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Defining the Meaning of Plagiarism for the Fiction Community

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It’s clear from emails, message boards, forums, and blogs that there is no common language that we speak, either readers or authors or both, as to what plagiarism is and is not within the fiction writing community.

There is a fear amongst authors that some readers are trying to set the bar too high. Conversely, I have heard some people posit publicly there should not be differing standards for differing communities.

I definitely believe that the academic standard for plagiarism should not be applied to fiction publishing. The academic standard would penalize those who cover even the same idea without attribution. Given the fact that there are very few plots, character motives, theme motifs, etc, the academic standard is too stringent.

However, I also think that using copyright law as the defining boundary for plagiarism is too broad. I don’t think that copying text in the fiction writing community should be determined by what is “fair use” and what is not. The reason that I think that the legal definition of “fair use” shouldn’t be the standard is because “fair use” was primarily designed to protect the use of copyrighted work for scholary or commentary purposes, i.e., “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.” 17 U.S.C.A.  § 107.

If you want a legal definition of the difference, Black’s Law Dictionary states the following:

Plagiarism, which many people commonly think has to do with copyright, is not in fact a legal doctrine. True plagiarism is an ethical, not a legal offense and is enforceable by academic authorities, not courts. Plagiarism occurs when someone-a hurried student, a neglectful professor, an unscrupulous writer-falsely claims someone else’s words, whether copyrighted or not, as his own. Of course, if the plagiarized work is protected by copyright, the unauthorized reproduction is also a copyright infringement.

Black’s Law Dictionary 1170 (7th ed.1999) (quoting Paul Goldstein, Copyright’s Highway 12 (1994)) from the case Kindergartners Count, Inc. v. DeMoulin, 249 F.Supp.2d 1233, 1251-52 (D. Kan. 2003).

As we have said and others have said, there are times in which plagiarism and copyright overlap, but they are NOT INTERCHANGEABLE. A commenter and lawyer on Ros’ blog may have put it the best:

  • copyright infringement = stealing or taking someone else’s property and profiting from it.
  • plagiarism – lying or taking someone else’s property and saying it is your own.

Robin articulated something very meaningful in the comments yesterday about plagiarism. She said:

Now to me, it seems pretty obvious that if something is important enough to put into your book, it’s important enough to acknowledge.

This really made an impact on me. If an author decides that a passage is important enough to copy word for word into her own work then it seems to me that it is intrinsic to the story, else why include it in the first place? There is a somewhat famous case against Alex Haley brought by Harold Courlander, author of The African. In 1978, Haley was sued by Courlander. Haley eventually settled out of court for $650,000. The lawsuit alleged that Haley’s Roots incorporated over 80 passages from Courlander’s The African.

In court documents Courlander argued, “Without The African, Roots would have been a very different and less successful novel, and indeed it is doubtful that Mr. Haley could have written Roots without The African.” Courlander hired Professor Michael Wood of Columbia University as an expert witness. In his report to the court, Wood opined that Roots used The African “as a model: as something to be copied at some times, and at other times to be modified; but always, it seems, to be consulted. . . . Roots takes from The African phrases, situations, ideas, aspects of style and of plot.” In an interview after the trial and the settlement took place, “presiding US District Court Judge Robert J. Ward . . . stated, “Alex Haley perpetrated a hoax on the public.”

[Note all of the above information came from NationMaster-Encyclopedia: Plagiarism]

I noticed in the beginning of the re-released Cassie Edwards novel Falcon Moon (publisher, Kensington), a press quote from Journal Gazette, Mattoon, IL: “Edwards puts an emphasis on placing authentic customs and language in each book. Her Indian books have generated much interest throughout the country and elsewhere.”

It seems hard to argue that a passage is trivial to a work if it is important enough to include in the first place which is why attribution is then so important. Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for the New Yorker dismissed the Viswanathan plagiarism controversy as unimportant because it was teen lit, i.e., it was a genre not worthy of intellectual integrity. But Young Adult fiction, like romance, like any other genre fiction, has readers who believe that original creativity is valuable.

The really important thing to come of this recent scandal/controversy/issue or whatever you want to call it, is a greater understanding of the importance of plagiarism and exactly what it is. It can equip a reader to talk to her fellow readers about the subject. It can provide a safe harbor for authors who question how best to incorporate research into their work and allow for the common use of intertexuality (the twining of commonly understood phrases into the prose).

Attribution, of course, need not be a bibliography or a number of footnotes (although footnotes do not bother me). A simple author’s note could solve a whole host of copying issues:

Author’s note

Readers might recognize the prose in this story as originally penned by the venerable Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I read this poem as a young girl and was moved by the visual imagery. When I began my career as a novelist, I wanted to incorporate his work at some point as a homage. Lorinda’s naturalist tendencies gave me the perfect opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, as the setting of this story was before Longfellow was alive, I had to devise a poet or storyteller to be the one to ascribe these words to. I choose to make Lorinda the poet. I hope you enjoyed revisiting the immortals words of Longfellow as much as I enjoyed writing them.

To some degree, I see a much ado about nothing in terms of the supposed “witch hunt.” There are authors out there that I personally dislike, but I am not going to engage in the hassle of feeding their work, sentence by sentence into Google. Even if I did find something mildly suspicious, I wouldn’t likely mention it in public. Only when there is a pattern of behavior that fits whatever definition that the community defines as plagiarism, would I even consider posting about it and I certainly would only post the passages like the SBs did.

Here’s what I would like to see in terms of a definition for plagiarism within the community but I would also like to see what others would define.

Plagiarism is the repeated unattributed use of someone else’s words/writing/work without permission, regardless of whether the work is public domain or under copyright and when the usage adds value to the contents of the work.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

63 Comments

  1. jazzypom
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 04:35:38

    Hello,

    Have been following the Cassie Edwards kerfuffle with keen interest. I do agree with what you’ve said here, in terms of academic plagiarism vs fiction-based plagiarism.

    Actually, I don’t see the reason why people are so against SB – I think they’ve done an invaluable service in bringing such a travesty to light, and the conversations online (whether positive or negative) have been invaluable. I do agree with your definition as to what plagiarism should be.

  2. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 07:18:17

    Excellent post, Jane and I hope it clears the waters for those who are confused. While I think I had the basic idea of the differences, it’s now much more clear in my mind…and this bit from Ros’ blog (going to have to check out the talks over there)

    * copyright infringement = stealing or taking someone else's property and profiting from it.
    * plagiarism – lying or taking someone else's property and saying it is your own.

    Certainly simplifies it down very well.

    Your ‘author’ note regarding Longfellow, yeah, something along those lines for the ‘inspiring’ works would have made all of this a lot easier for people to understand and accept, IMO. I have to wonder would this have happened-I’m thinking not.

    To some degree, I see a much ado about nothing in terms of the supposed “witch hunt.” There are authors out there that I personally dislike, but I am not going to engage in the hassle of feeding their work, sentence by sentence into Google.

    Jane, I know that your disillusioned by recent events and I hate to add to it, but unfortunately, while you aren’t going to enter bits into google, eh… others have.

    Some probably out of sheer pettiness.

    But others aren’t doing it out of pettiness. It’s the panic mindset that make people see things that aren’t there and they start ‘looking’. Misunderstanding the difference between research/plagiarism, they probably end up finding well-researched material, but what they think they are seeing is plagiarism.

    I don’t think it’s done with any nefarious intention, but a word like ‘plagiarism’ hurled at an author can carry a stigma, regardless of whether the author did anything even remotely hinting at hinting a plagiarism.

    Failure to understand is what is behind much of the debate over this recent event-people claiming it’s just research we’re seeing in the disbussed books.

    That same failure to understand is likely also behind some insinuating comments made at other authors.

