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even my henchmen think I’m crazy | by maryann johanson

this is the Lianne Spiderbaby piece that Bleeding Cool posted and then scrubbed

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Below is the piece I wrote at the special request of Bleeding Cool about my involvement in the Lianne Spiderbaby plagiarism debacle. Bleeding Cool does not pay its writers — if you’re on Twitter, you may remember that expecting writers to work for no pay is something that BC editor Brendan Connelly and I had a vigorous debate over on Twitter some months back — and I have a personal rule for myself not to work for outlets that do not pay writers. I made an exception in this case, because Connelly asked me specifically to write this piece and because I thought that perhaps an appearance at BC, which has much higher traffic than FlickFilosopher.com, might garner me a few new readers here.

I turned around these 1,300+ words in a little more 12 hours after I agreed to write it. (Those 12 hours include sleeping time.) This was in the middle of an insane thing called Cinema Showcase, which happens in London a few times per year, a sort of film festival for industry only, during which I would see 11 films in four days. I would have seen another film, but I skipped that screening to write this. I could have been working on other things, such as the reviews I’m invariably always behind on. But I wrote this instead.

As you’ll know if you’ve been following my coverage of the Lianne Spiderbaby affair, Bleeding Cool posted this piece and then deleted it a few hours later. I learned about the deletion only because my readers clicking on the links I posted here and across my social media were hitting 404 errors and were asking me about it. No one from Bleeding Cool notified me of the deletion. It took a few days and multiple requests for an explanation before I finally learned that the publisher of Bleeding Cool was concered about legal issues. I still have no idea what specific concerns the publisher has, so there’s no way I could possibly address them and, perhaps, rework the piece so to deal with them, which I would have done if it wouldn’t compromise what I’ve written.

That would have required more unpaid work, but I would have done it if only someone had let me know what the problem was.

Bleeding Cool may or may not reverse their decision at some point and repost this. But this is already old news on the Web. There’s a very small window of opportunity when something like this can be posted and be relevant, and we’re really already past that point. Still, I promised you all that I would share it if Bleeding Cool wouldn’t, so here it is. There’s nothing salacious in it, and it’s probably all stuff you’ve already heard. I apologize if Bleeding Cool’s cold feet have led you to expect something juicy here. I suspect you’ll be rather disappointed.

I am a person for whom principles are important, and I take my principles very seriously. I agonized over the decision to write for a nonpaying outlet like Bleeding Cool. And now I’m kicking myself for having made the choice to do so. Never again.


“Lianne Spiderbaby plagiarized my review of Turn Me On, Dammit!”

I had no idea when I posted that headline on Saturday morning at my film-criticism site, FlickFilosopher.com, what I was getting into.

It started when one of my readers emailed me that morning to give me a heads-up that someone called Lianne Spiderbaby had apparently lifted significant chunks of my review of a tiny Norwegian film called Turn Me On, Dammit! The first thing I thought was, “So it’s happened again.” Because unfortunately, emails from readers telling me they’ve spotted my work elsewhere on the Web, in clearly unauthorized form, is no unusual thing for me. (When you’ve been posting film reviews since 1997, there’s a lot of stuff for idiots to lift.) Typically the plagiarists are running the teensiest of blogs that no one is reading, which doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem, of course, but it does mean that whatever damage they may have done to me, or whatever benefit they may have gotten from stealing my work, was minimal at best.

But this was different. Even though Spiderbaby’s site was the ugliest sort of blogspot junk, it was immediately clear that she has some clout in the horror community. She was listing credits from major publications such as Fangoria and FearNet. She made prominent mention of a book she’s got coming from St. Martin’s Press. (Her site has been put behind a privacy curtain at blogspot, but here’s the link anyway: http://www.liannespiderbaby.com/) And the way she stole from me was egregious.

Wait a moment. Let’s backtrack a little bit. I’m still pretty steamed from the time, back in 2006, when U.S. conservative windbag and cofounder of RedState.com Ben Domenech was forced to quit a prestigious position as a blogger for The Washington Post, just few days after he was hired, because it was discovered that he had previously lifted material from one of my film reviews for one of “his” own. (I wrote about that at the time here.) None of the coverage in the mainstream media of Domenech’s disgrace, such as in The New York Times or The Washington Post, mentioned me or my site by name at all. Which is infuriating. Not that I particularly want my name in the papers, but hey, a little credit where it’s due: my work was good enough for Domenech to steal and pass off as his own, and was part of the work upon which he built a career. And that career was not hurt one tiny bit his unethical behavior, which is really ironic because his schtick has always been that conservatives are the ones with the moral high ground in American politics. I can only guess from what he’s up to now that he’s making more money than I can ever dream of earning.

Back to Spiderbaby: take a look here at how outrageous her theft of my writing is. She lifted huge chunks of my opinion — encompassing the unique expression of my opinion — from a review I wrote. This is not a matter of neglecting to name paraphrased sources. She stole my work. No question. No mistake. No excuse. In one bit, she missed adding a closing parentheses to stuff she snipped (or forgot to delete the opening one). In another snippet, she has truncated my sentence but neglected to reword it so that her version isn’t an incomplete thought.

