John Green plagiarized. Yes, that John Green.
This past week, it came to light that John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns and half-a-dozen other YA novels, plagiarized from a fan named Melody Truong. A quote that the then 13-year-old Truong had written was attributed to Green to the point where Green believed he had written it and began selling posters of it on his website DFTBA.
“I’m in love with cities I’ve never been to and people I’ve never met.” The quote, posted to Truong’s personal Tumblr in 2012, became quickly attributed to Green’s book Paper Towns by others on the Internet. Given that Melody often posed other Green quotes, the misattribution was never noticed, save by Truong and her friends. Fans of Green’s made edits of the quote attributing it to him – sketches, paintings, graphics, text laid over photos.
Truong deleted her personal Tumblr after getting hate for claiming the quote as her own.
“It was a part of a poem that I attempted to write but then abandoned when i was thirteen. I was feeling very lost at the moment and didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere nor felt valued and loved by anyone,” wrote Truong in response to an ask on her new Tumblr. “It was just my infatuations with the possibilities of the future put into simple terms.”
Green even believed the quote had been attributed to him. A poster of the quote designed by Risa Rodil, attributing the quote to Paper Towns, went up in the DFTBA store, and he never bothered to correct other fanart that attributed the quote to him. Having written the book seven years ago, he assumed it was in there and that he had simply forgotten he had written it.
Hurt that Green was now claiming her words with the poster, Truong attempted to reach out to him, according to a CNN article, but received no response.
Fast-forward to 2015. One of Truong’s friends posted in the copyright subReddit, explaining what happened. Green responded to the post and admitted that he hadn’t written the quote before creating a YouTube video on his popular Vlogbrothers channel about the situation.
The poster, designed by Risa Rodil, has been reattributed to Truong, with Green’s half of the proceeds now going to Truong and Green retroactively paying her for anything they made off the poster. Green also added a poster designed by Truong to the store.
Rodil took part of the blame on her Tumblr. “To be honest, I can’t help but feel bad that this issue was being pinned on John when it was actually my original idea to sell this poster on DFTBA. This particular design was one of the 3 posters I proposed to sell when I became an official DFTBA creator, thinking that it was an original John Green quote. I just need to clear this up because it wasn’t primarily John’s fault that this poster is being sold on the site.”
For her part, Truong seems satisfied with what Green did to repair the plagiarism, describing him as a “fantastic human.”
“I am so incredibly thankful for all that John Green has done,” wrote Truong on her Tumblr. “I have looked up to him since I was in middle school and I feel extremely privileged to be able to have this opportunity to sell my work on DFTBA and for the recognition.
The general media accepts Green’s apology as well. The Washington Post described Green’s video as “charmingly honest.” The Guardian described Green as a “famous victim of misquotation,” focusing on how authors often get attributed to quotes they did not write. The Media Post describes Green as an “absent-minded professor” and his video as “sweet.” Girls Life described the whole situation as a “big misunderstanding.” Huck Magazine describes it as “embarrassing” for Green and, like The Guardian, focuses on other incidents of misquotation.
But while Green has made actions to repair the wrongs done to Truong, some have begun to notice that there are two words lacking from Green’s videos and posts: “I’m sorry.”
“Make no bones about it – John Green, whether he intended to or not, stole someone else’s content. He plagiarised. He took credit for that which was not his on the assumption that it must be because the internet says so. At no point in the process of making products with that quote did Green or anyone else stop to check he’d actually written it because the privilege was so blinding,” wrote the co-editor-in-chief of Bibliodaze.
And while Green talked extensively about the problems with Internet culture and attribution and proclaimed himself the thief, he hasn’t actually apologized for his plagiarization. He was a victim of Internet misattribution. He was silly to not look into it. He’s just a spoke on the wheel of a greater problem.
Others noted that Green has been treated rather favorably compared to past instances of apparent author plagiarism. Take, for example, when Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan were accused of lifting a line from The Hunger Games‘ film adaptation for one of the short stories in The Bane Chronicles. Given that Clare had been accused of plagiarism in her fanfiction days, fans were quick to attack the authors – a stark contrast to how the media describes the “charmingly honest” mistake of Green. Brennan took credit for the line, explaining why she had written it in a detailed Tumblr post. Green defended Brennan, as did authors Holly Black and Maureen Johnson.
Green forgot to check to see if Truong’s quote was one he had written. Did he simply forget to apologize? Is that okay? Would he be raked over the coals for this if he were a woman? What do you think?
[EDIT] Risa Rodil’s Tumblr post has since been deleted.