The Grey”.
Here is MJ’s review’s first para:
Googled (sans quotes), “grueling survival thriller that pits a small group of plane-crash-surviving oil workers against the stark and brutal Alaskan conditions”.
It hits a number of reviews, including MJ’s as #2. But #1 is this one at qnetwork.com, by James Kendrick:
Busted! Unless the unsigned MJ review was first, or by Mr. Kendrick. Looks like this rock is turned over.
I picked their review of “The Grey” and searched on a likely looking candidate: The manner the director first introduces the wolves—a sea of glowing eyes in the darkness just feet from the fire around which the men are huddled.
This gave me an immediate hit on James Kendrick’s review of the same movie.
It’s pretty clear that one of them lifted the line from the other, but I can’t say for certain which one. I found other hits with different reviews, but in one case the “other review” had a later copyright date than the one on Movie Junkies.
Or, you know, what Leonard said.
Meh. Given the quality of writing at that site, I’d say the reviews, at best, when not plagiarized, are crafted by the same folks who write comment spam.
The practice of copy-paste reviewing and blog posts seems to have become endemic, given that I’ve even come across stuff of mine that was copied. And I’m an absolute nobody. Then, again, maybe my obscurity makes my posts even easier to filch.
Oh the horror of it all….
Got another one. In the lede for the Movie Junkies review of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the reviewer writes:
Horn is riveting in this inspirational story that deals with the tragedy of 9/11 through an intensely personal story of a family, it transcends the cloud that lingers over most of the 9/11 films that have been released so far.
Meanwhile, Bruce Kirkland at JAM! Movies wrote:
While it deals with the tragedy of 9/11 through an intensely personal story of a family, it transcends the cloud that lingers over most of the 9/11 films that have been released so far.
I can’t get through to the site right now (rubberneckers overloading it?) but the plagiarism combined with the horribly fractured original writing sounds reminiscent of a content farm site: a site that’s really just there for links and SEO (and resulting ad and referral revenues), not for any kind of regular audience. (To keep costs as low as possible, many content farms swipe content from elsewhere, or are largely kept up by low-wage workers who aren’t particularly proficient in English.)
If it’s in the content farm business, a bad reputation won’t necessarily slow it down, and if it’s an offshore content farm, direct legal action might be difficult too. But the one thing that’s fatal to content farms is having search engines blacklist or downgrade them. (And they will, if it’s brought to their attention prominently enough; search engines don’t like it when their results are full of junk links that make their users think about going elsewhere.) Their advertising might be another thing to look at: many ad networks prohibit the sort of behavior we’re seeing at Movie Junkies in their terms of service, and respectable companies might also not want their ads associated with this sort of thing.
@John Mark Ockerbloom, I don’t think it’s a content farm. The reviewer, Michele Schalin, hosts a local TV show in south Texas.
First line of Movie Junkies’ review of “The Descendants”, dated Nov 26 2011:
“Smart, funny, heartbreaking, heartwarming, wise, and, despite some sad moments, genuinely optimistic.”
Second sentence, last paragraph, The Aisle Seat’s review of “The Descendants”, view page info shows last modified date as Nov 24, 2011:
“It’s smart, funny, heartbreaking, heartwarming, wise, and, despite some sad moments, genuinely optimistic.”
Movie Junkies last paragraph, same review:
“Woodley is also fantastic. Alexandra reacts exactly as you would expect a 17-year-old to in such a confusing, tragic situation. Woodley sells this completely, yet is also convincing in the part of the role that requires Alexandra to grow up, and fast because her family needs her now. Clooney’s scenes with Woodley are a real find. They are amusing, moving essays of father-daughter dynamics, no slight feat for such a famously confirmed bachelor. ”
azcentral.com, Nov 22 2011:
“Woodley is also fantastic. Alexandra reacts exactly as you would expect a 17-year-old to in such a confusing, tragic situation. Woodley sells this completely, yet is also convincing in the part of the role that requires Alexandra to grow up, and fast. Her family needs her — now.”
