Eric D. Snider

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Michele Schalin is a plagiarist

Michele Schalin is a forty-something woman who lives in or near Austin, Texas, where she owns a web-design company, hosts a weekly Internet TV show (this you gotta see), and writes film reviews for her website, The Movie Junkies.

Well, that’s misleading. For one thing, The Movie Junkies seems to be gone now. For another thing, Michele Schalin didn’t write the reviews she posted there — she mostly plagiarized them from real writers, like some kind of craven word-thief.

Nobody knew who Michele Schalin was until Wednesday, when my colleague Mike McGranahan of The Aisle Seat discovered that she’d stolen significant portions of several of his reviews. Mike poked around and discovered that she’d also pilfered from Will Goss, MaryAnn Johanson, Jeffrey Overstreet, and — aw, hells no! — Eric D. Snider. That’s meeee!

It was my review of “The Change-Up” that had caught her attention. It’s a very well-written review, I admit. The temptation to steal it must be intense. Here is what she wrote, next to what I wrote, with the identical parts underlined for easy reference. (Click to embiggen.)

Click to embiggen

Sometimes it is difficult to identify an instance of true plagiarism. This was not one of those times. I sent Michele Schalin a message that read approximately as follows. (I used the contact form at The Movie Junkies and didn’t keep a copy, but this is as close as I can remember it.)

I’m writing to inform you of something you already know: your review of “The Change-Up” is largely plagiarized from my own review of “The Change-Up,” published here: http://www.ericdsnider.com/movies/the-change-up

Please remove the stolen review at once, along with any others that are not your own work. If you do not comply by Monday, April 2, 2012, I will notify your web host of your activities and pursue legal action.

I don’t want any excuses or apologies. Just get rid of the stolen review and don’t do it anymore.

Sincerely,
Eric D. Snider

A couple hours later, I got this response:

I apologize for the error. The review has been changed Eric. Please let me know if you see anything else that needs to be changed.

Thank you,
Michele

Ah, yes. The “error.” Just an ordinary ol’ mistake, copying and pasting my words into a text document, rearranging a few of them, and posting them on her site. Could happen to anyone! But like I said, I didn’t care about apologies or explanations. She wants to save face by calling it an “error,” fine with me.

But then I looked at her site. Here is how she had changed it. (Click to embiggen.)

Click to embiggen

I responded thus:

Well, no, Michele, it’s still full of plagiarism. For example:

You wrote: They both do an impressive job of establishing their opposite characters in the film’s opening scenes, and then do an even better job of impersonating one another’s mannerisms after they’re switched.

I wrote: Bateman and Reynolds do an impressive job of establishing their opposite characters in the film’s opening scenes, and then do an even better job of impersonating one another’s mannerisms and delivery after they’re switched.

You wrote: I especially enjoyed Bateman as he gets to cut loose like I have never seen him do before.

I wrote: There is glee in both actors’ performances, but especially in Bateman’s, as he gets to cut loose when inhabited by the reckless spirit of Mitch.

You wrote: I think the script went a bit over board when Mitch is supposed act like a lawyer for Dave and instead behaves like a goof, swearing in board meetings and stealing free snacks from the break room. He’s an irresponsible slacker, not an idiot. I am sure he would know how a responsible adult would act. Also, he makes a living as an actor but makes no effort to play the role of Dave until finally really pressured by Dave to do so.

I wrote: Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t trust the actors’ facility with comedy and goes overboard to ratchet up the wackiness quotient. When Mitch is in Dave’s body and must pretend to be a grown-up and professional lawyer, he instead behaves like a moron, swearing relentlessly in board meetings and pilfering free snacks from the break room. This is all wrong. Mitch surely knows how mature adults act, even if he isn’t one himself. He’s a slacker, not an idiot. (He’s also an actor, yet he makes no effort to play the role of Dave.)

Some of that is word-for-word theft, and the rest, while not word-for-word, is obviously a rewritten version of my review.

You need to remove the review entirely, or else write one that is COMPLETELY your own.