  3. Nora Roberts
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 08:05:39

    Another clear, well-thought out post.

    Thanks, Jane

  4. DS
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 08:08:40

    I had forgotten about this, but Deana James (an under rated romance writer in my opinion) had written a book in which she had created a hero who wrote pornography to make money but aspired to a higher literary standard. She noted in either a foreword or an afterword to Crimson Obsession that the passages she had her hero write when he was improving himself were lifted from Charles Dickens. I had absolutely no problem with that and it even make the book more fun in a way. It also gives the lie to the idea that Ms Edwards wouldn’t have been allowed to mention sources. This was published by Zebra by the way, one of the more slapdash publishers of the period.

    The title has nothing to do with the story by the way. It much have come off a list of titles they thought would sell romances.

  5. Jane
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 08:24:58

    Jane, I know that your disillusioned by recent events and I hate to add to it, but unfortunately, while you aren't going to enter bits into google, eh… others have.

    I know that people say that the plagiarism stain is a dangerous one, but I really haven’t seen many an author be affected by it. A reader questioning a source or wondering whether something was copied isn’t really going to affect an author’s career. Christina Dodd was the subject of scrutiny at AAR for borrowing from Linda Howard, but I hardly see that affecting her career or her reputation.

    If the romance community online is so tiny as to be unable to affect sales, then an online accusation of plagiarism by a reader isn’t going to have much of an effect. I can only see the accusation being of some interest to the print media if a) the author is bestselling or recognizable and/or b) the copying is repeated and consistent throughout the book or body of work.

    If it is true that readers do not care (and I am disappointed in some of the readers’ blogs response to the issue of CE because I wish the reader blogs would talk about the meaning and affects of plagiarism and not just about how horrible SB etc is on exposing it), then an accusation will not hold much water. It seems to me (and this is an outsider’s pov) that it only matters if it matters to the publisher.

  6. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 09:03:56

    It’s true it might not hold much water. Entirely possible, although I know some people are petty enough to drag such groundless accusations up from time to time.

    Shoot, people still bring up their version of what some author said here/there five or ten years ago.

    It seems to me (and this is an outsider's pov) that it only matters if it matters to the publisher.

    But what about the author? The innocent one. It would definitely matter to her/him.

  7. DS
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 09:20:29

    It's true it might not hold much water. Entirely possible, although I know some people are petty enough to drag such groundless accusations up from time to time.

    Shoot, people still bring up their version of what some author said here/there five or ten years ago.

    It seems to me (and this is an outsider's pov) that it only matters if it matters to the publisher.

    But what about the author? The innocent one. It would definitely matter to her/him.

    This is “parading the horribles”. All kinds of awful things might happen but they are just as likely not to happen also. I actually took random passages from recent reading (fiction and nonfiction) and plugged the words into Google without a hit– other than the original. It was all works I would consider well researched.

  8. snarkhunter
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 09:26:17

    Plagiarism is the repeated unattributed use of someone else's words/writing/work without permission, regardless of whether the work is public domain or under copyright and when the usage adds value to the contents of the work.

    I like this definition, except the word ‘repeated’ concerns me. I see what you’re trying to do–because one case of a repeated/echoed line shouldn’t be enough to bring down someone’s career. But how do we determine what’s “repeated”? What if it’s a huge paragraph? A whole chapter? Is that one instance enough to cry foul?

    Also,

    Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for the New Yorker dismissed the Viswanathan plagiarism controversy as unimportant because it was teen lit, i.e., it was a genre not worthy of intellectual integrity.

    That? Is the stupidest thing I’ve heard yet today. (Admittedly, I’ve only been up for two hours–still plenty of time for stupidity today.) Young Adult lit is probably the genre where it is *most* important for the work to be creative and original, if only to set a positive example for the legions of high school and college students who claim to not know what plagiarism is, and how to avoid it in their papers.

  9. emily
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 09:34:39

    I do not feel that fear is among all, or even most, authors. I am completely happy to apply the academic standard (three consecutive words or more is what I was taught) to my own work and justify as fair use any homage or quotations that I have employed.

  10. Sunita
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 09:46:49

    Plagiarism is the repeated unattributed use of someone else's words/writing/work without permission, regardless of whether the work is public domain or under copyright and when the usage adds value to the contents of the work.
    ——————–

    I like this definition, except the word ‘repeated' concerns me. I see what you're trying to do-because one case of a repeated/echoed line shouldn't be enough to bring down someone's career. But how do we determine what's “repeated”? What if it's a huge paragraph? A whole chapter? Is that one instance enough to cry foul?

    I’ve been trying to figure out what a consensus definition of plagiarism would be, and I think this exchange points to one of the problems. The cases most discussed have all involved either huge chunks of copied material (CE, Viswanathan), a pattern of copying across several books (CE, Dailey) or deception (James Frey). But technically, in academic writing, plagiarism is the lifting of any amount of writing without attribution. Obviously that standard wouldn’t work for fiction, for the reasons many have offered. But where is the threshold, then? How do we come up with a blanket rule that distinguishes between acceptable paraphrasing/borrowing and plagiarizing?

    I also don’t think that an acknowledgment paragraph or page is always sufficient. Your example with Longfellow is terrific, but simply acknowledging the ferret source would not have made clear that the words, not just the substance, were copied. So I see two separate issues: (1) the choice to acknowledge sources; and (2) the need to ensure that the words are the writer’s own. I think (1) is open for debate much more than (2). Although I imagine that the extent to which (2) is followed by ethical people has varied substantially over time and cultures.

    I’ve followed the CE mess but not contributed to the discussion, mostly because others have expressed my views very articulately. But I’m also much less optimistic that we can agree on a standard. My experience is entirely with academic plagiarism, which has been treated in these conversations as more straightforward. But in all the cases I’ve observed or had to be involved in (at every level of academia), I have seen disagreements over whether the specific instances met the definition of plagiarism. Except in the extreme cases, people frequently don’t agree on either the crime or the punishment.

  11. Wendy
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 09:59:28

    If it is true that readers do not care (and I am disappointed in some of the readers' blogs response to the issue of CE because I wish the reader blogs would talk about the meaning and affects of plagiarism and not just about how horrible SB etc is on exposing it), then an accusation will not hold much water. It seems to me (and this is an outsider's pov) that it only matters if it matters to the publisher.

    I still firmly believe there is a divide among online and not-online romance readers. I was in library school when the Nora Roberts/Janet Dailey plagiarism came to light and honestly? Didn’t know or hear a darn thing about it until a couple of years after the fact when I started reading romance novels on a regular basis, and was spending an obscene amount of time frequenting sites like AAR. And hello? I was in library school! How could I have not heard about it?

    I’m not convinced much as changed in the last 10 years – although I hope I’m wrong. While the Edwards piece got picked up by the AP – I’m just not convinced that the little old grandmas picking up their romance novels in the grocery store, or the readers who “hide” their romance reading from their friends/family are going to be that tuned into all of this. So my perception is that some readers will care (and very deeply) and others just won’t. Maybe some of those who “don’t care” feel that way because they honestly don’t know any better. Like me with Roberts/Dailey, they don’t know the story exists.

  12. Nora Roberts
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 10:25:58

    For me–and many may disagree–the common sense rule applies. One line? A couple of lines throughout the work? I don’t blink at that.

    Several lines in a row? A paragraph? Several paragraphs or lines sprinkled throughout? I do more than blink.

    I might write in my book (just lifted from research sitting on my desk) “One can easily imagine a contemporary Hollywood film based on the concept of ‘As You Like It.'”

    I wouldn’t, because that’s definitely not my voice or style. But I wouldn’t point the finger of plagiarism at an author who did.

