A Deeply FLAWed Plagiarism Story

What happens when a metal band is accused of plagiarism...

Flaw, a nu metal band based out of Louisville, Kentucky, recently found itself at the center of one of the most bizarre plagiarism scandals of recent memory.

It involves a band releasing an album with several tracks that were plagiarized from YouTube, an effort to hide which member of the band was responsible, that member then outing themselves on accident, getting fired and then releasing a weak apology.

The story is a comedy of errors but it’s also a cautionary tale when it comes to collaborative projects. According to the band, three of the four members had no idea that the songs they were recording were plagiarized, but all four are going to take the bad publicity and reputation damage for their role in recording and releasing these albums.

That, more than anything, makes this a case worth studying. As the internet is making collaboration easier than ever, it’s important to discuss the risks of that collaboration. Among those risks is the very real possibility that one of the people you’re working with is a plagiarist.

The Story So Far

On July 19th Flaw released its fourth album entitled Vol. IV Because of the Brave, which featured a track entitled Wake Up. The problem was that Wake Up, or at least the music, was virtually identical to a December 2016 track entitled Korn style_Nu Metal/Rap Metal/Beat Instrumental 14 released by YouTuber Douglas Pattrick.

To be clear, this isn’t a plagiarism allegation like the Blurred Lines case or the recent lawsuit over Katy Perry’s Dark Horse that deals with obscure musical elements. If you play the two music videos at the same time, it’s very clear they are virtually the same song.

Pattrick himself responded saying that Flaw “Stole and plagiarized my music melody and structure” and that he would be reaching out to his attorney.

This prompted a statement from Flaw’s frontman, Christopher Volz, who wanted to make it clear that he was not responsible, saying that he only writes the vocals for the songs that are provided by his bandmates. However, he declined which member of the band was ultimately responsible though he did say he was working with Pattrick to resolve the situation and that Pattrick was “being cool about the whole thing.”

But things went from bad to worse when The PRP identified additional tracks from the album that were also copied from YouTubers. This included one more track from Pattrick. In the end, at least four tracks on the album have been implicated.

However, it was still not known who exactly had committed the plagiarism. Only the band’s vocalist had issued a direct statement.

The answer came on the public facebook page of the band’s now-former guitarist Tommy Gibbons, where he was found having taken credit for writing the Flaw song Persistence, which was actually based on Pattrick’s track Korn style_Nu Metal/Rap Metal/Beat Instrumental 22.

Just days after he was outed, Flaw fired Gibbons from the band. Gibbons also issued a statement where he apologized to those he “let down” and blamed the plagiarism on poor record keeping saying that:

This is where I went terribly wrong. I took the tracks I re-recorded not knowing their true original source and presented them to Chris which in turn he worked tirelessly to write and record original lyrics and vocals to. He entrusted me with something that I thought I was going to truly impress him with and I let him down.
Tommy Gibbons

The excuse did not go over very well, with Metal Sucks writer Vince Neilstein outright saying he didn’t believe it.

The story ends on October 22nd when Gibbons announced that he was quitting music altogether. In his announcement he said he’s going to enjoy the holidays with his family and may “dabble in the family business.”

Flaw is working on a new album but is also planning on taking a break until the end of the year after they finish their current tour.

Analyzing the Plagiarism

The plagiarism itself is pretty clear cut. The songs are definitely the same as the ones featured on YouTube and, though some of the tracks appear to have been legitimately purchased, others do not, in particular the ones by Pattrick.

But the fact that some of the tracks were licensed indicates that Gibbons claims that he lost track of which songs were original and which were copies isn’t true. After all, he and the band got it right at least some of time and there’s no clear reason why the other tracks would be any different.

However, even if he is being honest and it was simply a matter of him losing track of the songs he recorded, it’s not an excuse. Accidental plagiarism doesn’t exist. Simply put, in order to reach a place where you can accidentally plagiarize, you must first show a level of negligence and carelessness that you are still ethically culpable.

Nowhere is that more true than here.

If Gibbons did as he said, he recorded tracks he found on YouTube and then, without clearly labeling them, mingled them with his own work and then handed them over to his bandmates. That is either willful plagiarism or extreme carelessness. From an ethical standpoint, it’s difficult to say which is worse.

But, while Gibbons has worked to indicate his bandmates are not responsible, the rest of the band doesn’t come out looking much better. After all, three weeks passed from when the allegations came to light and when Gibbons was fired.

They almost certainly knew who the plagiarist was before then and they only took action AFTER Gibbons was outed. Not after the initial plagiarism allegations, not after the additional tracks were found and not after they’d had time to look into the matter.

Rather than handling the issue with transparency, the band deliberately tried to handle it “behind the scenes” and paid for it when Gibbons eventually got outed by his own post.

The band is wise to take a break and to push out some new, original music quickly. According to Wikipedia, the band has a history that dates back to 1996. It would be a tragedy if this is what the band is ultimately remembered for.

However, their response may have already sealed that fate.

Lessons for Others

By all accounts, the other members of Flaw had nothing to do with this plagiarism. This is both from the band’s statements and Gibbons’. The problem is that it’s the band as a whole that will suffer from this. Few will remember that Tommy Gibbons plagiarized, instead, they will remember that Flaw released plagiarized songs.

Gibbons may have done the deed, but it’s the group that will pay the price.

But that’s a danger of collaboration. When a group of people come together to create something, they, as a group, will suffer if one of their members does something out o line.

To that end, it isn’t just plagiarism we’re discussing. It could literally be any misdeed including falsifying information, misrepresenting the work or just a personal scandal. This is why it’s important that, when starting a collaborative project, that there be an understanding between all parties of what’s expected of them and that understanding should be in writing.

The other thing that’s crucial to learn is to have a plan for what to do when and if something does go awry. In general, the best thing to do is to be as transparent as possible, even to the point of oversharing.

If, instead of trying to handle things behind “closed doors,” the band was open and honest about what happened and took decisive action quickly, the damage would be minimized on the innocent members. Sure, Gibbons would not be saved (though a real apology might have helped him), but the other members and the band’s reputation would have been better off.

Instead, we got weeks of headlines about how Flaw was dealing with a growing plagiarism problem before we learned who was actually responsible. That’s going to leave a permanent mark on their history.

In the end, the situation they find themselves in may have been avoided proactively and definitely could have been minimized after the fact. It’s a lesson for other bands and other collaborators: Think about these issues today, not after a problem arises.

Bottom Line

In the end, this is an unfortunate situation for everyone still in the band. Their name got dragged through the mud despite doing nothing wrong. Sure, there are things they could have done differently but that is Monday morning quarterbacking, it’s potentially useful as a lesson to others, but ultimately doesn’t change the situation.

Hopefully others can learn from this and think about scenarios where collaborators might bite them.

If there’s anything that this story illustrates it’s how plagiarists don’t just harm themselves and those they take from. They harm those that work with them and those that helped them and spoke out for them.

Plagiarism isn’t just about the reputation of the plagiarist, it’s a nuclear bomb that causes a lot of collateral damage. It’s something else to think about before committing plagiarism, but also something to think about when working with a potential plagiarist.

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