October 28, 2008

The Multiple-life Syndrome and Other Stories

I’ve been on the Internet a long time and all this time, I’ve never (except during the early stages and even then only sporadically) used a handle, pseudonym, nickname or what have you. I’ve always been Fahim and it’s been easier to do things that way. I didn’t really want to have a whole second life on the Internet – I just considered the Net an extension of my existing life.

So it always amazes me when I hear stories about people who create a completely fictional life online just for their own jollies. Or in some cases, to make profit or to harass people. It gets even weirder when people create multiple lives for themselves online. I read about a couple of instances which truly boggled my mind yesterday and so I just had to comment on them :)

I came across the name Cassandra Clare because Laurie was reading this long thread which had something about her and a plagiarism brouhaha (more about that later …). So I became curious and began reading about Cassandra Clare (or Claire, as she apparently also spells here name).

Basically, she had first shot to fame with a parody of The Lord of the Rings called The Very Secret Diary, written in the vein of Bridget Jones’ Diary. (There’s something interesting there too – according to some, she stopped writing The Very Secrete Diary herself but was incensed at others continuing her work. That sounded very strange to me but I guess I’ll have to get back to that later in my discussion about plagiarism …) Anyway, Cassandra had then moved on to Harry Potter fandom and wrote quite a bit of fan fiction set in the Harry Potter universe and this apparently made her even more famous. So famous, that she became a BNF (Big Name Fan) and apparently everybody wanted to be her friend.

And it was at this point that we have the second player in the drama, Msscribe, makes her entrance. Apparently Msscribe wanted so much to be a friend of Cassandra, that she created other personas (sometimes known as "sock puppets" on the web :p) to talk up Msscribe and to link her to Cassandra (and her circle of friends) at any and every opportunity.

The complete story is so bizarre that I don’t think I can do justice to it in a brief fashion. But suffice it to say that she had not one or two, but at least half a dozen (probably more than a dozen according to the truly wacky story that unfolds if you do some research) different identities either supporting her or attacking her. And all this to gain the friendship (and the reflected status) of somebody who was supposed to be a BNF.

Of course, some of the reading (and summarizing) makes it seem so surreal because some of these created personalities change age/profession/location at various places. Guess when you’re actually going through all of this over a long period of time, it’s really hard to keep track of who does what. But still, when you see that somebody who is originally Msscribe’s new-found fan goes from being a 31-year old mother to an 18-year old student to being Msscribe’s live-in nanny, you know that you’re not in Kansas anymore :)

According to all the stuff online, Msscribe was finally shown to be a puppet-master extraordinaire and she also seems to have made some really bad choices in picking real enemies to attack (not just made up ones who were also her) and so became unpopular. Interestingly enough, it also appears that Cassandra herself provided some information which confirmed that Msscribe was the same person as some of her puppet personalities. And so ended the saga of Msscribe.

But back to Cassandra. It turns out that she had copied portions from a published author’s novel and used it in her fan fiction after changing just the names. Her excuse? She had written the paragraph(s) in question down in her writers’ notebook and came back to it months later and didn’t remember that it had been written by another author and thought that she’d done those. So the names in there was changed by the tooth fairy? Or did the Easter bunny have something to do with it?

The truly amazing thing here is that fan fiction is supposed to be a labour of love. Most writers would say that there is no money in fan fiction. But Cassandra had managed to make thousands of dollar (according to some accounts over ten thousand dollars) by writing fan fiction.

How? By preying on the generosity (and gullibility) of her readers. In this case, she played pretty much the same game as Msscribe, but without the sock puppets. She (or rather her friend) announced that Cassandra and her room-mate had had their computers stolen when their apartment was burgled. So this friend started a fund drive among the Cassandra Clare fans, purportedly to buy a new computer so that Cassandra could keep writing her fan fiction.

But once the amount collected went over what was needed to buy the stolen computers, other things got added to the list of stolen stuff and the fund drive continued on. And this is not counting the money that Cassandra Clare was making off of various CafePress stores that she’d created to sell items from her fan-fiction, which was itself based on copyrighted material belonging to someone else.

The biggest surprise of all? After doing all of this, Cassandra Clare has gotten a book deal with a well-known publisher and is now a published author! Surprising? In this day and age, I wouldn’t call it surprising. In fact, if I was a cynical person by nature, I’d say that she got the book deal because of her infamy rather than in spite of it. The publisher probably figured that she was well-known enough that she would sell whatever she wrote – I just hope they check the stuff before it’s published to make sure that she hasn’t accidentally copied something on to her new draft that was written by somebody else …

The other thing that struck me while reading the whole Casandra Clare affair was the whole copyright thing. Cassandra had apparently been in the habit of quoting things from well-known TV shows and movies in her works (in addition to taking stuff from other authors). Now it appears to be often said that she should have attributed all of these sources in her material or that she was in copyright violation and I’m not so certain about that. But that’s probably another entry for tomorrow …

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Tags: Interesting, Internet, Society, Writing
Posted by Fahim at 5:52 am   Comments (1)