    However, if that author continued that with: “…maybe staring Meg Ryan, although Hollywood would need to stir in a little science fiction to make the plot plausible”–I’d say that’s going way too far. Maybe not yet enough, if this is absolutely all, to constitute plagiarism. But certainly enough for me to consider it lifting, copying, and lazy as this is the opening for an article on Shakespeare’s Women In Drag: Rosalind by Lee Lady, which I found on the net.

    And I think any writer who would lift that way would very likely lift more, and from other sources.

  13. Suisan
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 10:34:27

    I was chatting about this the other night at a friend’s blog. His friend stepped in to say, “What’s the big deal? Isn’t all Romance copying from someone?”

    After jumping up and down for a bit yelling, “Formula doesn’t equal stealing!” and “Star Trek is formulaic genre but those books don’t Lift Passages!” and other such “OMG WTF just happened here?” sort of statements, I was struck by how very much people don’t understand about writing. Or crafting within a formula.

    And then I was cruising around some older “CE” links last night to find a commenter on a writer’s blog assert that all young and inexperienced writers plagiarize as it is. She seemed to be saying that it’s a natural impulse that has to be trained out of a writer, and that’s why first manuscripts should never come out form under the bed.

    That made my jaw hit the floor.

    We all start off stealing, but only *some* learn how to write without stealing? Uhhhhhh. Wow. I learned to work in retail without shoplifting first. Wonder how that works.

    I’m hopeful that Romance can come up with some sort of standard for author’s notes and attribution, but I’m not certain we’ll get there anytime soon. I’m still quite depressed about people’s reactions to the whole thing.

  14. snarkhunter
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 10:40:30

    And then I was cruising around some older “CE” links last night to find a commenter on a writer's blog assert that all young and inexperienced writers plagiarize as it is. She seemed to be saying that it's a natural impulse that has to be trained out of a writer, and that's why first manuscripts should never come out form under the bed.

    I totally saw that exact same comment, and it had me *facepalming* at my desk. Then the writer goes on to say how she copied some story when she was SIX.

    Yes, I suppose “beginning” writers aren’t always all that creative, because they’re CHILDREN. I wrote a story when I was about 8 that wasn’t exactly a bastion of creative thought. I believe I lifted the outlines of the plot from The Black Stallion. But by the time I was 12, my (stupid) stories were wholly original, if a teeeensy bit over-the-top dramatic.

    To say that all young writers plagiarize is to give a pass to anyone who’s just starting out, and it’s an insult to all of those people who are honest writers.

  15. Nora Roberts
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 10:45:23

    ~That made my jaw hit the floor.~

    Mine, too.

    Nor did I get what her copying a story at the age of six had to do with anything.

  16. Sunita
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 10:48:56

    Nora, that’s a great example. I left out the issue of voice in my comments, and it really is key. Isn’t that what got the whole CE thing going, the changes in voice and style?

    I would agree that your full example would suggest plagiarism, even though it’s only one sentence. For me the tipping point is that while the overall point (Hollywood borrows from Shakespeare) is basically a truism, the author’s example is very singular, from Meg Ryan to the science fiction as creating plausibility idea. If someone dropped that into her own work, she wouldn’t just be appropriating words, she’d be taking the author’s idiosyncratic contribution and passing it off as her own.

  17. azteclady
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 11:18:46

    Disclaimer: just a reader here.

    My problem with Jane’s proposed definition comes at the end:

    when the usage adds value to the contents of the work.

    In the current plagiarism mess, most of us agree that the lifted text doesn’t add value to the work. Clunky prose becomes even clunkier, and dubious plot high points become academic lecturing (really, postcoital conversation on ferrets?) I imagine that I can be argued that the cut and paste of research texts added a patina of “she knows whereof she speaks” to the books; is that the added value in the definition? That CE could claim “meticulous research”?

    Suisan, snarkhunter, Ms Roberts: I’m so glad I wasn’t the only one who “didn’t get it”!

  18. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 11:43:11

    because one case of a repeated/echoed line shouldn't be enough to bring down someone's career.

    I think that would be a too high a standard. Writers/Crit partners often work together closely, to the point that they finish each others sentences. Working on separate projects but bouncing their ideas off each other, I can easily see where an ‘echoing’ can occur.

    Consistently? No.
    Often? No.
    Periodically? No

    But one single line? I can see that and I’ve noticed it before. A phrasing or wording gets popular, sometimes too popular, gets bandied around and then it’s showing up in a bunch of books. But that isn’t, IMO, plagiarism.

    I’ve seen ‘echoing’s in works written by authors who I firmly believe wouldn’t and haven’t ever plagiarized. Firmly enough believe that I’d bank my next advance on it. Other authors, ones I don’t know, I’ve seen ‘echoing’ by I don’t think they are plagiarizing.

    More, who is to determine how closely one single line echoes another? I’ve even seen books where there is an occasional word for word line.

    Something totally generic, totally nonspecific… like…

    Damn, that girl is hot

    Could somebody come up and claim that another writer who wrote that line after they did claim plagiarism? Yep. Should they? No. And I don’t even know there would be a legal leg to stand on. But claim of plagiarism, regardless of how small, is probably going to be looked into by the average publisher.

    Angela from Samhain’s ‘sheep on a hillside’ ‘ historical’ example

    She read it and immediately wrote first the editor, then us, repeatedly, demanding that the book be pulled because the author had stolen her “voice” and she had sheep on a hill while the people were riding toward the castle. No, really, I'm not making that up. She alleged that the author must have read her book when it was entered into a contest seven years ago.


    In that writer’s opinion, somebody had ‘echoed’ her and if we went by just one line of echoing, somebody might have actually thought the complaint had merit. It sounds silly to me, this complaint, but Samhain, being an ethical company, took the time out to investigate the matter. RWA got involved and they had to investiage.

    Time was spent on something silly, something that probably happens in a ton of historicals… sheep on a hillside and a castle are likely in half the Irish/Scottish historicals.

    The rule of common sense would need to come into play otherwise, half of the paranormal authors published could be construed as echoing the big names like Kenyon & Feehan. Half of the romantic suspenses could be construed as echoing Howard, Robb/Roberts, etc.

    I first remember reading a line ‘wild blue eyes’ in a book by NR. I’ve seen similar descriptions in other books, but that one similarity? It’s a poetic turn of phrase~the use of it shouldn’t ruin somebody’s career.

    Now if the ‘wild blue eyes’ belonged to uber-rich, sexy Scots that owned 50% of the known world, he only had ‘one’ name and he fell for a mouthy, butt-kicking private investigator with some serious childhood trauma in her past and nightmares about the parent she killed as a child, set sometime in the near future … this would be a different beast.

    But just over a line like wild blue eyes?

    One single line, especially if it’s not something very unique and specific to that author’s voice/world, shouldn’t ruin anybody’s career, because the vast majority of the time, IMO, it’s going be sheer coincidence.

  19. Sheryl Nantus
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 11:47:36

    an excellent follow-up post and discussion. If only everyone had the clear mind and intelligence to see the obvious.

    :)

  20. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 11:52:28

    And then I was cruising around some older “CE” links last night to find a commenter on a writer's blog assert that all young and inexperienced writers plagiarize as it is. She seemed to be saying that it's a natural impulse that has to be trained out of a writer, and that's why first manuscripts should never come out form under the bed.

    Then I’m in trouble… I have a budding plagiarist in the house. My daughter when she was six wrote a one page story about Sleepy Hollow~


    Once upon a time there was a town called Sleepy Hollow. It was a very peaceful little town… or was it?

    To this day, I’m so ridiculously proud of her little story, even though she mostly just paraphrased the rest of that legend. But that one line at the end… or was it… had the mama/romance lover/writer in me grinning with glee.

