Mental illness meets plagiarism

So, the big story I’m seeing this week is about this woman, who self-identifies as having mental health issues, who’s book was pulled for plagiarism, and who is then contracted by LitHub to write an essay about the connection between the two and ends up… well… plagiarizing parts of her essay. (The essay was removed almost immediately upon publication, though PDFs of it are floating around, I hear. Read LitHub’s statement on the whole fiasco here.)

I’ve encountered this before, once through a friend whose poems were cut from his book and subsequently plagiarized by his own publisher, and once with a student who took some work of mine and ran with it. The student, I believe was simply unaware of the gravity of their action, while the publisher, I believe, was mentally ill. The difference? Hard to say. The urge probably comes from a similar place, but one has the capacity to know it’s wrong and stop it? I don’t know. It’s hard to believe that in the age of the search engine anyone could rationally think they can get away with stealing the words of others. I

Regardless, this woman’s career is over, likely before it began. I feel sorry for her, really. She’s navigating some terrain that’s obviously difficult for her without any apparent help.

But while mental illness might EXPLAIN certain anti-social behaviours, and every situation should be looked at in context of a person’s ability and challenges, but it doesn’t preclude or EXCUSE the consequences of those behaviours, as inflicted upon others.

That said, I’m finding the pile-on a little distasteful. I suppose we live in a time where writers already feel ripped off constantly, if simply by the faceless forces of capitalism (everything from copyright laws to piracy to being asked to work for everything from less-than-what-one-is-worth to nothing), and the fallout of this is that when a face DOES appear, everyone goes full Salem witch trial.

Anyway, this person obviously needs some help and I hope they get it.

An author’s online essay on why she used plagiarized material in a novel pulled earlier this year has itself been removed after editors found she had again lifted material.

Jumi Bello’s essay, I Plagiarized Parts of My Debut Novel. Here’s Why appeared just briefly on Monday on the website Literary Hub. Bello’s debut novel, The Leaving had been scheduled to come out in July, but was cancelled in February by Riverhead Books.

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