Monday, September 23, 2013

Plagiarism Alert: For the Summer by Shey Stahl


Whole sections of "For the Summer" by Shey Stahl were taken from a popular Twilight fan fiction, Dusty by YellowBella (a pen name used by two collaborating authors Mary Elizabeth & Sarah).

This review, by Ari of Bookzilla, displays a word for word comparison of the passages in the fan fic with the ones in For the Summer.

Below is a screenshot of the book and the fan fic (via evilwylie).
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Oh, but it gets better. The summary for the "book" is eerily similar to the summary for an entirely different fan fic titled Pickup Truck by Mary Elizabeth.

Stahl, a "USA Today Bestselling author," is no stranger to Twilight fan fiction. She got her start as a writer in the community posting many popular stories under the pen name Jaydmommy. She went on to pull down those fan fics, reworked and published them as novels. That is until For the Summer, where it appears she may have turned to others' fan fic for the content of her latest novel.

It's important to note that this is not the first time that Stahl/Jaydmommy has been accused of copying scenes and passages from other people's works for her fan fiction. One of her popular fan fics Lapped Traffic (now the published series the Racing on the Edge), was said to contain an entire "shower sex scene" that was lifted from the another popular Twilight fan fic, The Misapprehension of Bella Swan by HunterHunting.



As of right now (9/22/13 @ 10:12 PST) the author is maintaining her innocence, and the book is still available for purchase on Barnes & Noble and Amazon.
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All of this leaves me wondering if her other novels have borrowed passages, and did she only take from fan fic or did she "borrow" from published authors too.


Update: The Plot Thickens.

As of this morning (Monday, 9/23/13 @ 10:03am PST), Shey Stahl's entire catalogue of books have been pulled from Amazon (the titles can be viewed, but they are no longer available for purchase). Please note: some of these books were published by Simon & Schuster, which means only the publisher can pull those books, not the author.* 

*Edited: Dearauthor had originally tweeted that she was being published by Simon and Schuster, but after doing some research I could not find any official conformation that she was published by Simon and Schuster.

Shey Stahl posted to her Facebook (approx 7:00am PST), claiming she voluntarily pulled all her books and was looking into what legal action she could take against the author's she plagiarized. oh the irony.

[screen shot via dearauthor]
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Shortly after this post Stahl deleted her entire Facebook author page.

Oh, but of course, it gets better.

A person claiming to have been Stahl's former editor, Max, came forward to attest that not only did Stahl plagiarize fan fic for her latest novel (For the Summer), but at least one of her other books has borrowed passages from other popular Twilight fan fics. Max claims to have pointed out the plagiarized passages in the book they worked on, Delayed Penalty, to Stahl who refused to remove them, and Max had to seek legal action to have their name pulled from the books.

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Blogger/Author KT Grant made an interesting point in the comments of dearauthor's post about the plagiarism controversy.

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While I don't believe every writer who publishes their fan fiction is capable of plagiarism, I do believe the widespread acceptance of the practice, and the sloppy, unregulated way it's rushed to print by publishers creates opportunities and motivation for plagiarism of fan fiction.

Attitudes about fan fiction not being a legitimate form of literature, and people's shaky understanding of copyright law/plagiarism do not help either. When this controversy first broke many people were questioning if that plagiarism of fan fiction was possible given it's derivative nature.

FYI, It is still plagiarism even if you stole it from fan fiction.


Another Update (Monday, 9/23/13 8:00pm PST)

Galleycat did a story on the plagiarism controversy and contacted Stahl who said: “I’m sorry you feel there are similarities but I have not read the fan fiction in question."

Stahl's current editor, Madison Seidler has posted a statement: "Professionally, I have no legal commitment to speak out, nor do I have legal ties to this book. Obviously, I can’t possibly read every single piece of text out in the world, and truthfully, I’ve never read fan fiction."

While Seidler claims she had no knowledge of the plagiarism, Max, Stahl's original editor claims she emailed Seidler about the issue.


Max is also claiming she is now being punished for speaking out about Seidler's prior knowledge of Stahl's plagiarism. Sarah Hansen of OkayCreations, who designed all of Shey Stahl's book covers and has close ties with Seidler, is allegedly refusing to do cover art for any authors who work with Max.

Shey Stahl's official website is "down for maintenance." And her Twitter account has been set to private.

And finally, it looks as thought another of Stahl's books is plagiarized. Everything Changes has "borrowed" passages from yet another Twilight fan fic, The Art Teacher by spanglemaker9The author of the fan fic left a review with screenshots and compared the passages side by side.