    *G* mama/writer disclaimer: She’s eight now. And she knows if she copies word for word from anything, it’s using somebody’s work and she needs to give them credit. Her teachers and I also both work with her about making sure she credits things used for research. She’s in third grade now… I think we’ll be okay.

    ;) Mostly tongue in cheek, but if a third grader can understand the basics of ‘not copying’… shouldn’t adults?

  21. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 11:55:36

    *G* Apparently I have a word quota for blogs today…

    I totally forgot to mention how totally adorable the kitty pic is for this one.

  22. Sela Carsen
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 12:18:41

    When I talked to my fifth grader about this issue, her jaw dropped, and she gasped, “She STOLE?!?” So, yeah. We learned not to steal as children, our children know not to steal, and every time someone shrugs and says, “Who cares?” it gets my back up because it points to a genuinely amoral thought process.

    And yes, the kitty is particularly adorable today.

  23. Jane Harrington
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 12:37:13

    I wasn’t going to comment on any of the plagiarism discussion, until I read Dear Author today. This post alone restored some of my faith in our romance community. I would also like to add that I think Shiloh Walker’s post is incredibly thoughtful, too. All sorts of issues are going on within the framework of this discussion.

    But I am ambivalent about SB’s tone and format. It gave me pause.

  24. Robin
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 12:45:26

    A few quick thoughts:

    Any definition plagiarism is going to elicit questions and disagreement, in part because any definition of plagiarism is going to be only as good as its interpretation, since that’s what will have to occur to determine whether something is or isn’t plagiarism. As for the word “repeated” maybe another phrases could be added, like “repeated and/or significant” to account for both frequency and extent. As for the last sentence, I like that it moves the value away from the author to the text, because I think it’s pretty easy to argue that any significant copying adds value to the text (else why copy it — why use it?). But in any case, Jane’s just trying to get a discussion going, which I really hope spreads.

    IMO plagiarism is merely ONE form of intellectual dishonesty, and I think we need to talk more about that. IMO it’s possible to have copying, paraphrasing, and use of another’s work that doesn’t rise to the level of plagiarism but is not honest or what authors would hope to be standard practice in the industry (e.g. the Ian McEwan debate). Ultimately I think this discussion is much, much broader than just “plagiarism” which is a powerful accusation because it’s equivalent to theft. But I think there are other things that might happen that aren’t plagiarism and yet, if come across, should be discouraged within the writing community. Which is why a definition of plagiarism is valuable and a broader discussion important, IMO.

    I think Sunita makes an important point in comment #10 that for what Edwards did an author’s note would not be sufficient attribution. So again, perhaps we need to talk more about what isn’t permissible AT ALL, and what’s okay with some acknowledgment.

  25. azteclady
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 13:21:14

    Found the comment at the SB’s Quick’n’Dirty primer on… that, I believe, encapsulates a lot of the research aspect of this discussion:

    (snip)… a rule I've always used for my own writing is simply this: Never let the research show.

    Kinda like stage magicians never letting the audience see how the ‘magic' works-‘once exposed, the carefully crafted tricks *pop* and evaporate like soap bubbles, leaving the audience feeling cheated: “Well, if I can see how it works, how can it possibly be magic?”

    Still, if any one (or perhaps two, three?) sources are truly essential to the story–like being the basis for the proper historical setting or a particular esoteric field of human activity–it’s always nice for me, as a reader, to see these acknowledge by the author. Even better when further information is offered with a brief, “visit my website at… for more fun facts and links!” or some such.

  26. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 13:25:52

    This is “parading the horribles”. All kinds of awful things might happen but they are just as likely not to happen also.

    You’re right, it is. I frequently tell my advance readers, my editors, my agent, that I’m paranoid. They tell me to stop it. I tell them it’s part of my charm.

    It doesn’t necessarily affect my outlook, because usually, while I consider the worst, it’s rarely what happens and I know this. But it’s not something I flip off something very easy, either. It’s the same thing that drives me to check my locks repeatedly. (Not once, not twice…but four, five, six times…even if it means driving five miles back to the house)

    Yep. I’m definitely paranoid. I’m aware of it, trying to get better about it and there’s still plenty of progress to be made. :(

    Parade of horribles
    …I do like that.

  27. Sam
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 13:25:55

    It seems to me, that if no one outside of romance thinks this is a big deal, that is why it is more important for US to care.

    My DH had pretty much the ‘it’s just ladies entertainment’ attitude (o.k., so I got a lot out of his resounding silence).

    Apparently we need to/have to keep the standards up on our own. I’m glad this came to light. From what I read of the PDF, there seems to have been a repeated pattern of plagiarism. I couldn’t read it all.

    I don’t buy JD. I even informed someone once about her theft. The person I was speaking to said “I don’t care, I like the stories”. Still bugs me.

    Anyway, back to you all and the way-more-informed opinions…

    Sam

  28. Jennifer McKenzie
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 14:23:00

    Actually, I appreciate this discussion. I’m currently researching a romantic suspense and drawing HEAVILY on reports from a certain watchdog group. I probably would have credited the group anyway, but now I’ll make sure to list the reports and locations of the research I used.
    The internet has made much information accessible, but I can’t imagine using ANY of the research I’ve found word for word.
    Like Robin said, if it’s important enough to put in word for word, the least I can do is credit it.
    Ideas are “copied” all the time. They usually call those “trends” nowadays. How many books are based on everyman ideas from Shakespeare? But writing is about having a creative connection with readers and how can I do that if I’m just copying someone else’s words or ideas?
    I don’t think the academic strictures of plagiarism should be applied to fiction either.
    I’m very surprised how little impact these discoveries make on the offender’s wallet. It’s too bad really.

  29. snarkhunter
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 14:32:11

    Shiloh Walker, your discussion of “echoing” said exactly what I was getting at–only more eloquently. This is probably why you’re a novelist and I am an academic. :) (Also, your kid sounds adorable.)

    All of this plagiarism discussion is making me horrifically paranoid, by the way. I’m staring at my dissertation in abject fear.

  30. Seressia
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 15:13:10

    Plagiarism is the repeated unattributed use of someone else's words/writing/work without permission, regardless of whether the work is public domain or under copyright and when the usage adds value to the contents of the work.

    I’d much rather the latter half be expunged. What does “value” mean? Monetary value? Quality? There have been disagreements over whether (for example) the use of the ferret info actually added “value” to CE’s story. I at first felt the same about the word “repeated” but can’t really think of another word to substitute. Pattern? Practice? We’d have to define both repeated and value, I think.

    On my blog I’d questioned whether there should be a writer’s code of ethics, much like corporations have Code of Conduct and ethics guidelines for their employees. (I wrote a training piece on both for my day job.) However I doubt that such a thing could, or even should, come about.

  31. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 17:08:38

    Shiloh Walker, your discussion of “echoing” said exactly what I was getting at-only more eloquently.

    LOL… maybe, but looking back I’m wondering exactly what my point was… did I make one? I’m feeling oddly more scattered than normal.

    (Also, your kid sounds adorable.)

    *G* My kid is adorable… lol. All 3 of them are…and anybody who has met them will tell you I’m not the least bit prejudiced towards them either. ;)

    Lately, the older one (my wordsmith)…she’s gotten terribly mouthy, opinionated and with much attitude. Not sure where that comes from. hmmmmm….

    All of this plagiarism discussion is making me horrifically paranoid, by the way. I'm staring at my dissertation in abject fear.

    If I had a dissertation on my desk, I’d be hiding under my desk in fear, so at least you’re doing better than me. :oP

    I would also like to add that I think Shiloh Walker's post is incredibly thoughtful, too.

    Thank you, Jane H.

    But I am ambivalent about SB's tone and format. It gave me pause.