And she has a freakin’ book deal!

This was way worse than the unknown, unread bloggers who try to pass my stuff off as their own. This was a Domemech-level atrocity.

So I decided to publicly shame her with that “Lianne Spiderbaby plagiarized my review of Turn Me On, Dammit!” And I figured that would be the end of it.

But then, via another reader email, I learned that Mike White of Impossible Funky had posted, apparently nearly simultaneously and certainly without any participation from me, a huge rundown of material Spiderbaby had lifted from numerous horror writers across numerous outlets,with lots of compare-and-contrast. (I was not mentioned in this piece, and I have no idea if White was, at that point, even aware of my existence, never mind Spiderbaby’s theft of my work.) It was starting to become clear that Spiderbaby is a serial plagiarist and has built her career on passing off the work of others as her own.

I got angrier. Not just on my own behalf but on that of all the writers she stole from. Perhaps most readers are not aware that most writers on the Web — even those working for big, well-trafficked sites — are not paid for their writing. But Spiderbaby is paid, and book contracts don’t come with no money attached. This was infuriating.

So I started tweeting links to my post. I tweeted at the horror outlets who list her as a contributor to ask whether they were aware that she was a serial plagiarist. Unbeknownst to me at that time, it appears that over the previous days prior to Saturday, there had been some behind-the-scenes, offline examination of her work going on across the horror community, so it’s likely they did already know. But the reading public needs to know, too, that someone as apparently respected as Spiderbaby had been was actually a fraud.

A fraud who took the work of unpaid writers, working for the love of film, and turned it around for her own profit.

This disgusts me.

It disgusts me more, knowing that Spiderbaby will likely suffer no real consequences for her plagiarism. Just as Domenech did not. Just as science writer Jonah Lehrer did not (he’s got a new book from a major publisher coming!). They’re still working as writers, and doing better than ever, and whatever small backlash that occurred as a result of their crimes against journalism only added to their notoriety and made them more famous.

I posted a link to my post on Spiderbaby’s Facebook page, asking for her response. We had an FB chat that I promised her I would not share the content of without her permission (which she did not grant) because to do so would be unethical. I don’t think she appreciated the irony of this. But I feel perfectly comfortable saying that I heard nothing from her that mollified me, and nothing that made me feel any better about any of this. There is nothing she can do to make this up to those she stole from, or the readers she fooled, and there’s little she can do to make this right. (Trying to sweep it all under the rug, as by deleting her site and scrubbing her Twitter feed, are exactly the wrong things to do.)

I am not a particular fan of horror, am not active in horror fandom, and had never heard of Lianne Spiderbaby until Saturday morning. I have no grudge against Lianne Spiderbaby, and I don’t wish her ill. But I am sick to death of the plague of unethical behavior that infests our culture, and that is so often rewarded. I wish for Spiderbaby to not benefit, in any way, from her actions.

I am a film critic with nearly 16 years experience — and am, in fact, one of the pioneers of film criticism on the web. I’ve been slogging away for little financial reward all that time, because I love film and I love the Web and I love my readers. And I’m way too pigheaded to give it up until there is absolute, incontrovertible evidence that I will never ever ever be able to make a living at this. To the contrary: I am determined to be the first film independent film critic on the Web to make this pay. Somehow.

And when I see someone like Lianne Spiderbaby trying to cheat her way to the top — when she already has better access to talent and publishers than most of us! — it’s enraging. And depressing. I don’t want to think that her way is the only way to do it. And I hope fervently that whatever happens to her in the future proves that correct.

  • James Shapiro

    you got me as a new reader

  • http://www.flickfilosopher.com/ MaryAnn Johanson

    Thank you.

  • LaSargenta

    Yeah, the interwebz remember forevah, but there’s always something new.

  • RogerBW

    Getting access to the sort of publisher who doesn’t care about honesty seems largely to be a matter of moving in the right circles — and being prepared to write to someone else’s agenda.

    I am told there are lots of people who don’t regard plagiarism as wrong — I don’t mean the ones who make excuses, whom we saw turning up in the comments to your last piece on the subject, I mean the ones who simply don’t regard it as any sort of problem to take credit for someone else’s work. But I have never met one…

  • SharedDarkness

    Hi MaryAnn — I’ve followed this (and in particular your perspective) with some keen interest from “across the pond,” as it were, and I salute you on fighting the good, principled fight. As you aptly point out, making a living as an independent entertainment writer on the Internet is extraordinarily difficult, so I think it’s of paramount importance that those who have some experience and play by the rules wade into the breach and help police matters (through just the sort of “public shaming” you first posted) when things like this come to light.

  • Robert H.

    Much has happened in the horror film journalism community in the past week or so… what’s very interesting is that she could’ve possibly gotten away with it a little longer; it’s when she went out of the genre and cribbed your review that made the whisperings hard to ignore, paired with Mike White’s piece.

    Both of you should get a Rondo next year for investigative reporting.

  • Megh Vaughan

    Well said.

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