In the self-publishing world, detail is critical. When you’re running your own business, it’s not enough to just write good books. You need to have a keen eye for marketing, outreach, and so on. This involves savvy promotional work, striking covers, and nurturing an online presence that encourages community. Author Trinity Hall… Well, she decided to go in a different direction.
Photographer Michael Stokes, who works primarily in male figure studies and fitness models, has done a number of photographs for romance authors. Self-published romance authors are often willing to pay top dollar for exclusive rights to an image so they can stand out amid a crowded field. We’ve all seen those same stock images used over and over again, and we’ve seen what happens when authors start accusing one another of copying them (remember Faleena Hopkins?) The author R.R. Banks had a legal, non-exclusive licence for one of Stokes’s images, which Stokes found out was being used by two other authors who did not have said agreement. One author, Ava G. Salvatore, quickly apologized and admitted she had made a major mistake. Trinity Hall did not.
Beware, here are two examples of unauthorized use of my copyrighted image. The only person who has a legal, non-exclusive license right now is Author R.R. Banks. @TrinityOseaHall and @avagsalvatore do NOT have legal license for this image. pic.twitter.com/4MWz6iUI6Z— Michael Stokes (@Stokes_Photo) March 21, 2019
She has since deleted a lot of tweets, but the message was clear: She doesn’t want to admit wrongdoing and she is willing to go OTT in her fight. In one deleted tweet, she theorized a situation in which her using a licensed image without permission was part of the photographer’s plan to slander her and get more followers in an effort to receive Twitter verification.
Shes definitely not the brightest pic.twitter.com/ueOlZfFZrH— Meg-Anne Thibault (@ms_meganne) March 24, 2019
She also claimed that she had no plans to change the cover (the book seems to have been deleted from her B&N and Goodreads pages) since she’d had it for so long. She also claimed that she’d bought copyright for the image from Wattpad for $1.50. Wattpad, where a lot of Hall’s work has been published (and where she also claims that Penguin is her publisher), is notorious for issues of both plagiarism and copyright infringement.
And now she deleted her original tweet and her response to me. pic.twitter.com/uEPkYkmKgH— Maria Robles (@Maria4LP) March 25, 2019
Stokes has since noted that, due to Hall’s refusal to adhere to copyright, he has been forced to file DMCAs, something that can take a while to process. But it got weirder for here, because it turned out that a lot of Hall’s work was plagiarized.
One book, titled Scariest Short Horror Stories In The World: You’ve Been Warned and which is on sale for just under $10, seems to have been lifted word for word from a variety of Reddit posts.
It goes on and on like this, and she’s lifting some of Reddit’s most famous Creepypasta! Word for damn word! And selling it for $10 a go.
Another book, Stalker, was lifted from a Wattpad story written by someone with the username Wombella.
But wait, it gets skeezier.
Hall published a piece called How America Failed Women, regarding the confirmation of SCOTUS Judge Brett Kavanaugh, which the cover declares to be a ‘US News Future Bestseller’ (there’s no such thing). That piece was stolen from a writer named Umair Haque, which was published on Medium in September 2018.
BUT WAIT. THERE’S MORE.
Hall seems to have deleted her tweets up to 21st December 2018, although her bio now claims she is ‘Currently Being Stalked By A 56 Year Old Serial Killer.’ I do not wish to play armchair psychologist with a total stranger, but given the oddness of some of her tweets, including conspiratorial ones regarding the Illuminati, at the very least it seems that Hall could benefit from some time off social media. The image theft and repeated instances of plagiarism are tough to excuse.
As with all such instances of drama in the publishing world, one person’s crimes are seldom separate from everything else going on. Wattpad is a titan of online fiction, one where publishers hunt for new content. The platform claims to have an audience of more than 70m users and proudly celebrates its ties with publishing houses like Simon & Schuster. Anna Todd, the author of 1 Direction fanfic After, got her start on Wattpad, where the site helped to cultivate her growing fame and ready her for traditional publishing. She’s now a New York Times best-seller and the film adaptation will be released next month. Wattpad Books, a new publishing division founded by the site, launched this January and they hope to publish 18 titles in 2020, according to TechCrunch. The site is something of a Wild West, where anyone can publish anything, but Wattpad are working overtime to make it a legitimate organization that works in tandem with traditional publishing. They want their writers to be polished for that journey, so that makes their casual attitude towards plagiarism and copyright theft questionable at best. Hall is nowhere near the only person doing this on Wattpad or in self-publishing. Writers using copyrighted images for their own amateur stories is questionable enough as it is before you add on the issue of the platform it’s being published on turning a blind eye to the problem when there’s money to be made. After all, their most popular and profitable piece of fiction was a Harry Styles fanfic, and we do not have time to get into the ethical and business ramifications of that.
Moral of the story? Other than don’t plagiarize and pay for your cover images? Perhaps make sure, as always, not to f*ck with the romance community. It won’t end well for you.
Header Image Source: Getty Images