    Nah, the SB blog isn’t going to appeal to everybody and I don’t think they’d expect it to. Nor should anybody else. We’ve all got personal likes/dislikes and we’re entitled to them.

  32. Meljean
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 17:23:11

    Because what we use in our manuscripts is an ethical decision, it is also a highly personal one. What I consider plagiarism might be different than what someone else does, even if we’re both starting from the simple idea that plagiarism is taking something that isn’t yours and calling it your own.

    Because the process of *making* it your own can differ from writer to writer. I just wrote a long post about using references in my book — and how I negotiated through the ethics of that use — that might very well have another author shaking her head in disappoint OR wondering, why did I make such a big deal out of a few tiny phrases? Of course THAT’s not plagiarism!

    Some instances are going to be more blatant than others (repeated lifting from research sources) and there IS a line, IMO, that can’t be crossed and when an author has moved from lazy writing into plagiarism and unethical behavior. But my line isn’t going to be the same as someone else’s — and I also don’t know who/what can decide, for a community, where that line should be.

    Education is, of course, a place to start — and discussion helps illuminate the grey areas (even if those grey areas can never be agreed upon by members of the community as ethical/unethical.)

    But even if nothing is ever agreed upon (including the wording of a definition) just being aware of the issues is a huge step forward. Because if a writer is constantly questioning and thinking about how they use a source, if they know they should determine what is or isn’t ethical for themselves and draw their own line of ownership, it will go a long way to preventing it.

    (Also, nodding away at everything Shiloh said about echoing. Again.)

  33. Robin
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 18:39:00

    Some instances are going to be more blatant than others (repeated lifting from research sources) and there IS a line, IMO, that can't be crossed and when an author has moved from lazy writing into plagiarism and unethical behavior. But my line isn't going to be the same as someone else's -‘ and I also don't know who/what can decide, for a community, where that line should be.

    IMO the community must somehow define and operate under some norm or standard of behavior, which is, basically, all ethics is, anyway — a community standard of acceptable behavior. No standard will be unanimous, of course, but, as you say, there are some pretty clear lines that can be drawn to start. From there I think it’s a long-term evolutionary process.

    As I’ve said numerous times, I don’t personally know any writer (i.e. my friends, peers, and colleagues) who isn’t highly conscious of these issues and sometimes pretty whacko about making sure to get it right. If, indeed, Edwards did not know what she did was wrong — which I can believe, actually — then that’s kind of scary, IMO. As a writer, I’d way rather function in a community that has some good strong lines drawn between ethical and unethical writerly conduct, because it just feels safer to me (the safe harbor Jane talks about).

    I have to say, too, that while I understand how all this talk about plagiarism might scare authors a bit, I’d also point out that the field hasn’t exactly been strewn with the bodies of falsely accused fiction authors. Can anyone, in fact, think of a baseless plagiarism claim in recent memory to get any legs under it?

  34. Meljean
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 19:44:31

    As a writer, I'd way rather function in a community that has some good strong lines drawn between ethical and unethical writerly conduct, because it just feels safer to me (the safe harbor Jane talks about).

    I totally agree with this — I think I’m just bringing up the general question of how it functions…?

    Okay, trying to think of some similar way of getting to my question, and I might be mistaking a few ideas about the legality of adultery in this, but…

    As far as I know, it isn’t illegal to commit adultery. It’s unethical by most community standards, and there are shades of grey within each community about what is and isn’t unethical. Some might say, all adultery is unethical; others might say that adultery is only unethical when the faithful party is unaware of the infidelity (no permission has been given; it’s not an open relationship); and still others might not give a flying flip.

    But in the communities, there are also bodies set up, so that if someone is damaged by the adultery/unethical act, action can be taken (in this case, probably a divorce through the courts.) And the courts have been set up by the community (and offer security) and judges elected and appointed — so although it is the community which has essentially determined what is and isn’t ethical, there is someone to carry out and enforce that (I don’t want to use common law, because I know that’s wrong) but … common law.

    And I imagine that there are laws or precedents that guide the courts when making a decision in a divorce and dissolving a marriage, and the appointed officers use that as a guideline.

    So I guess my question is: how does the romance community do the same? What body is there to set guidelines, who appoints it, how is it appointed … I’m not trying to be argumentative (I can see how the questions might be taken that way) but we’ve seen that there are very few consequences when someone plagiarizes. Does it need a body, or is awareness, education, and self-policing enough? How do you determine that there is security and a safe space when, if there are members of the community who don’t give a flying flip, there is no way to take action against them … and is action like we’ve seen here on the blogs regarding the CE case the most we can hope for when no actual laws have been broken?

  35. Patrick
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 20:21:09

    The RWA does have a Code of Ethics, but I don’t know if it has any teeth behind it.

    If I owned a book that was proven to my satisfaction to contain plagiarized material, I’d mail it back to the publisher and demand a full refund; let the publisher recoup its losses from the author.

  36. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 20:42:52

    I have to say, too, that while I understand how all this talk about plagiarism might scare authors a bit, I'd also point out that the field hasn't exactly been strewn with the bodies of falsely accused fiction authors. Can anyone, in fact, think of a baseless plagiarism claim in recent memory to get any legs under it?

    No, I can’t. By nature, I very often see that ‘parade of horribles’ that DS referred to in comment 7~and admittedly while I might imagine the worst, that’s rarely what happens. Maybe I’m just one of the “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” types.

    Does it need a body, or is awareness, education, and self-policing enough?

    Meljean, my turn to nod… that is a good question.

  37. Meljean
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 20:52:51

    and is action like we've seen here on the blogs regarding the CE case the most we can hope for when no actual laws have been broken?

    I feel I should clarify this, like it’s belittling the response and how people have stood up and said their piece, when I’m not trying to dismiss it. And I think that the actions of those who spoke out when Signet gave that awful first response DID make a difference, as has the continuing discussion.

    When what I’m thinking of is how very few people offline know of the JD/NR plagiarism story, even though it hit the national news as well. And if national attention still doesn’t bring awareness to the majority of the romance reading community (not necessarily the authors, because RWA can reach many of those), but the very large community with the buying power (and so the community with the ability to censure an author in a meaningful way for a breach of ethics if publishers don’t) … then is there something else that needs to be in its place? Does the RWA code have any teeth? Is there something else with teeth that can be established? Does it need to be, as long as a community (even a small, online portion of it) is willing to send letters to publishers and keep the topic alive?

  38. Tracy
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 21:09:31

    Lately, the older one (my wordsmith)…she's gotten terribly mouthy, opinionated and with much attitude. Not sure where that comes from. hmmmmm….

    That’s the 8 year old right? My 8 year old sounds exactly the same. The mouth on him lately. . .grrrrrr

  39. Nora Roberts
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 21:53:41

    I doubt RWA can do anything especially against an offender who is not a member, or for a victim who isn’t a member. I do think organizations like RWA, Ninc, The Author’s Guild can and should come out more publicly about the issue.

    But I also think that victims of plagiarism need to make noise. Some may think that’s easy for me to say, but believe me it’s not. I know exactly how much that costs, on every possible level.

    However, the simple fact is that every time someone is plagiarized and keeps quiet, handles it behind the scenes, lets it go, elects not to ‘make a stink’, it perpetuates the silence. It keeps the door open for more and more of the offense.

    It’s HARD to come out and say, wait a damn minute, this person STOLE from me, when some will say quit your bitching, big deal, it’s only words, they’re all the same, why are you being so mean, so hard, making such a big deal. Leave her alone, she didn’t mean it, didn’t know, didn’t take very much, is a really nice person. Excuses and more excuses will be made for the offender and piled on the victim’s back.

