The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

The Story of Ivan Mor Smirnoff

The passive-aggressive take-down of an unrepentant plagiarist

Photo by MJ S on Unsplash

They say that the pen is mightier than the sword. In that case, never anger a writer. A number of years ago, several writers and I found that our work was being used on various web sites without our permission or knowledge. Some of these posts were intensely personal; more than one of them dealt with grief following the death of a loved one. While waiting for a response to my legitimate copyright violation notices and subsequent DMCA take-down notice, I decided to have a little fun with the scum — er, plagiarist — who, according to WHOIS, was in the Ukraine.

I invented the character, Ivan Mor Smirnoff — obviously, this plagiarist had driven me to drink , and the name just came to me in a flash of inspiration — and I began a little correspondence with the nefarious Ukrainian. He was now ostensibly taking submissions to a fake blog post repository, where other bloggers were encouraged to republish “free articles” (all stolen content that had been modified to contain backlinks to his other blog properties and “spun” sufficiently to pass most online plagiarism checkers — except that people’s names, sometimes family members, including deceased loved ones, had passed through unscathed). Of course, the Ukrainian wasn’t looking for legitimate submissions, but he had set it up to appear as if he was. So I played along. I threw him a freebie. And then I blogged about the whole sordid affair.

With apologies to all the good people of Ukraine, the following is rated “M” for “Might offend due to profanity and really poor imitation Ukrainian accent.” Which was only fair, given the really poor imitation of my writing found on said plagiarist’s site(s). You’ve been warned; do not complain to me!

From the Desk of Ivan Mor Smirnoff

10 January 2006

I take you along on bumpy ride to getting pooplished. We’ll see just how hard it really is, kidlinks, as I soobmit this to free articles site. I am going to be famous author some day soon!


Ivan then submitted the following article to the plagiarist’s site:

Ten Secrets to Hugely Successful Article Writing

1. Don’t write drunk. I write like seagull spit when I have been drinking. You think all great writers were drunks and drug addicts? Yes? No? Probably. But unless you are Hemingway or I-95, you write drunk and your donkey will be hanging out for all the world to see.

2. Write about thinks Googly people want to know. Mesothelioma, sex with cats, girl with broken leg, writing while drunk — all good topics for freebie articles. Lots of people want to read this shit.

3. Proofread. About 80 proof ought to do it.

4. Use humor. Always should be tasteful. Not like my uncle’s favorite joke: Why chicken cross road? To fuck duck on other side. (Is from old country, maybe loses something in translation.)

5. Be original. Don’t steal stuff other people’s words. Maybe they no write so good, either.

6. Write about sex. Sex sells. Everybody want to read about sex.

7. Don’t use bad words. Bad words like “lawsuit” and “Pythagorean.” No one can pronounce “Pythagorean” and no one like “lawyers.”

8. Make sure you use lots of keywords, like “mesothelioma” and “sex” and “slutty teenage virgins” even if article not about those things. Article get picked up by fifty bazillion search engines that way, make you lots more money.

9. I forget what was supposed to be tip #9. If you have good idea, write it down, or you forget too.

10. Submit to free content sites and pretty soon — boom! — your name be toast in forty-six countries! You be famous, make lots of money.

Now I Wait, and Wait, and Wait

11 January 2006

You know, Dahlink, Ivan to tell you somesink… I am SO upset. My article was not accepted. It was not sloosh-piled, either. Rinky-dinky site so BAD that I log on this morning and POOF! it gone. (No, sadly, not site — just article.) It say I never submit anytink. Ivan to know — what you tink I should do? Submit again? Maybe twice, just to be sure? Maybe hundred times. You can never be too sure. Right, Dahlink?

Smoochies, Ivan

12 January 2006

Oh, Ivan to die. I am crushed, Dahlinks. Lookit dis: This article has been disapproved. Your article has been disapproved. I can’t even get fly-by-night Siberian crooks to pooblish me. I must really suck as writer. Maybe I go back to being doctor. It was more fun to play that, don’t you tink?

Dejected smoochies, Ivan

Flash Forward: Changing Careers to Fingerpaintalist

I — er, Ivan — cracked up when “he” saw this, nearly ten years later:

Lazy, Uncreative, Dishonest People Passing Themselves Off as Writers and Artists

Well, Ivan had a few things to say about that.

16 January 2014

Wait…dearest Sures, I am reading this Jonathan Bailey’s site and he say, “On January 1st, Sures Kumar, working as part of a Scientific Hoax project at the Royal College of Art in London…” This is what they teach now at art school? I miss out. Too much sniffing turpentine while cleaning artists little sable brooms, maybe. How did I not see this opportunity to skip over years of training to find meal ticket straight on gravy train to Loover, like that little Moaning Lisa chick? Damn, damn, damn. Is time to rethink my life, or maybe drown sorrows in namesake.

Not crying in my beer, for damned sure, Ivan

So, When You Take on Criminals…

Think twice before taunting them in their own language. I identified the plagiarist in question, and after about the fourth DMCA take-down, I decided to address him directly in terms that maybe even a stubborn ass could understand. I found a site that listed lots and lots of Russian cuss words — basically told him he “wrote like a jackass and must drink vodka by the gallon to be such a [whatever that site told me was like the nastiest thing I could say to some guy in Russian]”— copied and pasted, and emailed it to him. He wrote back in transliterated Russian or Ukrainian — meaning that even Google translate couldn’t make sense of it. Last laugh was on me as I had to find some human who could decipher it, explain it to me, and assure me that the guy wasn’t sending the Russian mafia after me — just asking why his plagiarism bothered me so much, and informing me that he preferred wine to vodka.

Okay, last laugh was actually on him, because the last time I found him spinning up plagiarized content it was so badly mangled no one could’ve recognized a coherent phrase. I didn’t even bother with a DMCA, that time — the site died a natural death a couple of months later.

Seriously, though — don’t play in the mud. Just deal with the Internet Service Providers and let them deal with their “customers.” Lest you end up having to pay for translations like “I like wine.”

After reading Timothy Key’s Story about plagiarism and formulaic writing on Medium, I was tempted to pooplish, er, publish, Ivan’s original tips article, “Ten Secrets to Hugely Successful Article Writing,” as a standalone piece. But then I realized it would do poorly; to succeed, I would need to add or subtract one of the ten secrets — perhaps I could add:

“Always to be sure have an odd number of ‘secret’ tinks, Dahlinks. Ze odder, ze better.”

Delightingly yours (again), Ivan

This article is all mine. I wrote it originally as a bit of a rant on my personal blog, where it has languished for a dozen years. When I read Timothy Key’s Story:

I knew I had to resurrect it. And I only mention the fact that it’s “previously published by me” because I kind of hope you’ll run it through a plagiarism checker, or a Google search, find my blog, and maybe read more of my writing, there. Just don’t steal anything, there, at least not until you’ve read the cautionary advice in my other story, “Spin THIS!”

Writer and Kid-at-Heart, often found at Subscribe to my (free!) Newsletter:

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