Eric

I got this reply a few hours later:

Hi Eric,

I have amended it again for you. While I am sorry for the initial error, I would like to point out that just because I choose to write about the same aspect of the movie and possibly use the same word such as “slacker” which I removed for you does not mean it is plagiarism.

I have read many movie reviews or for that matter written material on an endless list of different subject matter where individuals write about the same angles and sometimes use some of the same words.

Michele

It’s hard to read between the lines, but what she’s saying there is, “My name is Michele Schalin, and I’m a weasel, and I’m terrible at lying, and I can barely write a coherent sentence, and I steal other people’s work and eat my own poopie, for the devil!”

Tragically, I neglected to get a screenshot of her second revision of the review before it disappeared altogether. But it STILL had plagiarism in it! This, coupled with her brazen assertion that she had done nothing wrong, made me angry. Stealing my work is one thing. I’m not going to tolerate it, but it doesn’t raise my blood pressure. Stealing my work and then treating me like an idiot — like somehow YOU’RE the aggrieved party here — that rankles me.

This was my response to her:

You didn’t “write about the same aspect” and “possibly use the same word.” You COPIED AND PASTED what I wrote. Do you not see how this is plagiarism?

YOU: They both do an impressive job of establishing their opposite characters in the film’s opening scenes, and then do an even better job of impersonating one another’s mannerisms after they’re switched.

ME: Bateman and Reynolds do an impressive job of establishing their opposite characters in the film’s opening scenes, and then do an even better job of impersonating one another’s mannerisms and delivery after they’re switched.

In other instances, you copied what I wrote and changed a word or two. For example, I wrote “He’s a slacker, not an idiot”; you wrote “He’s an irresponsible slacker, not an idiot.” It’s not just the word “slacker” that’s the same, you dishonest hack.

Or where I said “he instead behaves like a moron, swearing relentlessly in board meetings and pilfering snacks from the break room,” you wrote “instead behaves like a goof, swearing in board meetings and stealing free snacks from the break room.” Changing “moron” to “goof” and “pilfering” to “stealing” doesn’t make it not plagiarism when the remaining sentence structure is unchanged.

Please don’t insult my intelligence by pretending it happened accidentally, or that you didn’t realize it was plagiarism. You can’t be that stupid. Nor can you believe I’m stupid enough to buy it.

I’m not the only one you’ve stolen from, as you know. Twitter has been abuzz with it all day; to my knowledge there are at least five other writers who’ve found their stuff plagiarized by you. So this isn’t going to end here. It’s going to end with EVERYTHING you’ve stolen being removed from your site. This won’t stand.

Eric

I got no response. Meanwhile, people had been calling her out on Twitter and posting comments on The Movie Junkies Facebook page (comments she immediately deleted). By the next morning, The Movie Junkies site was gone, replaced by a page that says it’s “undergoing scheduled maintenance” — which makes sense, because that’s obviously a lie, and Michele Schalin is a liar. The Movie Junkies Facebook page and Twitter account have been deleted, too.

I assume this is the end of it. Without having to admit any fault, she got rid of the stolen material and has slunk off into the recesses of the Internet. She will hopefully move on to other endeavors and quit her fanciful notion of being a “movie critic.” The job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway, what with dummies ripping you off all the time.

33 Responses to “Michele Schalin is a plagiarist”

  1. Shawn Levy Says:

    It’s okay, Eric: The job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway, what with irresponsible dummies ripping you off all the time.

  2. Michelle Addams Says:

    Why would you plagiarize an opinion anyway? Did she not watch the movies she reviewed? If that’s the case, why would she want to be a movie reviewer in the first place? It can’t be so insanely lucrative that even people who don’t want to watch movies in general would want to get in on it, right?!

  3. ugarles Says:

    Don’t worry, Eric: The job isn’t as great as people think it is, since irresponsible dummies are ripping you off all the time.

  4. Stefan Vlahov Says:

    Tragically, you neglected to get a screenshot of her next revision of the review before it altogether disappeared.