Tampa Bay Times, Nov 24:
“Clooney’s scenes with Woodley are a real find. They are amusing, moving essays of father-daughter dynamics, no slight feat for such a famously confirmed bachelor.”
etc etc etc
Jennifer Davis Ewing –
As a sideline: the Pelton case in Kansas was ten years ago (2002).
Time flies when you’re having fun?
Sad, really, that with Google, anyone thinks they can sustain this for very long…
Movie Junkies: http://themoviejunkies.com/the-kings-speech/
“Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are outstanding in these roles. Both actors invest themselves in the reality of their scenes together. We feel how vital it is for Bertie to not embarrass himself when delivering his speech, just as we feel how determined Logue is to teach the king the sort of confidence his role as a leader will require.”
The Aisle Seat: http://www.aisleseat.com/kingspeech.htm
“Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are outstanding in these roles. We’ve seen this sort of relationship on screen before, yet they bring vibrancy to it. Both actors invest themselves in the reality of their scenes together. We feel how vital it is for Bertie to not embarrass himself when delivering his speech, just as we feel how determined Logue is to teach the king the sort of confidence his role as a leader will require.”
They have a Facebook page. I posed a link to this on it. Let’s see if it stays up.
I suppose they could always use the infinite-number-of-monkeys defense.
Kevin B: Or, as Izvestia said, “Ya idoo kuda sam czar idyot peshkom!” (It stinks.)
I get this wonderful image of John dressed as Margaret Hamilton in “Wizard of Oz” stirring his cauldron while she tells the King of the Monkeys “Take your minions and destroy the evil plagarists, my pretties!” Fortunately John uses his powers for good but people he points to sure get a LOT of attention very quickly as the Whatevers swarm.
Fight Club review
Movie Junkies: http://themoviejunkies.com/fight-club/
Tyler’s philosophy, however awkward and preachy, might be an appealing lie to the youth of America, because there is a lot of truth to it. We are a generation of children without fathers. Because a person’s concept of God often has a lot to do with his or her relationship with parents, he or she easily concludes that God is hateful and has abandoned His children. They want to get Daddy’s attention. And who cares if they have to lash out at Him to do it? They’re going to suffer His wrath no matter what, right?
Jeffrey Overstreet @ lookingcloser.org: http://lookingcloser.org/2010/06/fight-club-1999/
Tyler’s philosophy, however awkward and preachy, might be an appealing lie to the youth of America, because there is a lot of truth to it. We are a generation of children without fathers. Because a person’s concept of God often has a lot to do with his or her relationship with parents, he or she easily concludes that God is hateful and has abandoned His children. So, instead of going quietly, acquiescing to the “program” of the corporate ladder, these overgrown boys become rebels, nihilists, spitting in God’s face, because they want to be noticed. They want to get Daddy’s attention. And who cares if they have to lash out at Him to do it? They’re going to suffer His wrath no matter what, right?
Here’s another: The Descendents. Compare this review dated Nov 26 (apparently “by” Michele Schalin):
… to this one by Bill Goodykoontz, dated Nov. 22, 2011:
Complaint/caveat: for some reason my blockquotes are appearing bold for the first para then italics after that. (At least they are to me; Firefox 10.0.2.) That is not my formatting.
This is colossally stupid on “The Movie Junkies” part. They did something that strikes me as just lazy and lost respect and possibly income (and not just due to a lawsuit). But, with a mere mention of Maryann and a link to her site they could have protected themselves while writing a very similar article.
reminds me of some of my business stats students.
Most of these are clearly plagiarized, but some of the purely descriptive bits could be from the films’ press materials.
Not much of it, though.
I did a quick search through the Whatever archives, and plagiarism has come up many times before. I applaud your coverage of this issue and abhor the prevalence that necessitates such coverage. Has intellectual property theft always been this popular?
Yeah, if you’re gonna rip copy, why not rip it from the PR departments. If they don’t already have it, they’ll cook up whatever you want. I think they’ve gotten away from using totally cooked up blurbs themselves, but probably will be happy to crank out some stuff for reviewers. I mean, it’s the movies. Talk about thick as thieves.