    It’s hard to stand up when some of your peers and some of your audience not only refuse to stand with you but castigate you for defending yourself.

    But until you do, it makes it easier for it to happen again.

    The victim should know that their community stands against the issue as well–but this is simply not the case. There will be voices who criticize those who expose plagiarism, and those who speak out against it. Mean girls, witch hunts, mind your own business, mob rule–again and again deflecting focus from the issue and trying to make it about personalities.

    Plagiarism doesn’t have a personality. It’s an unethical act that should offend anyone who makes their living with words.

  40. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 22:26:05

    That's the 8 year old right? My 8 year old sounds exactly the same. The mouth on him lately. . .grrrrrr

    Yep. Either it’s an epidemic or maybe they are related. Yes, I’m in denial that she’s getting to THAT stage already. Sigh…

  41. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 22:39:05

    It's hard to stand up when some of your peers and some of your audience not only refuse to stand with you but castigate you for defending yourself.

    I can’t speak from experience on this, thank God, and I can’t imagine how much it must suck to have people who should understand just not get it.

    Some of the evidence I’ve seen where they don’t get it has just been downright demoralizing. We get enough of ‘it doesn’t matter’ line handed towards romance anyway.

    If romance as a genre should matter, and most of us feel it should, right? If it should matter, than integrity within the genre should matter. It should count.

    Just can’t understand those who think otherwise.

  42. Patricia Briggs
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 23:17:33

    Sadly, our bookstore has more Cassie Edwards than it used to. I’m afraid the publicity is doing just the opposite of what it should :(

  43. JaimeK
    Jan 22, 2008 @ 23:46:01

    I would have to agree that it seems the publicity is making CE’s books more in demand – our bookstore actually had a large cardboard display. I had a fit and I mean a fit. When I went in the other day I did not see the display. I don’t know if they got rid of it because there was so much said about it or if it was just out of my line of sight – either way I was happy not to see it.

  44. Poison Ivy
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 02:42:41

    This isn’t just a romance world issue, as the Alex Haley case shows. He lost the lawsuit and had to pay reparations. His reputation was permanently and rightfully smirched. His magnum opus was forever cheapened by the fact of the plagiarism. But, sadly, I’m betting that his books still sell at a volume that the person whose book he plagiarized has never equaled. Similarly, Doris Kearns Goodwin still maintains a large portion of her elevated reputation as a historian despite her plagiarism. It just did not stigmatize her enough. Cassie Edwards’ books will continue to sell if her publishers continue to issue them.

    A key element of reparations should be to ensure that as part of the settlement, the offending passages are all removed or the particular book is withdrawn from publication entirely. But even having done that, the plagiarizer continues to benefit from the renown as an author that came to him or her from having stolen someone else’s work. That’s one reason why money damages are sought, I suppose, but how to quantify the lifelong career boost from a bestselling book? The offending author becomes entrenched as a successful public figure, and for whatever reason, simply retains the public’s goodwill anyway.

    Janet Dailey, an admitted plagiarizer, did not make her career with her plagiarism. She un-made it. But she is still selling books, though not to me. And people prefer to forget what she did rather than confront it. I recently lobbied unsuccessfully for a review of one of them to be removed from a web site, on the grounds that her proven unethical behavior made her someone whose writing should not be promoted just to have content on a site. There are thousands of other books to review, after all. But the person in charge felt it was all right to keep the review up because that book had not been proved to contain plagiarized passages.

    “Yet,” I thought.

    A proven plagiarizer ought to be harried by the public, not just sued by the wronged writers. We should talk, talk, talk about the sins committed. We should use all the weapons at our command, including outright disdain and ridicule. We should complain to bookstores that continue to showcase Cassie Edwards’ books. We should not sit back and wait (often in vain) for organizations such as the RWA to issue tame reproofs, but press them to say something of substance. (I’ve sent that e-mail.) The legal system itself isn’t enough to effect the punishment that is deserved for plagiarism and thus to discourage more theft. Every time the author’s name comes up, “plagiarizer” should to be mentioned with it. Preferably, to the plagiarizer’s face.

  45. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 07:46:47

    A proven plagiarizer ought to be harried by the public, not just sued by the wronged writers. We should talk, talk, talk about the sins committed. We should use all the weapons at our command, including outright disdain and ridicule.

    I don’t know if I can agree with your sentiment, Poison Ivy. I certainly agree that it isn’t fair that plagiarists often prosper more than than those they stole from.

    However, I don’t agree that a person should pay indefinitely for a mistake that they are willing to admit they made. Admit it, apologize for it, make whatever amends can made, and I might be willing to give the person another chance. Especially in certain cases. The Harvard student last summer~she’s 19. Yes, that is old enough to know better. But it’s old also young enough to realize she messed up and never do it again. She would have to admit she made a mistake before I’d be willing to try anything she wrote, but if she admits it, then that tells me she might have learned something.

    It’s different with the CE issue, in my mind, because she’s yet to come out and make an admission, offer an apology or reparations. As she’s an accomplished writer. If she can’t own up to her mistakes, I’d have a hard time believing it won’t happen again.

    The JD case is another tricky one because while she admitted guilt, she excused it away. However, this doesn’t mean I don’t think she can’t learn from her mistakes. I won’t buy her regardless and yes, I did used to read her before the plagiarism deal. Not reading her isn’t my way of ‘punishing’ her~it’s just that I have no desire to pick up a book and try it out after she plagiarized. I’d imagine, though, she is aware she’s being scrutinized~people are scrutiny tend to be meticulous.

    One thing I flat out disagree with is ridicule. That usually ends up veering into personally territory and when that happens, many people are either going to jump on and do the same without really thinking about why~ or they are going to stop listening to anything and everything that is said because of the personal attack. Personal attacks are not objective. Without objectivity, there is no way to rationally educate the public. All it does is make the ridiculer looks vindictive and it negates any true point they might have had. This is all my opinion of course, but once things turn to personal attacks, I stop listening.

    It doesn’t mean I don’t focus on the plagiarism issue itself, but it does mean that I’ll ignore whatever logical points somebody might have had. If they can’t be stated without insults or ridicule, I have no desire to read them.

  46. Nora Roberts
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 08:10:51

    ~Admit it, apologize for it, make whatever amends can made,~

    Yes! Yes, yes, yes.

    Most people are, at the core, willing to forgive, to give another chance to someone who stands up and says they did something wrong, they’re sorry, they’ll try to fix it–without smothering that with: but it wasn’t really my fault and here’s why.

  47. Jane
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 08:56:17

    I think all it would take for me is for Edwards to say – yes, I can see how this can’t be right and I’m not going to do it anymore. I don’t know that I even need an apology, just an acknowledgment that the current practice of writing is not appropriate and will change in the future.

    At this point, I am far more disturbed with the publishers. I know that ultimately plagiarism is the responsibility of the author but at this point, how can any responsible publisher allow Edwards books to be republished without thorough vetting. I know that both Kensington and Dorchester plan to re-release several out of print Edwards titles this year. The most recent re-release, Falcon Moon, is being looked at right now and there are already three copied passages, one from poor Mr. Tolme again.

    I don’t think the readership can afford to do a fundraiser for every wildlife animal which Tolme wrote about and Edwards copied. Each subsequent novel that is released at this point is a slap in our face as romance readers.

    I know some are probably saying that we shouldn’t care because most of us aren’t Edwards readership in the first place, but it does harm us in the sense that it shows a lack of care on the part of Kensington for intellectual integrity. It seems to me that this publisher is more interested in making money no matter what so it will continue to put out books that are ostensibly authored by Edwards without regard for whether it infringes on another’s copyright. It degrades a readers implicit trust in a publisher and lend credence to any further complaints about publisher integrity.