Yet Another Update: (Tuesday, 9/24/14 3:22pm PST)

From Shey Stahl's Facebook
Who is Shey Stahl?

A little bit of internet sleuthing bought me to Shey Stahl's other author facebook page that is still viewable (as of 9/24/13 2:00pm PST). Stahl has also neglected to delete her old blog, which displays one of her old email addresses, that incidentally enough is connected to another lesser known fan fiction pen name: pitprincess. Interestingly enough pitprincess is the only favorite author of Stahl's other (more widely known) fan fiction persona jaydmommy.

Her novel Everything Changes, that features plagiarized scenes and dialogue from the fan fic The Art Teacher by spanglemaker9  began life as a fan fic titled MOAB and was posted under the pen name pitprincess. Note the similarities to the summary of the book.

The fan fiction Stahl posted under the pen name jaydmommy also looks to have been cobbled together from the plot, ideas, scenes and dialogue of other Twilight fan fiction. Stahl's Racing Edge series began life as an over 300,000 word long fan fic titled Lapped Traffic. As I noted earlier, Lapped Traffic was at the center of a plagiarism controversy when it was pulled from FFnet to be published. Judging by the layout of the Racing Edge series, Stahl split the length fan fic into several smaller books. Which has made pin pointing which ones contain instances of plagiarism difficult, but not impossible. 

As it turns out sections of Happy Hour, the first book in Racing Edge series has been identified as having sections taken from the once Twilight fan fic and now published novel Gilded Cage. Below is a side by side comparison of Gilded Cage (in white) and Happy Hour (black background).


Another aspect of Stahl's unique style of plagairsim is how she not only borrows text, but also story structure and even plots points of other fan fics.

For the Summer, which has already been exposed for having borrowed heavily from the fan fic Dusty, but has recently found to also borrow its title and story structure from yet another fan fic, For the Summer by Camoozle.


Similarly, Stahl's novel Waiting for You, which began life as the fan fiction Watching Waiting, borrows plot points from the fan fic God Love Her by Lynyrd Lionheart


Whether this technique is truly plagiarism or shady form of borrowing or inspiration I'm not sure. However, it is a strong indication of a pattern of using other writer's work to bolster her own, and then profiting from it by publishing. 



Mini-Update: (Wednesday, 9/25/13 10:15am PST)

The second author facebook has been deleted, along with her author Twitter account. Thought the fan fic account @jaydmommy is still up. 

Stahl also has been removed from the website Trident Media Group site, her agent was MacKenzie Fraser-Bub, but one of my sources was able to obtain a screenshot via the Wayback Machine. 



Update: (Wednesday, 10/2/13)

It looks like Stahl's book Everything Changes has borrowed from yet another Twilight fan fic. The fan fic in question is The Practicum by TheFicChick. The passage used is an explicit sex scene. The top passage is from The Practicum and the bottom Everything Changes.


If you are a Twilight fan fiction author and suspect that Stahl may have plagiarized your work please contact me via Twitter (@einfach_mich or snarkycake@gmail.com)


Update: (Wednesday, 1/20/14)

Just when we thought we had seen the last of Shey Stahl, she returns to share her side of the story and reassure her remaining fans she will write again.

She returns to the internet armed with an eight page letter explaining the what she has done isn't plagiarism, but rather that her works were simply "similar" to other Twilight fan fics.  [The letter was tweeted out by the Dear Author blog. It was posted on her website, that is now up and running again.]

Nothing is 100% original. How could anything we write be 100% original, given that we share similar experiences as human beings and use common language so that we can communicate out emotions and ideas?
Spanglemaker9, the author of the Twilight fan fic The Art Teacher, which Stahl borrowed heavily from, still disputes this claim. She tweeted in response to Stahl's letter sharing a document that compares her fanfic to Stahl's work.


Stahl has began using her facebook account again, and is actively blocking critics and authors, like Spanglemaker9, who have sent her cease and desist letters to prevent Stahl from attempting to profit from their work again. 

In her lengthy letter, Stahl also laments the backlash she's experienced since the accusations of plagiarism began to pop-up.  Stahl mourns the lose of her editor, cover artist and agent over the incident, and even claims she and her family have experienced harassment and bullying by angry readers and members of the Twilight fandom. 