I registered there just so I could bring to their attention that they ripped off Eric D. Snider’s review of The Change-Up by trolling the comments section, since I’m totally immature like that. :-)
Since they moderate comments, they keep just deleting my comments and blocking my user accounts.
Silly silly people.
I have, unfortunately, had far too many dealings with compulsive, serial plagiarists. So here’s what’s going to happen next:
1. Attempts to hide the evidence
2. A fake apology
3. An elaborate tale of woe involving personal stress and trauma, ultimately implying it isn’t her fault that she is a serial plagiarist, in fact, she’s really the victim, and we should feel terribly terribly sorry for her.
This is based on years of college teaching and working in publishing. The plagiarist is the same, no matter the context, whether student, tenured faculty, or author.
Do you suppose that her other businesses are as guilty?
I don’t speculate on her other stuff. This is bad enough.
Can someone remind my students (maybe on the end of a Clue-By-Four) about the uncoolness of plagiarism? Oy.
You know, what always amazes me about plagiarism, that I think I have said here before, is how much work people do to do it. If you just cut and paste, yeah sure, that’s obviously faster, but that’s rarely the case. So often, students particularly, they elaborately adjust and blend material, often from several different sources. In the time it takes to find the reviews, pick the ones you want, cut and paste, then revise and blend the text, you could just go to the movie PR site, as folks have mentioned, write a few sentences from the description blurb, add two comments and you’re done. You don’t even have to have seen the movie, which it seems likely this site doesn’t bother doing anyway. Obviously students worry more about prose and structure, since they’re ginning for a grade, but for movie reviews, what this site is doing is way more work. And it’s deliberately half-assed plagiarism when a tiny bit more effort would paraphrase enough to not be that detectable by search engines. There does seem to be some need to steal and fake and taunt detection rather than a simple time or ad money issue. The joy of the con or something. Because otherwise, it’s really illogical timewise.
I know Kat, it’s crazy the amount of effort they put in, it’d be quicker to write your own review!
I could almost be that this woman – and it’s obviously just a one-woman show here – doesn’t even watch most of the films.
Keep up the good work, shut this site down and shame her publicly, no one should get away with this kind of thing. No sympathy for someone who has plagiarised so blatantly and for so long.
This comment thread reads like a Walter Jon Williams thriller. I hope Team Whatever takes that as a compliment.
Oh sweet irony, of all the film names…
@ MaryAnn Johanson
Didn’t he resign after a few days because it came out that he plagiarized a bunch of folks? When you can’t even hang onto a job at The Washington Post, you know you’re a hack.
@ Jennifer Davis Ewing
It seems far too many school administrators will do whatever they think will keep them under the radar and out of any controversy that might cost them their jobs, even if it means endorsing criminal behavior or suspending a victim for getting bullied. May ass-covering piece-of-shit self-serving ethically-blind bureaucrats who soil the good name of devoted public servants everywhere be used as human shields in the coming zombiepocalypse!
@ Kevin B
I know these scumbags and many others perpetrate this sort of skullduggery to get ad money from Google and friends, and have no personal pride in doing a modicum of honest work, let alone creating anything. But the artist and scientist in me is horrified that anyone would have so little self-respect that they would try to pass off the work of another for their own creation. In a world where originality is one of the most precious achievements, how can someone simply replace their voice with the theft of another?
@ Kat Goodwin
The amount of dishonorable effort plagiarists put into stealing the work of others to avoid the noble, fun, interesting and unique act of thinking for themselves reflects a mental sloth and paucity of spirit that bodes poorly for the future of our species with so much dead weight dragging us down. If only Mother Nature would thin the gene pool a bit…
Oh my! The site is under maintenance, today.
I used to edit a DVD website. One review (but one of our worst writers) seemed suspiciously pithy, with a few nice phrases, so I googled into it and discovered he had pieced together excerpts of reviews by like three different people.
