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All week, I've been watching the news unfold about the Cassie Edwards plagiarism scandal. For those of you who haven't heard of it, you can get the details by going HERE and HERE. Long story short, she's an author who was first accused of copying passages from various research texts, and pasting them slightly paraphrased but uncredited into her novels. Then most recently, it seems she may have copied whole passages from a 1930 Pulitzer-winning novel into one of her books.
 
My reaction, as a reader and a writer, is to be both sad and angry. I'm sad for Mrs. Edward's fans, who must be feeling pretty disillusioned, and for her friends/family, who must be having a hard time as well.
 
As a writer, however, I'm angry. Our words belong to us, good or bad, so for them to be hijacked and sold by another author is just wrong. Furthermore, this hasn't only damaged Mrs. Edward's career. There was talk from readers about boycotting all Signet/Penguin authors in protest over the publishers admittedly lame initial response to the plagiarism accusations, when they called Mrs. Edwards novels "researched." Signet/Penguin has since amended their position to state that the Edwards situation "deserves further review", but who knows how much damage has already been done to other Signet/Penguin authors? (Note: I'm not a Signet/Penguin author, so this doesn't affect me, but it upsets me just the same).
 
I know in the fan-fiction world, parts and passages are sometimes copied from books. That's not what I'm talking about here, though. Whether or not copying things from novels for the purpose of unsold entertainment is wrong is another issue. This is the case of a multi-published author taking other people's printed words and selling them under her own name. There doesn't seem to be any wiggle room on whether that's right or wrong, in my opinion.
 
I'm curious about your opinions: Is plagiarism by an author an unforgivable crime? Would you ever buy a book from an author proved to be a plagiarist? Why or why not?
 

Comments

tybalt_quin
Jan. 14th, 2008 11:00 am (UTC)
Is plagiarism by an author an unforgivable crime? Would you ever buy a book from an author proved to be a plagiarist? Why or why not?

I read through the Cassie Edwards thing and it reminded me a great deal of a plagiarism accusation leveled at Ian McEwan last year. Basically he was alleged to have plagiarised parts of another author's memoir for those sections in Atonement that focused on WWII hospitals and nurse's duties. The difference there was that he had actually cited the woman's work as having been used as part of his research (whereas I believe Cassie Edwards is saying that this was never required of her for her work). However, they both related to the extent to which non-fiction work could be incorporated into a work of fiction and whether it crossed the plagiarism line.

I think that if you have a situation where an author has taken a chunk of text from another author's work of fiction (see the Opal Metha plagiarism case from last year), then that is absolutely unacceptable and it would certainly mean that I would never buy a book written by the offending author.

If an author has taken a chunk of text from a work of non-fiction however, I think the line is a finer one. I would certainly want to see an acknowledgement from the author of which texts had been used as part of their research in the first instance if those texts had exerted a significant influence over the shape of the work (just as McEwan did in Atonement). However, I think there comes a point when the expression used in a non-fiction work is merely a repetition of facts and if there's nothing particularly distinctive about that expression, then I don't see how you can claim plagiarism because you're trying to make the same claim that the Da Vinci Code plaintiffs brought against Dan Brown (i.e. that you "own" certain facts or theories).

In the Cassie Edwards situation, I think the original work had a sufficiently distinctive expression for it to constitute plagiarism. But I'm not sure that this would hold true in other cases.

Does that make sense?
alanajoli
Jan. 16th, 2008 02:53 am (UTC)
I'm falling pretty closely into your camp. For example, in the comic I write for, I do prose passages from the voices of the characters as "bonus content" on off days. Sometimes, when I've only got one source to work with (as I try to work in a lot of history), I actually paraphrase from the voice of the character, but often use the examples used in my source instead of changing them. I always, *always* cite these sources.

Also, now that I've noticed the tendency, I've tried to relate the history with more original words and examples, because I honestly think it's a little sloppy to stick too closely to your source material.

Oh, and it's the Holy Blood, Holy Grail guys v. Dan Brown, by the way. They claimed that he stole the "architecture" of their book (but I think they were basically upset that they'd get fewer movie rights deals for documentaries after The DaVinci Code was purchased. This is silly on many levels, as their book started selling *so much more* after Brown's novel came out... but I digress).
tybalt_quin
Jan. 16th, 2008 02:46 pm (UTC)
I always, *always* cite these sources.

:nods:

That's best practice.

They claimed that he stole the "architecture" of their book (but I think they were basically upset that they'd get fewer movie rights deals for documentaries after The DaVinci Code was purchased. This is silly on many levels, as their book started selling *so much more* after Brown's novel came out... but I digress).

:nods again:

If you read the judgment of the case (which is fascinating reading, not least because of the information on how Dan Brown writes) then the judge made a comment about how allowing a claim relating to the "architecture" of a book or theory would be tantamount to claiming ownership in those particular facts, which could never be protected under copyright law.

Being a sad old legal geek, I got really caught up in the case and its press coverage. There were allegations that the whole case was actually a conspiracy by the publishers to boost sales of both books by starting a high-profile legal case, which I think is a little silly (especially when you know how much legal costs can rise to in this country).
alanajoli
Jan. 16th, 2008 06:39 pm (UTC)
You've definitely done more research than I have on that case! The judge seems to have nailed it, though, in my humble opinion. I did see an article during the process about how much is was costing the HBHG authors, and it definitely wasn't cheap! I can't imagine they sold more books because of it.