Here’s to my most ripped-off book

One of the ways, I suppose, that I can say I’ve ‘made’ it is when my non-fiction books are used as reference sources.

hawkesI’ve had a few picked up as university texts over the years, which is great.

Another badge of acceptance is when they are ripped off. And for some reason there are a couple of books of mine that the plagiarists seem to home in on like bees to a honeypot.

Back in the early 1990s I wrote a history of Hawke’s Bay – a social analysis which was published in 1994 by Dunmore Press, then the de facto publisher for Massey University. It’s still in print, though not actively marketed – I field occasional royalty cheques. And it won me an academic award in 1996.

Over the years it’s become the standard interpretation. And it’s been ripped off mercilessly. Slabs of my text have appeared in all sorts of places – the Napier City Council website, for instance. And the book was also apparently used as the basis for an entry in the official online government encyclopaedia, which repeated my interpretation, chapter titles, some phrasing, and the structure of one chapter particularly.

That’s been sorted, but the problem with such widespread online use of my wording is that if I were to put any on line myself – as I am entitled to do, being copyright owner – it’s likely a Google-bot or Amazon-droid will claim it’s ripped off. Whereas in fact things are the other way around. Sigh.

I had to take copyright action when this book of mine was infringed.

The other book that seems to have attracted its share of flattery is Quake – Hawke’s Bay 1931, which went through two editions from 2001 but which is long out of print. Over a decade ago I found an article written by a history enthusiast which was a straight rip – all he’d done is paraphrase my book, sometimes without altering the wording. After consulting my publishers – I tackled the author.

It turned out the problem was the usual one; someone not qualified or experienced in the field had decided to label themselves ‘an Historian’ on the basis of their enthusiasm and had begun writing, without knowing how the process actually worked.

He offered to compensate me by taking me out to lunch, which I politely declined.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


9 thoughts on “Here’s to my most ripped-off book

  1. Ha- gosh I can’t believe he actually offered to compensate you by taking you to lunch- that’s nuts! I guess copying is the best form of flattery- but it still irks me when people do it- besides in the academic world it’s not so difficult to just credit your sources for crying out loud. I can’t believe how casual plagiarism still is :/

    1. Plagiarism happens all the time, alas. Much of it, I suspect, via the standard Humanities 101 technique of taking somebody’s work, summarising it, and then filling out with a few quickly collected ‘other’ sources to disguise the lift. Annoying – as you say, it’s not hard to sling quote marks around something and credit it!

      1. The issue is there’s often a thin line between having the same idea as someone and using someone’s quote to back it up, and straight up ripping it off and pretending you had it. Although you can usually tell when someone’s actually engaged with the quote. But it’s even worse to not credit it at all!

  2. It never ceases to amaze me! Is there any way you can capitalize on this? Sell some of your books on which these things are taken from?
    Keep telling your story, if nothing else!

    1. My ‘Quake’ book has been out of print for years, alas: but I did retrieve the publishing license from Penguin and there is a good chance I can get it republished. The HB book is in print but scarcely sells. I don’t have the publishing license – but I do have a follow up to it in the works. After 22-24 years I have a few more thoughts on that field!

  3. are saying you wrote about a convict ship that arrived in NZ after a mutiny. Which book would you have written about this on?

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