What do you do when someone repeatedly passes off your work as their own?
I have been repeatedly and systematically plagiarized by Thibaut Dutartre (@Kpaxs). I first realized his fraudulent behaviour in 2019, when it was brought to my attention that he was copying full articles verbatim from my blog and republishing them as threads on Twitter, passing them off as his own work with no acknowledgement or source attribution. After initially agreeing (in a private message exchange) to remove the plagiarized content, he subsequently blocked me from his Twitter feed.
Then, in the fall of 2019, Thibaut launched a paid newsletter on Substack called Connectom, which systematically plagiarized the Caesura Letters (a subscription-based newsletter and quarterly periodical I wrote in 2012 and 2015) as well as my personal blog. Thanks to an astute reader, I was made aware of Thibaut’s ongoing plagiarism this April. I sent Substack a formal Notification of Claimed Infringement, as per the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Based on this evidence, Substack removed 25 articles from Thibaut’s account. While compiling my claim, I also identified five additional cases of potential plagiarism at the expense of other writers. I will notify these authors via Twitter. [Edit: see Twitter thread.]
Given these ongoing and repeated infringements, I am thinking a lot about the vulnerability of intellectual property in the today’s digital environment. While legal instruments like the DMCA provide a helpful recourse in my situation, the time and opportunity cost to enforce one’s copyrights is daunting — especially when perpetrators like Thibaut can easily move between platforms, block public access, and republish writing without permission “secretly” behind their own paywalls. Who wants to spend their time sleuthing the internet, peeking behind paywalls, to protect their writing from plagiarists? This doesn’t sound like the optimal pastime of any writer I know. But until recently, I had never considered the risks with much seriousness. Today’s internet is increasingly populated by paid, subscription-based silos. In this new information landscape, the question of protecting intellectual property online becomes foggier than ever. Do I hire a legal team to monitor serial plagiarists like Thibaut from platform to platform? At who’s expense? Not to over dramatize the point, it is the victims of plagiarism who still pay the most for content piracy, not the plagiarists.
After Substack removed the plagiarized items, Thibaut's imposter stunt on Substack appears to be over. His account flagged for copyright abuse, he cannot continue plagiarizing my material for his scam. He informed his readers, “This newsletter has proven to be more time-consuming than anticipated, and I now realized that committing to a weekly schedule has proven challenging at times.”
But this is the question, is it over?
Is there any of my followers working at @Twitter? I would like to discuss about Revue, Super Follows and Tip Jar.— Kpaxs (@Kpaxs) May 6, 2021
I need to set up a simple landing page to enable a yearly subscription.— Kpaxs (@Kpaxs) May 11, 2021
* It must be simple, no code required.
* Low fees, no functionality needed except the payment part.
* Can connect to a Paypal/Stripe account.
* Ideally, it would accept cryptocurrency payment.
In today’s digital media ecosystem, Thibaut can easily move his paying subscribers to another platform and (once again) sell my writing as if it is his own work. He has already plagiarized my work across two platforms. How would I find out next time? Where does it end? How many more DMCA takedown notices will I need to compile? The prospect of continuing to play this cat-and-mouse game is utterly exhausting. Perpetual Whac-A-Mole. I wrote this post because I suspect the only way to finally “make it stop” is for Thibaut’s readers to hold him accountable. (A personal, private appeal certainly hasn’t worked.) Perhaps the most effective strategy for confronting a content thief in today’s digital space is simple openness and transparency — going public with the evidence.
I am not a special case. Plagiarism happens every day to millions of people. Most of its victims are probably not so fortunate as to even realize it is happening to them. In this sense, I have been lucky. Twice lucky, in fact.
I suspect that being plagiarized is like being burglarized: it is only after it has happened to you that you can genuinely empathize with the sense of violation. But I am choosing to view the entire ordeal as an interesting learning experience. It has given me a new perspective on the potential landmine awaiting the premium digital content and freelance journalism ecosystems. I wonder if current legal apparatuses, such as the DMCA, will scale effectively in a world of paywalls. I am eager to explore this inquiry further. The implications are interesting for the future of online writing, especially in the “creator economy” space.
@jamesshelley FWIW, I believe this is the same guy who was doing the same thing to me a few years back. This guy is serial plagiarizer.
@jamesshelley @patrickrhone I’m sorry to read you’ve both had content stolen by this man. Like you said in your article, it’s the writers who sadly pay the price in time, frustration, and if they choose to pursue legal action, money. There needs to be a solution to this that doesn’t involve locking everything behind paywalls.
@jamesshelley Oh man, how exhausting. I'm really sorry to hear how you've been targeted by this guy. I think you're onto something, too, when you say public, canonical URLs make it harder to get away with plagiarism. There should be some better way for writers to make income off their work.
This is nuts! I am so grateful for your generosity with your work, James. So sorry you're having to deal with this.— Masked Paul Seale (@PaulSeale2) May 7, 2021
My goodness! You work too hard to have someone take credit for it 🥺— Jennifer Martino (@JenniferMartino) May 8, 2021
Sorry to hear you're going through the theft of your work! I'm glad you are speaking out and alerting others.— Anne-Marie Sánchez (@anma_sa) May 7, 2021