When confronted, his defense was that he somehow “accidentally” cut and pasted the review from the “research” he did before writing it (does a review of Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory require reams of research?). I can’t remember if he ever admitted to the wrongdoing (I’d need to look at some seven-year-old archived gchats to be sure), but needless to say, it was the last thing he wrote for out site.
Is it possible that both reviewers are quoting from press release material from the movie studios? Ever read almost the same news article from two different “journalists”? Often they are just rewording the press release written by the PR department and being lazy. Might be the same thing happening here.
Did you actually read the quoted sections? Are you under the impression that movie PR people extensively discuss penises? Because, I have to tell you, I’ve been working with movie publicists for 20 years now, and that’s not something I’ve ever seen one of them do. Publicists for porn studios excepted.
What a lot of these people do is launch a topical site and then farm out the articles to others. Usually this is done as piecework and in far too many cases the price per article is tiny. So, when she blames ‘staff’ it’s perfectly possible to read that as“I’m paying for reviews but paying so little that the people who write them are copying others’ reviews and I’m not even bothering to check to see if that’s happening”. Given the quality of the writing it’s possible she’s paying offshore content farms to do this where the whole copyright thing is seen in a more, er, relaxed light.
None of this makes it right or excusable mind you… but I can totally see this happening. It’s a fundamental flaw in a business model to dive into a business that requires a lot of evergreen content and to not have the funding to generate good, original content. Still, people seem to always have to relearn that.
I’m increasingly fascinated with this Michele Schalin who has plagiarized my work and the work of so many other critics, refused to post a public apology, and answered my queries by banning me from various access points.
Michele Schalin won a Business Person of the Year award from Texas’s Buda Chamber of Commerce: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=196539670376007
If anyone wants to write to the Buda Chamber of Commerce, as I did, about this matter, here’s their site’s contact page: http://business.budachamber.com/contact/
By the way, here’s my own blog post, which features screen shots that show the paragraphs she stole from me for her Fight Club review: http://lookingcloser.org/2012/03/what-an-honor-ive-been-plagiarized-by-michelle-schalin-at-movie-junkies/
My colleague Eric Snider also had his reviews plagiarized, and took his own screenshots for comparison. What’s hilarious is that after he asked her to remove the stolen reviews, she simply changed up the language and continued to steal his writing, maintaining that just because she and he used a few of the same words, it wasn’t plagiarism.
Here’s his article: http://www.ericdsnider.com/blog/2012/03/29/michele-schalin-is-a-plagiarist/
As an Austin film critic, I am embarrassed on behalf of our city and would like to point out that we have many fine film writers in this town (at least one of which was also plagiarized by this thief masquerading as a writer).
Jeffrey Overstreet: “What’s hilarious is that after he asked her to remove the stolen reviews, she simply changed up the language and continued to steal his writing, maintaining that just because she and he used a few of the same words, it wasn’t plagiarism.”
Here again, this all indicates that it’s not a matter of simple ad revenue goals, nor that the reviews were farmed in, unchecked content that contained plagiarism accidentally, or that this woman plagiarized as an act of desperation or panic. If it were those things, on being confronted and the site threatened with legal actions by several people, she would only have to dump the plagiarism that had caused the problem. Instead, she has systematically continued to plagiarize, deliberately and consistently done so badly in an easily detectable manner, reluctantly and inadequately attempted to cover up and mitigate plagiarism claims, and offered what seems to be standard, flimsy defense arguments that really it’s all innocent or some mistake. It seems to be a personal need for confrontation and rebellious behavior, the reviews and what money they may generate being less important than challenging the victims and others from stopping her in the behavior. With students, there are often a lot of other motivations to attempt the plagiarism involving peer pressure, grades, degrees, parental expectations, scholarship money requirements and so forth. With working adults, however, plagiarism seems to be a compulsive bad habit and they seem to want to see if they get caught at it, kind of like shoplifting, a connection that has come up in these discussions before on Whatever. Doesn’t make it any more fun for the people who get victimized, of course.
I just updated events with a new entry.