  5. Biff Miffle Says:

    Eric, plagiarism is not illegal. You can’t be sued for plagiarism, and no one takes legal action against you for plagiarism. That is why students who plagiarize end up getting kicked out of school, as opposed to paying damages in a lawsuit. You can, however, be sued for copyright infringement. Plagiarism is really just a moral issue, and just makes people feel bad. Copyright is a legal issue, and can actually threaten people’s pocketbooks. You might want to consider that when sending threatening letters.

  6. Eric D. Snider Says:

    Biff: Yeah, I know. If it had come down to it, my legal claim against her would have been for “copyright infringement” rather than “plagiarism.” But I wasn’t worried that it would actually come down to it.

  7. Braden, Who Lives at Home Says:

    That first comment made me laugh so violently that it scared my wife. Bravo, Shawn.

  8. David Manning Says:

    Reading this inspired me to go back and reread all the old Samir Patel blog posts (remember that guy?).
    (http://www.ericdsnider.com/snide/patelling-it-like-it-is)
    Do I sense a similar “Snide Remarks” column on the horizon…?

  9. JRM Says:

    Braden, Who Lives at Home preplagiarized me. I totally had that sentence in my head when I saw he had engaged in preplagiarism.

    Speaking of which, how do we know Eric didn’t do the same, possibly through astral projection or ESP? Simply making these determinations based on time stamps isn’t possible, if we are to learn anything from the first Superman movie. Ah, well.

  10. Carolyn Says:

    Such a waste of internet fame. If overnight you become well-known and get a bunch of website traffic, you flipping take advantage of that and at least put something interesting up. She’s just a sad plagiarist now, but imagine if she was a plagiarist who at least rick-rolled or something. That I could respect.

  11. Rob D. Says:

    Yeah, Shawn Levy’s comment was great! Great job Eric stopping her from stealing from you and others.

  12. Chris B. Says:

    I love when you wage war on people, Eric. Tim Nasson, Jeff Wells, Live Universe–this website is littered with the corpses of shameful writers and businesses.

  13. Mike McGranaghan Says:

    In her initial email to me after I complained, she blamed the theft on her “staff.” Aside from Ben Lyons, I don’t know of a single film critic who has a staff, and even that’s not a fair comparison since Ben Lyons is only a film critic in the quotation-marked sense of the word.

    Interestingly, Michele’s web design company apparently specializes in creating sites for Chambers of Commerce. How odd that she serves businesses in one capacity, yet steals from them in another.

    Let’s all hope she is gone for good.

  14. Peter Skouson Says:

    It’s okay, Eric: The job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway, what with irresponsible dummies ripping you off all the time.

  15. Mimiminou Says:

    As I twittered to Michele: “Plagiarism can be reported to Google under the The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998,” which can result in a domain’s ban from search results. Digital shunning!

  16. Sean Crandall Says:

    Biff Miffle, while it’s true that technically “plagiarism” is not the subject of an actual federal statute (as far as I know), I’m interested in knowing how you think that it’s not the same thing as copyright infringement?

    The real problem with copyright infringement is that Eric couldn’t get any meaningful damages, because he’d have to prove that either he’d lost money or Michele Schalin made money off of the infringement. Since that’s very hard, the smart thing is to register collections of all your stuff in 3-month increments (since the copyright statute gives you a three-month grace period after first publication). If you register within three months of first publication or before infringement commences, you can threaten people with statutory damages (up to $150k per infringed work) (or as little as $300, but still) plus attorneys’ fees if they lose. $40 every three months. As far as protection rackets go, it’s not bad at all.

    (Yes, I’m a lawyer. Yes, I practice copyright law. No, I’m not your lawyer, so this is not legal advice and you should assume that I’m lying with deliberate intent to mislead you.)

  17. Andrew D Says:

    I look forward to the followup email from Ms. Schalin demanding that her name be removed from this site. And, because Eric’s a nice guy, he will comply. And thus the terrorists win.

  18. Carolyn Says:

    Sean, your mom’s a lawyer.

    (I liked your post, but was overwhelmingly compelled to write that. Sorry.)