    If it is all about money then what can a reader truly do? It is these thoughts that feed boycott ideas because a reader feels helpless. She sees that the only thing that the publisher will respond to is economic pressure. How is economic pressure brought about?

    If this continues without response and continued re-release, we can only hope that the press continues to follow this story and question the publisher, but I don’t see it happening because romance is not considered a genre of value and therefore of no mainstream literary interest. Would the press had hounded Frey if he was a romance author writing his memoirs? Doubtful.

    It’s just all very depressing, imo.

  48. Bernita
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 10:14:06

    “The most recent re-release, Falcon Moon, is being looked at right now and there are already three copied passages, one from poor Mr. Tolme again.”
    Unless they hastily acquired permissions from Mr. Tolme and/or others,it would seem then, that integrity is also an endangered species.

  49. Poison Ivy
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 10:17:43

    I don’t think we should leave it to the press to determine for us how plagiarizers are treated. Or to the courts. In addition to the authors hurt by plagiarizers, we the readers are hurt. We’re lied to and we’re unknowingly complicit, and if the publisher keeps issuing the same plagiarized books unaltered, we’re still part of the vicious cycle. If everyone quickly resumes treating the author in question as if she is due the same respect as someone who did not commit these sins, then I guess the whole brouhaha was pretty meaningless, wasn’t it?

  50. azteclady
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 10:43:13

    Poison Ivy, how can the online community–and within it, only those who are aware of this and have studied the pdf and see it as plagiarism (which sadly is a smaller number than one would want to think)–how can we effect a big enough change?

    Educating our fellow readers? Many of us are doing what we can. Writers are posting about it in their blogs, it’s being discussed in forums, books under CE’s name are still being combed over for plagiarized bits, and the pdf document updated as more evidence comes to light.

    But how do we reach the vast majority of CE readers out there, to make them see that they have been buying what essentially amounts to stolen property, and convince them to stop? How can we reach them if not through the press?

  51. Anon76
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 11:22:24

    Jane said:

    “If it is all about money then what can a reader truly do? It is these thoughts that feed boycott ideas because a reader feels helpless. She sees that the only thing that the publisher will respond to is economic pressure. How is economic pressure brought about?”

    Yep, and that is the huge problem. If these publishers continue on their paths to rerelease these books, they are thumbing their noses at the whole issue, and basically, at a number of writers and readers who stand behind the fact that the CE thing is unethical if not illegal. And, drawing a line in the sand for people like Tolme. “Hey, tough s**t, whatcha gonna do about it? We have lots of lawyers, can you afford to fight us?”

    Plus, with most of us being of an ethical nature, we know that boycotting the publisher will harm the innocent. Authors who have done nothing wrong except for selling one of their hard worked upon books to a house that now appears to have little value for writing in general, other than the bottom line.

    Sigh. The trick is, trying to make it clear that the possible rewards of plagiarism can not, and should not be an acceptable exchange.

    Now, don’t rip me for this thought here, but it’s like trying to explain to a hungry youth why laboring at fast food for a while is a better path than selling drugs.

  52. Poison Ivy
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 11:37:45

    Count the number of bookstores in your area and the number of romance writers. I’ll bet there are more writers than stores. If even one tenth of the romance writers visited each store and asked the manager to remove the books containing plagiarism, the message might get across to them. Plenty of mothers outraged at explicit song lyrics have done the same with even less moral or legal right to make the demand.

    Surely we can think of other actions to try, and there is value in repeated individual action. If just one person talks to a store manager (or a librarian or a publisher or an editor or a reporter), maybe nothing happens. If over a period of days, weeks, or months, many people speak to the manager, maybe something does.

    As for the CE readers themselves, obviously many of us have decided that they are mere stupidheads, and thus appealing directly to them makes little sense. They don’t care. They want that hot Native American love and those postcoital lectures on ferrets. Removing the books from their ignorant grasp is the easy answer.

    Look, try anything and everything. But don’t take the attitude that we are mere individuals and the great big nasty money-grubbing publishers will inevitably roll over us. It isn’t all that inevitable, as the OJ Simpson tell-all book showed.

    If all you do is blast the offender on a blog, that’s something. But don’t just make nice and feel sorry for the plagiarizer who hasn’t yet admitted any wrongdoing–and may never do so without hedging the admission with excuses.

  53. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 14:25:51

    If all you do is blast the offender on a blog, that's something. But don't just make nice and feel sorry for the plagiarizer who hasn't yet admitted any wrongdoing-and may never do so without hedging the admission with excuses.

    Blasting doesn’t accomplish anything, Poison Ivy. Look… let me try to explain this way. Bear with on the nursing context…nursing is what I know.

    I’m going to relate this a ethic/moral type issue as well, but I am NOT drawing parallels~ just trying to illuminate how insults or blasting tend to have little to no effect.

    Going to use a nurse who is trying to educate parents with young teens and preteens on the dangers and repercussions of teen sex and how education, open discussion and honestly is required.

    ~*~

    Nurse goes into the room, turns and faces the parents starts off with…

    If you haven’t talked openly to your kids about sex, you’re probably damning them a life of poverty, a life riddled with health problems stemming from STDs, a life where they are stuck in a job with little higher education.

    If you don’t talk openly to your kids about sex, you’re risking their health, their ability to have healthy children, ever their long term health.

    If you aren’t talking openly to your kids about sex, you’re risking their lives. It isn’t just about babies or HIV. You can’t just say don’t have sex. It’s not good enough and if that’s all you do, you’ve failed.

    Sounds rather harsh, yes? Is it wrong? Not necessarily. These are all valid points, taken to the extreme, but valid.

    HOWEVER…many of these parents are either going to turn off their ears, or they are going to get so offended, they don’t hear what else she might have to say.

    They don’t hear the important information about education, how kids don’t always think oral sex IS sex, and this ignorance can lead to kids catching diseases like herpes.

    They don’t hear about the fact that open and honest, non-judgmental discussion with kids can give their kid a chance at a better, healthier life.

    ~*~
    Trying it from an educational standpoint… same scenario, nurse going in to talk to parents on educating their kids.
    ~*~

    nurse goes into classroom and starts handing each of the parents a picture of a pretty girl, roughly 12-13 years old. She then goes around and hands out a picture of the same girl, but her mouth is covered with ugly blisters and there are scars.

    This girl’s parents talked to her about sex. They explained that sex is something that should wait until she’s older.

    They explained that she needed to think about what was best for her and not to do anything just because her friends did, or because the boy she liked was pushing her to. They had their birds & bees talk, but they weren’t comfortable being open about sexuality and all its aspects.

    When her boyfriend told her that oral sex isn’t really sex, she was too embarrassed to talk to her parents. When she tried, she got the same birds and bees talk, and ended up so embarrassed, she never asked the questions she had to ask.

    So she engaged in oral sex…thinking it wasn’t really sex. But her boyfriend had herpes. And now she does, too.

    ~*~

    Which group of parents is going to listen better?

    Nobody cares for being lectured or blasted. Often, they turn their ears off or just nod along, thinking… man, this is a waste.

    But people are willing to be educated. Education comes from objectivity. It doesn’t come from blasting. People can easily agree with blasts, but chances are, they did that anyway.

    It’s not reaching those who haven’t made a decision or those who aren’t aware. And those are the ones we need to reach.

    They key is in education and in open discussion, but if it’s not objective, it’s not going to have much effect.

    I have no desire to make nice with CE but I can say I pity her. She made a bad decision, seriously bad, and I wonder how much of that stemmed from some sort of desperation or ignorance. Desperation and ignorance are definitely things I pity. They don’t excuse the acts, they don’t make it better. Acting out of desperation or ignorance is a sign of weakness. I can’t respect weakness. I can’t condone acting on it. But I can pity it.