Please note: In the entire time I've been following this controversy I haven't witnessed any of the images of Stahl's family that are mentioned in her letter. There was most definitely disparaging remarks about her and her character on Twitter, Facebook and GoodReads, but nothing about her family. They could have been emailed directly to her, but several exhaustive searches of the internet turned up nothing online.

She also accuses her former editor of lying. Saying that she was only ever cautioned against using character names that are reminiscent of Twilight. Which would make it obvious her books were once Twilight fan fiction.

Stahl also accuses her former editor of giving out her personal information to whomever asked for it. I personally, have a hard time believing this statement since never in any of the private message conversations I had with Max, Stahl's former editor, did I once receive any personal information about Stahl. Max keep to the details of the plagiarized passages, and her request to have her name removed from Stahl's book. All the information that I have on Stahl was obtained from her public facebook account and following the trail of her old fan fiction accounts.

At the end of the letter Stahl reassures us that she has run all her books through a plagiarizer checker, and will continue to do so with her future books. She thanks her fans and to the other authors involved she wishes "all the success they deserve."

On that ominous note, I'm left wondering how will this controversy affect the future prospects of Stahl's work and if readers can ever truly trust that her work is original. Or if they must accept that, as Stahl says, nothing is 100% original.

If Stahl is right, how can we ever hope to draw a line between inspiration and imitation?


Update: (1/21/14)

Spanglemaker9 brought another interesting point to my attention in the comments of my latest Booklikes post. After doing a little research I decided that it deserved to be examined a little closer. So...

Let's talk about timelines.

In Stahl's public letter, on her website, she admits to posting her books as fan fiction form "back in late 2009" and said that none were completed before being pulled.


I can only find evidence of four fan fics posted under Stahl's two different fan fiction accounts. While I can confirm three of them were pulled before completion, Lapped Traffic was completed and outtakes were posted for it before Stahl pulled it down. There are copies of the completed Lapped Traffic with outtakes circulating on the internet.

However, what's really interesting is the date that Stahl claims to have posted her fan fic, "late 2009."

Stahl used two pen names (that we know of) to post fan fiction, Jaydmommy and pitprincess. What's interesting about them is both were created after 2009. Jaydmommy was created in 2010, and was the account under which Stahl posted Lapped Traffic, which went on to become the Racing on the Edge series (the first books that Stahl published). While the pitprincess (created in 2011) was used to post Moab, which was published as Everything Changes. 


Why would Stahl contradict the date stamps on her own Fanfiction.net accounts?  Simple, because all of the fan fics that she copied from were posted in or after 2010. 

For the Summer by Camoozle posted 4/30/10 [copied for For the Summer]
The Misapprehension of Bella Swan (2/25/10) [Lapped Traffic]
The Art Teacher by spanglemaker9 (11/7/10) [copied for Everything Changes]
A Gilded Cage by MissAlex (10/21/11) [Happy Hour]
Dusty by  Mary Elizabeth & Sarah (12/21/11) [copied for For the Summer]
The Practicum by TheFicChick (1/13/13) [copied for Everything Changes]
Pickup Truck by Mary Elizabeth (5/8/13) [copied for For the Summer]

 This is important, because it looks like Stahl is trying to give the impression that her fan fiction, which was the basis for her books, were posted first. Which would be important to any case, legal or for the sake of public opinion, that she is not only not a plagiarizer, but the victim of this situation. Unfortunately for Stahl, she never bothered to delete either of her fan fiction accounts.

All this maneuvering aside, what really intrigued me was something I found while collecting the posted dates of the fan fiction that Stahl plagiarized and publishing dates of her books.

Stahl actually pulled her fan fiction in 2011. Lapped Traffic (Happy Hour) and Watching Waiting were pulled in February of 2011. While Moab and Air Conditioner From Hell were pulled in December of the same year.

Interestingly enough several of these fan fics that Stahl plagiarized were posted after Stahl pulled her fan fiction from the internet. Which is a strong indication that Stahl was not only plagiarizing while writing fan fiction (like Lapped Traffic), but that she continued to "borrow" from Twilight fan fic while "rewriting" and editing her books (For the Summer and  Everything Changes) for publication. In the case of the fan fic Pickup Truck and For the Summer, Stahl was even copying the summaries for fan fiction to create blurbs for her published books.

When you look at the sheer scope of the copying Stahl's claims that any similarities between her work and the fan fictions listed are coincidentally don't hold water. Rightly so. This kind of plagiarism could never happen by accident.



