More plagiarism updates: The story spreads

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(The first story.)

(The first round of updates.)

– The Kansas City Star’s story, which ran Tuesday, has been rewritten by the Associated Press and is thus available for pretty much any paper in the country to run. We know a few papers have done so, particularly in Missouri and Kansas.

– The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story about it. Having already been mentioned at journalism sites and movie-review sites, the story appearing on a university-news site completes the trifecta of institutions that would be interested in the scandal.

– One of the writers at the Hollywood Reporter, Anne Thompson, mentions the story in her official HR blog.

– The Kansas City Aurora, which functions as an underground, non-sanctioned student paper for UMKC, has written a news story and an editorial on the subject. The editorial notes that this is the second time in a year that UMKC has been hit with a plagiarism scandal, as the dean of the College of Fine Arts and Sciences was caught plagiarizing parts of his commencement address last spring. So apparently this is a “thing” over there at UMKC. One more incident and it becomes a full-fledged trend!

– Continued investigation into Samir Patel’s work reveals that it wasn’t just his movie reviews that were stolen. Some of his features and columns were plagiarized, too, including one where he borrowed several paragraphs from — whoops! — the New York Times. The Times’ legal department has been informed of the theft. That sound you hear is UMKC administrators peeing their pants.

– A few people have asked how we spotted the plagiarism in the first place, so I will explain it.

There’s a site called Copyscape that helps writers look for plagiarism of their work. You give it a specific Web page, and it trolls the Internet looking for pages with identical or very similar text.

One of our HollywoodB****slap/EFilmCritic writers was doing that for some of his reviews and found a Patel rip-off. He told us about it, so another writer Copyscaped a few of his own reviews, and found MORE Patel plagiarisms.

That’s when I stepped in, figuring if the guy plagiarized a few times, he probably plagiarized a million times.

I didn’t use Copyscape, however. I used good old-fashioned Google, my preferred method of catching plagiarists. It’s very simple. First I pulled up all of Patel’s reviews from his newspaper’s online archives. Then I skimmed each one, looking for interesting or distinctive phrases — six or seven words or so — that seemed unusual enough that they wouldn’t appear anywhere else on the Web.

For example, where I saw, “The movie is not afraid to get down and dirty with plenty of toilet humor” (in his review of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”), I Googled “down and dirty with plenty of toilet humor” — with the quotation marks, so Google would look for that exact phrase — and found it in an HBS/EFC review. A simple glance at the context of the phrase on both sites, Patel’s and HBS/EFC, showed that it wasn’t just that phrase that recurred (which could have been a coincidence); it was an entire paragraph.

Having found one plagiarism source and noted which parts Patel had copied, I’d continue scouring his review to see if other parts came from other sources. In many cases, it turned out he’d stolen from as many as four other reviews in the course of compiling one of his.

– Finally, a reader named Mike e-mailed me in reference to Monday’s “Snide Remarks” column, which pretended to be the further confessions of Samir Patel. He says: “I’m sure you know how the law applies to your profession, but I’m ignorant in that regard. Is it possible that you could get into trouble for writing that?”

The short answer is no. You get a lot of leeway with satire. No reasonable person would believe that the column was really written by Patel, nor that the outrageous things said in it were true, nor that I even intended anyone to think they were. Publishing such a column on the front page of a newspaper might be actionable, because people don’t expect parody there (unless they’re reading the Daily Herald) and thus might think it was real. But under the heading “Snide Remarks,” where material is understood to be satirical and humorous, no.

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