  19. Rosie Perera Says:

    She specializes in making websites for Chambers of Commerce and has won the “Business Person of the Year” award for 2010 and 2011 from the Buda Chamber of Commerce. Wonder what they would think about her as a model business person if they knew she was a plagiarist, and was likely stealing content for them from other chamber of commerce websites she *hadn’t* designed. I believe Jeffrey Overstreet was writing them to tell them about her activites on The Movies Junkies site.

  20. Garret Says:

    Her movie website is undergoing “scheduled maintenance”. Scum of the earth.

  21. maxfrost Says:

    It’s okay, Eric: The job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway, what with irresponsible dummies ripping you off all the time.

  22. Dave Creek Says:

    Eric, the job isn’t all it’s….oh, never mind.

  23. Carolyn Says:

    It’s okay, Mr. Snider: The career isn’t everything it seems to be anyway, what with big jerkfaces stealing your stuff quite frequently.

  24. rob Says:

    In terms of an occupation, reviewing motion pictures falls short of one’s expectations in light of the not uncommon appropriation of one’s verbiage by unseemly ne’er-do-wells.

  25. Phil Cardenas Says:

    Alright, stop it with the “plagiarist” comments. But I have laughed uncontrollably with each passing one…As a teacher, I see stuff like this all the time–students are sadly the worst culprits–and with each day I’m getting closer and closer to requesting that I teach an elective class on ethics and morality at my high school. Hoping I get to do that one day.

  26. Stephen M (Ethesis) Says:

    All I can say is that for many kids, writing papers in high school consists of doing exactly what she did. /Sigh.

  27. Sean Crandall Says:

    Carolyn,

    Welln, now that you bring it up, actually my mom is a lawyer.

    (Not really, but it seemed like the right thing to say. Like I knew this guy once, and somebody said, “Your momma wears combat boots,” and it turns out his mom was in the army, so actually, yeah, she did.)

  28. momma snider Says:

    I used to write my papers with the encyclopedia open next to me, but as early as 5th grade I knew how to change the words so it didn’t sound like I was copying. So I’m appalled for her as well as at her.

  29. Scott B. Says:

    Well. Now the site doesn’t even have an attractive “Maintenance” message–it’s just a blank white screen.

    I hope you’re happy, Eric. The interweb is whiter because of you!

  30. Biff Miffle Says:

    Sean,

    Plagiarism = copying something and calling it your own work.
    Copyright infringement = copying something that’s copyrighted.

    So yes, there is some overlap between copyright infringement and plagiarism, and yes, they can be identical. However, if you put “plagiarism” as a cause of action in a Complaint, it could be dismissed, as there is no such thing as a cause of action for “plagiarism” (certainly not under Title 17). Frankly, in a lot of situations where plagiarism comes up (i.e. in the world of academia), the plagiarism could easily be argued as fair use (such as for an educational purpose), and therefore not copyright infringement. Not the best argument to distinguish the two (I realize that). In any case, my only point was if you’re going to send a cease and desist letter, might as well make it a little more threatening.

    As for the rest of your post, I have no comment on that, nor do I really want to get into a legal debate about the best course of action under the circumstances. Eric already knew what to do, so my thoughts were kind of unnecessary (which I’ve come to realize is true of almost all comments on any online article or blog…. Maybe I should stop making them).

  31. Jettboy Says:

    Plagiarism with movie reviews has got to be the laziest writing ever. It is mostly a person’s opinion anyway. Really, it takes about two hours to watch and the same amount of time to put down your thoughts. The only thing I can think of is she couldn’t afford the tickets to all the movies. If that is the case, it wouldn’t be too hard to write about how expensive it is to watch what no sane person wants to see. Yes Erik, you are insane.

  32. Peter Says:

    Don’t worry, Eric: The job isn’t as great as people think it is, since some irresponsible dummies are ripping you off all the time.

  33. Tom Says:

    Is there not some kind of magic software that will just scour the internet for you looking for snippets of your words? Or do you really have to wait until a reader of both your site and the less-favorable points it out?

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