I've seen a lot of people dismiss plagiarism as "lazy." After investigating the Shey Stahl controversy, I have to disagree. Shey Stahl did a lot of work to camouflage other writers words to pass them off as her own.

Stahl not only had to source her stolen words from multiple sources, but she had to conceal her theft by melding her writing with the work of others. She achieved this through rearranging sentences, changing tenses and even rewording sections. Which explains why her books (as she claims) "pass a plagiarism checker." Those kinds of programs are looking for exact words, and specific sentence similarities. Looking at how Stahl disguised another author's words as her own it's easy to see how she could fool a computer program.


It's no wonder after all this work to rewrite other writers words that Stahl feels she's earned the right to call it her own creation. The question is has she convinced anyone else.

34 comments:

Yes, all creative writing is covered by copyright law in this country. Fanfiction is a legitimate form of artistic expression and all authors should know their rights.

I think its Sick was she has done!! Its one thing to steal someone's Fic and put it as your own under another PenName on FF.net but its something entirely different to actually steal someone's work and say its yours and make Money of off it!! As for FanFiction a lot of those Authors use there own ideas with someone else's Characters like CaraNo with Our Yellow House the only Similarities with Twilight that Fic has is the Names of the Characters the Idea and Plot belongs to the Author.

Tiffany,

Thank you for summing it up so clearly. :)

Bree,

It's is terrible to exploit the hard work of any artist. I'm glad she's been exposed. There are MANY people both in the fan fic and publishing world who agree.

Love how you clearly defined what's been going on these past few days.

Sadly, most indies are the publisher, so checking the final product for plagiarism is moot. I'm sickened by this. I loved Dusty and Mary Elizabeth. With all of Stahl's other stories now being scrutinized and more plagiarism coming to light, she'd better tell her lawyer to go on the defensive instead.

I am so disgusted as a reader, book blogger and as an author, as well as one who reads and wrote fan fiction. Good investigation on this!

Apparently her MO is using storylines/bits and pieces (if not exact passages) of a slew of other author's fanfictions to create her "original" stories. See this thread http://adifferentforest.com/Campfires/22465 toward the bottom for a glaring example that she actually borrowed more than the title from camoozole's For The Summer... and she also seems to have borrowed basic storyline and specific scenes for Waiting For You from the fanfiction God Love Her by Lynyrd Lionheart,

Devon,

It's so true there are no guardians against this kind of thing in the indie circuit. Though I feel Amazon has an ethical obligation to refund all the sales for her books, and to peruse her legally. Not sure if they'll bother, but it would set a good example for other plagiarizers and give them pause before attempting to do what she did.

KB/KT Grant,

I think everyone both in the publishing and fan fiction world should be disgusted. This is not right on any level.

Vivian,

Thanks so much for the tip. I'll look into it immediately. :)

Thanks for the great summary of events. There's another, I'm not sure you're aware of, but I've been told that she hijacked passages of Alexandria Richland's "Guilded Cage" short story and put them in her book "Happy Hour". I haven't had a chance to investigate (I don't have access to Happy Hour) but it might be worth looking into.

Fanfic is a modern soundbite for a genre that has a long history. The Wide Sargasso Sea (Jane Eyre) by Jean Rhys, Foe (Robinson Crusoe) by Coetzee, and there are many others. One I loved was Hester Prynne's account of Scarlet Letter by feminist writer of today, and well, so many of them. And they are literary art. Most fanfic is not but there are a few exceptions and Dusty is one. I will add A Garment of Brightness, and Hide and Drink. Most are in the order of True Romances magazine type. Forgettable but with lots of explicit smut.Many young authors are learning. Others are cashing in. That's the way the book world works. Shey just went at it like a jackdaw or pack rat bringing treasures back to the nest to be woven in.

JM,

I've just received screenshots of Happy Hour and Gilded Cage and will be adding them to the post, but thank you for bring it to my attention.

seymourblogger,

I agree there is a long, honored history of fantastic derivative works through out literary history. I do not agree with the disparaging tone you use in reference Romance or the other Twilight fan fics. I would argue that are many well written stories in the Twilight fandom, as well as other fandoms. Explicit sexual content is no more a marker of quality than supernatural content.

Yes, new authors both in fan fiction and the publishing world are always learning. There is no shame in that, but it also isn't true that every one who writes fan fic is a new, learning author. Let's not spread misinformation or misrepresent other authors, the genre of fan fiction or the Twilight fandom.

Let's still to the facts we know about Shey, and leave judgements of other unrelated works, and authors out of it.

