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Internet jollies

27 February 2003

Cyberspace is a happy place, full of rare and wondrous things. Like, for example, the most powerful navy in the world turning to piracy, in that grand old tradition that navies always had. And we're not even talking privateers with letters-of-marque, this is the real thing.

Until last weekend, if you visited the website of the US Naval Academy and navigated towards its military history section, you would have found en route a page warning against the evils of plagiarism. A little further in, you would have found a page about mediaeval castles, which had been ripped off, torn out, stolen entirely from the Outremer site written and run by Jean Rogers to promote interest in my fantasy series and the history of the period.

Bizarrely, the professor responsible denied any accusation of plagiarism, on the grounds that he hadn't actually claimed to have originated the material himself. According to my dictionary, plagiarism means 'to steal from the writings or ideas of another'. If I steal a painting from your wall, is it less of a theft because I do not later claim to have painted it myself? I think not.

Anyway, the Navy has sent in the cybermarines, and civilians can no longer access that part of the site at all. We are told that the page has been removed from their server; cyberwire and cyberdogs stand between us and any way to check it. I do love stirring up paranoia in the military.

But cyberspace is a grand place to grow your own paranoia. Jean refers me to 'GooglePeople', running as a demo on the Avaquest site ('practical text mining solutions'). Google is of course everyone's favourite website, but this is a curious development. You ask it questions, it gives you answers. You ask it 'Who is Chaz Brenchley?' and it is somewhat confident that the answer is Jean Rogers. Otherwise, it offers your choice of a couple of dozen writers, most of whom are friends of mine but none is actually me.

Developing this theme a little, if you ask it 'Who wrote Light Errant?' (correct answer, obviously, me), it proposes two of my pseudonyms, my former agent, a former publisher of mine, my favourite author of girls' school stories and another (different) bunch of writerly friends, half of whom it tags with 'Smith' as an extra surname (Iain Banks Smith, Graham Joyce Smith, Nick Royle Smith - I blame the confusion on Michael Marshall Smith, who comes next in the list and has of course recently discarded the Smith, for his totally terrific The Straw Men). Oh, and Bruce Willis. It's extraordinary how it almost defines me by omission, by punching all the way around to leave a silhouette of me for those who have the eyes to see it.

The game, of course, is to try to guess what connections it is seeing. Some are obvious - but Bruce Willis? The best I can do here is that I have described my novel Mall Time as 'Die Hard 4, The Shopping Mall - except that I forgot to write a role for Bruce Willis'. I guess I may have said that in writing sometime. And then there's Dick Francis, next on the list - and, well, he was married to a Brenchley. But if it can spot that, if it's looking for Brenchleys, then it does know who wrote Light Errant, so why can't it say so...?

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© Chaz Brenchley 2003
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.