  54. Bev(BB)
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 16:54:05

    But how do we reach the vast majority of CE readers out there, to make them see that they have been buying what essentially amounts to stolen property, and convince them to stop? How can we reach them if not through the press?

    We reach them the same way we reach anyone searching for information on the web. We make the information available. The rest is up to them. If the information isn’t available, they can’t find it and that is what we can’t allow to happen.

    Think about it. Yes, there are a lot of people that are not “online” in the same way we are but there are just as many that use the Internet as an information source when needed. My own sister is one of those. She does not spend a lot of time online but she does routinely look things up. If she was interested in an author, I’m sure she’d research that author. Don’t fall into the stereotyping trap of thinking that all romance readers aren’t computer uses just because they read romances now, ya hear. ;p

    See where I’m going? Search engines are wonderful things. When I said that as a reader what I’d like to ultimately see was a complete listing of plagarized books by the authors who commented the offenses, I meant it. Quite literally. It might also be nice to make sure the publishers involved got mentioned somewhere in that listing, too. Just to see how many times they show up.

    And, yeah, we do have to forgive if someone is truly repentent, which means that future books could be published by an author who has “paid” for the offenses. That’s always assuming, however, that they have repented and paid in some way. Personally, though, re-editing something that’s already been tainted just doesn’t do it for me as a reader. A clean start, a new work, yes. Reworking something already tainted? Not so much.

    And second chances only go so far. Which is why keeping track and not forgetting is truly so important. Repentance only works if it’s real, you know. Trust but verify ring any bells?

    Oh, and one other thing, there is a certain part of my brain that is really resistant to the very idea of having to define plagarism for people who make their living writing. It keeps telling me they should already know this information and if they don’t I should be doubly insulted as a longtime devoted reader of their work. Just thought I should mention that in passing.

  55. Sheryl Nantus
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 17:03:51

    Well, I plan to bring it up at a new writing group I’m starting this weekend. Discuss it, dissect it, read over the Newsweek article and just plain old chat about it.

    Information is power – and alerting as many people as you can will help spread the word about this and allow people to make up their own minds.

    Although I’m with you *points up* – if you don’t know what plagarism is, what the heck are you doing writing? And then what ARE you writing, eh?

  56. azteclady
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 17:28:42

    Beb(QQ), I’m not dismissing the power of the internet! Indeed, just before the bit you quoted I said,

    Educating our fellow readers? Many of us are doing what we can. Writers are posting about it in their blogs, it's being discussed in forums, books under CE's name are still being combed over for plagiarized bits, and the pdf document updated as more evidence comes to light.

    My question after that was in good faith, and I’m happy to see more suggestions being brought up.

    Incidentally, I think that it would really be great to have a centralized document–or at least a repository of links, if you will–not just for the CE evidence but for other cases that have been mentioned during the past couple of weeks (Ms Robert and JD, Ms Andrews and Ian McEwan, Linda Howard and Christina Dodd, and any others that I’ve missed). I have also enjoyed greatly all the posts and essays on the issue of plagiarism vs research vs personal voice, etc. by many of the authors who have posted both here and at the SBs (you all know who you are), and have been keeping a list of links to them too. Another way to educate both readers and writers, I hope.

    Sheryl Nantus,

    if you don't know what plagarism is, what the heck are you doing writing? And then what ARE you writing, eh?

    I have no doubt that the second question has popped up in many a reader’s mind, and that it has contributed to the nervousness some writers are feeling over the course of these conversations. I hope that the more accurate information (SB’s primer is excellent, as are Jane’s and Janet’s discussions on the topic) there is around for us to point at, the better.

  57. Bev(BB)
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 17:54:20

    even though they may not be “online” in the same way most of us are.

    Oh, I don’t think you are or anyone else is. However, I do tend to believe that we often overlook the power of the Internet as a tool at times.

    Consider this, I’m sure Ms. Roberts would’ve been extremely gratified over the years if, instead of search engines routinely spitting out Janet Daily’s current works, they instead produced first and foremost a page (or even pages) listing the books that were proven plagarized from Ms. Roberts. Yes, I can hear the gasps now about beating dead horses but this information is also historical fact that somehow very few seem to know about. Such is already the power of search engines and yet oddly enough people have to search “extra” for it? Weird doesn’t cover that. Suspicious comes closer.

    It is within the power of the reader community to start changing that while at the same time both educate ourselves and publicise the issue. Is this not what we are talking about here? Defining the problem? Showing support for the victims, past and future? Proving that we are advocates for changes in attitudes rather than letting them continue as they are?

  58. azteclady
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 17:57:48

    Bev(BB) for prez! *ahem* (and apologies for mangling your handle earlier *wince*)

  59. Poison Ivy
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 18:33:39

    I put my money where my mouth was today. I went to two library systems, told the librarians about the CE situation, and got the paperwork to make a request to remove her books from the library. (Yes, such paperwork exists because requests to remove books are not rare.) I also donated a tiny amount of money to a library book sale to buy a copy of one of Janet Dailey’s plagiarism-filled novels, and I will personally shred it and send the paper to the county recycle dump. (Much as the thought of destroying books horrifies me on principle, a book filled with stolen words is sheer poison and should be changed into something clean and useful.) I intend to continue to buy up cheap copies of such works and recycle them, thus helping library budgets and removing vileness from potential readers. I admit that doesn’t make any inroads into Cassie Edwards’ royalties off Paul Tolme’s ferrets. But it’s what I could do today.

  60. Karmyn
    Jan 23, 2008 @ 21:06:22

    This weekend I had a few quiet minutes with my neices while Mom was in the store picking up a few groceries. The girls are ages 9 and 11 and good students. I asked them if it was right to copy directly from the dictionary for a report. They both answered no. I then gave a brief synopsis of what had happened. I am happy to say that the 11 year old had heard of Nora Roberts. I don’t think she’s ever read her books, though. I am very careful about what I let them read of mine. Most romances are a lot more explicit then when I read them at her age.
    Both girls expressed that Cassie Edwards was wrong and should be punished. Smart kids.

  61. Bev(BB)
    Jan 24, 2008 @ 15:08:57

    Bev(BB) for prez! *ahem* (and apologies for mangling your handle earlier *wince*)

    Har, har. And thank you very much but no thanks. And no apologies necessary. ;)

    Sorry for taking so long to reply but my allergic asthma seems to be kicking up at the end of the cold I’ve had for the last few weeks and I’ve been a little preoccupied overnight. So, I’m off to the doctor this afternoon.

  62. Jess
    Jan 30, 2008 @ 04:12:16

    A quick note about Cassie Edwards
    Unfortunately, I had the wonderful oppertunity to read one of her books in the last few weeks. Working with a Native American Cultural and Research Center who gathers all literature about their tribe, they just happened to have a copy and encouraged my friend and I to read the awful book and highlight all of the things Cassie Edwards got wrong about the tribe. And for being a tribe with a very distinct culture, she got a lot of stuff wrong. Our hightlighter was dry by the middle of the book.

    I would suggest also remembering the tribes and their cultures that she mangles and destroys with the books she writes. Honestly, how can you say that your writing a series to “give a voice to the Indians” (something along that line was printed in the back of the book which is in the hands of the museum) then repersent a stereotyped version of their culuture.

    I know this comment doesn’t fit the plagiarism motif, but thsi is just another thing to keep in mind when discussing the hideous writings of Cassie Edwards.

  63. What? Someone else just wrote my book! « emma woodcock
    Aug 11, 2012 @ 11:02:41

    […] I am of course not endorsing plagiarism of any kind or degree (For an interesting discussion of literary plagiarism see this post on Dear Author). What concerns me is the public’s perception of plagiarism. If […]

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