Thank you.

Thank you for taking the time to document all this

I would be happy if you Jeanne could give me some links for well written and more literary fanfic that is not of the True Romance with additional smut genre. Please. I have read many many of them and usually stop way before I finish because they are repetitive and boring. Any really good links would be very welcome. But please, of the quality of Hide and Drink, A Garment of Brightness, and Dusty. And not MOTU please.

This is such a shame. The "author" I see now has done the deny-deny-retreat, and we can only now assume she has no defense to her actions at all.

Sadly this makes so many look at the Indie authors. It is upsetting because there are so many amazing Indie authors and stories out there and the unscrupulous actions cause them to get lumped in to shenanigans like this. The same for P2P authors.

Whether you are for or against, there have been a great many fantastic FF stories written and published. For them to be plagued upon like this with minimal legal recourse is a shame.

Her Facebook account is gone as of sometime yesterday

MsTallulahBelle,

No thanks needed. :)

theladykt,

I think it's important for someone to document incidents like this in one place with screenshots and timelines. Hopefully, we'll never have to deal with something like this again.

:)

seymourblogger,

Here are few off the top of my head.

Ithaca is Gorges by giselle-lx (or anything written by giselle).
East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Alydia Rackham
A Federation fo Cassandras by FoiPur
A Handsome Woman by winterstale
If Love Could Light a Candle by pastiche pen
Say Something Else by vampireisthtenewblack
The Beauty Within by afragilelittlehuman
Pressed for Time by Chele681 and Twanza
The Art Teacher by spanglemaker9
Boys with Girlfriends by audreyii-fic
Bonne Foi by Amethyst Jackson
An Introduction to Swirl and Daisy by m81170
Holding Sam by MeraNaamJoker
Mr. Horrible by algonquin
Hair of the Dog by Incog_Ninja

This is a quick list, there are still many more well written fan fics in the fandom. I could spend all day listing/linking them all.

I assumed you were only interested in Twilight fan fic, since the three fan fics your listed are from that fandom. If you want to expand your reading into other fandoms I can provide even more links to well written fan fics for many other fandoms (Harry Potter, ASOIAF/Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Star Trek (both original series and reboot), Merlin, Marvel, DC, Transformers, Lord of the Rings, Spartacus, The Hobbit, Teen Wolf, and many more).

Well written "literary" fan fiction isn't rare at all. It is everywhere, in just about every fandom. You just need to know where to look.

Happy reading.

Credoroza,

Sad, but true. I've seen several book blogs decide to no longer accept request for book reviews from indie authors. While I dislike the practice P2P, I do think it's unfair how all of those authors are not tainted by association and possibly for the rest of their careers. I agree, that there is a wealth of well written stories that came out of the Twilight fandom.

:)

Karrie,

Thank you. I'll update the post.

This is certainly concerning, but we should all be careful about turning it into a witch hunt. Sarah Hansen of Okay Creations is a professional, and without interviewing her, I think it is a mistake to list her here.

Jamie,

I would say this is far more than just concerning, but I can see how the plight of your friend is more of a priority for you.

This post is not a news site, but a personal blog. Most of the information document above was either found by me, or shared with me by volunteers. It comes from single, quoted sources that I've provided screen shots or linked to direct, like the information about Sarah.

She is free to contact me to enlighten me on her side of this situation, and honestly, it would be more appropriate if she were to do so. Than for you to do so on her behalf.

Thank you for your time and concern about this situation.

J

Is there anything we can do to help the ladies of YellowBella?

JulizaRose,

Not that I'm aware, but I will reach out to Sarah and Michele and update my post (and Twitter) if they need help or if there are more developments.

Thanks for asking. :)

seymour blogger;
all of the above, and Carson Dyle comes immediately to mind. lots more if i looked through my favorites.

Guess who's trying to sell books again.

http://www.amazon.com/Happy-Hour-Racing-Edge-Stahl-ebook/dp/B007SWTY82/ref=la_B007YJPO4C_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396403285&sr=1-5

Looks like it's been back up on Amazon since sometime in March going by the most recent reviews. Some don't even understand why she is being accused of plagiarism. Seems like this blog post should be pointed out to them.

A C&D has been sent to Amazon, but as far as I know nothing has been done. Amazon doesn't care that she's ripping off fan fiction authors. Sadly, there's no stopping her.

http://www.maryelizabethlit.com/2014/04/bitch-stole-my-look.html?m=1

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