Friday, January 4, 2013

Plagiarist of the week

Every first year college student gets a face-full of anti-plagiarism material, including statements that have to be signed and sometimes even a class which must be taken. Students who are caught plagiarizing risk failing a class, academic probation or worse. There also is no wiggle room as to what is plagiarism or what isn't - taking someone's idea and rewording it, but not citing the reference, is enough for it to count. Copying someone's text word-for-word is just a degree worse, not a completely different crime.

The MLA uses this definition of plagiarism in their Statement of Professional Ethics (an article which is fully referenced):
In this statement we adopt the definition of plagiarism given in Joseph Gibaldi's MLA Style Manual: "Using another person's ideas or expressions in your writing without acknowledging the source constitutes plagiarism.... [T]o plagiarize is to give the impression that you wrote or thought something that you in fact borrowed from someone, and to do so is a violation of professional ethics.... Forms of plagiarism include the failure to give appropriate acknowledgment when repeating another's wording or particularly apt phrase, paraphrasing another's argument, and presenting another's line of thinking" (6.1; see also Gibaldi, MLA Handbook, ch. 2). It is important to note that this definition does not distinguish between published and unpublished sources, between ideas derived from colleagues and those offered by students, or between written and oral presentations. 
Plagiarism is something a lot of tabletop gamers don't think about too much, at least in the products they buy. Most books have a large amount of original content, and many which have required research or are working off of others' ideas at least contain references. The authors don't shy away from admitting their influences - publishers of Mythos-based rpgs don't say, "Oh, we have nothing to do with H.P. Lovecraft. He wrote about Cthulhu and our Geriatric Singular Diety is called C'htool'hu." Of course, there is the whole Jim Shipman affair, which has surprising parallels to our plagiarist of the week - perhaps not in scope, but in terms of denial and continued doubling down in the face of an avalanche of blowback.
So who is the Plagiarist of the Week? Do you really have to guess?


"Hi, I'm Mykal. You can't handle my smoldering plagiarism."

Dark Phoenix Publishing's various notes and other text go beyond simply copying ideas and not crediting them (which is still plagiarism; I trust the MLA over some two-bit fake). They actually tread into territory of copying text word-for-word - on top of using artists' work without any credit whatsoever, and continuing to sell products which contain the infringing work.

Laughing Cow Cheese, a poster on RPG.net, subjected himself to the grueling task of checking some of the text associated with Dark Phoenix Publishing and their products. This is what he found.

The text from this has sections taken almost verbatim from this page on the Manataka Indian Council website. The Memory-Hole Proof version of the Dark Phoenix Publishing FB text has been preserved here and here. Last minute update: It appears the author of the article has also commented on the note.

Portions of the description of their Chtulhuhu game where copied verbatim from the Wikipedia entry on the Cthulhu Mythos. Again, the MHP version is here.

This note on why vampires are immortal copies text from A Modern Guide to Demons and Fallen Angels. MHP version of the note.

For the big finale, we have their submission guidelines, which are most helpfully swiped from Dark Horse Comics' guidelines. MHP Versions: 1, 2, 3.

What we have here is a "publishing company" being run by an individual who doesn't have a single clue about how to maintain integrity during the creative process. I refuse to speculate as to whether this is through lack of ethics, ignorance, or willful disregard for others' work. Considering the fact that "Mykal Lakim" (which, not surprisingly, isn't his real name) is full of excuses for pretty much everything, it wouldn't surprise me if he denied responsibility for any of it. It is a company of 20 people...any one of them could have done it! Regardless, if "Mykal" has plagiarists in his midst and he enables them, he's just as culpable. At this stage, if he doesn't try to put some kind of spin on the plagiarism it would almost be a letdown. When someone asked what happened to their stolen company logo art, the response was, "we're upgrading yet again in an effort to update our company and make certain changes for 2013 [...] We're trying to credit everyone who requires being credited for the work they have done, when they do it." Except "updating" means "being forced to remove our stolen logo" and "credit everyone who requires being credited" means "when someone makes us give them credit."

As in the Shipman affair, we owe it to ourselves and the creators of the games we play and enjoy to not allow anyone to rip off anyone else, and to get the word out when we see it happening. It's very, very bad for our hobby and the roleplaying industry as a whole. As roleplaying gamers we should never stand for it, and never accept excuses. No one is allowed to plead ignorance about working with "other companies and artists". No one should be giving this "company" their money. Hopefully this is a wake-up call to "Mykal" that he doesn't have any right to blatantly copy other people's works, repackage them, and sell them as his own. Like Steve Conan Trustrum of Misfit Studios said, "Own your shit". It's not a hard thing to do - and too easy to tell when someone isn't.