Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

How to Fling About Legal Insults Like a Lawyer, Part 1...

6a00c225266b2e8e1d00d414376d2e3c7f-500pi.jpg

Source: Snuffle Guppy

It has occurred to me, from my years of online inhabitation, that people love to fling about the threat of a lawsuit but never really follow through. The sad truth is that most people apparently can’t tell their ears from their eyes when demanding reparations. The most frequent accusation that I’ve seen is that we bloggers are slanderers. I don’t know why the word “slander” has become shorthand for defamation but it seems to be the most commonly used term when someone has something dislikeable uttered about her or him.

I felt it was worthwhile to do a couple of posts on the law of defamation so that when people become unhappy with what I have written, they can consult these series of posts to correctly phrase their legal threat. Or maybe bloggers can realize that there are some defenses.

Defamation = Libel or Slander

Defamation is a legal term which is defined as the untruthful statements of fact made to a third party that causes damage to a person’s reputation. From the Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition:

An intentional false communication, either published or publicly spoken, that injures another’s reputation or good name. Holding up of a person to ridicule, scorn or contempt in a respectable and considerable part of the community; may be criminal or civil which includes libel or slander.

Defamation is that which tends to injure reputation; to diminish the esteem, respect, goodwill or confidence in which the plaintiff is held, or to excite adverse derogatory or unpleasant feelings or opinions against him. Statement which exposes person to contempt, hatred, ridicule or obloquy. The unprivileged publication of false statements which naturally and proximately result in injury to another.

Defamation can either be published orally or in writing. Oral defamation, that which can be heard with the ears, is referred to as slander. Written defamation, that which can be read with the eyes, is referred to as libel. For anything that is transmitted via the interwebs, the claim will always be “I am going to sue you for libel” rather than “you slandered me”.

The minute someone uses the word “slander” in conjunction with something that is written, bells should go off indicating that the accuser has no knowledge of the law and has not been in contact with anyone who has knowledge of the law.

SLAPP

A lawsuit brought against a blogger for making an unfavorable statement can be a SLAPP or “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”. George W. Pring and Penelope Canan coined the term in its law review article, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, 7 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 3, 4 (1989). California was one of the first states to enact an anti-SLAPP provision. Calif. Code Civ. Proc.  § 425.16. The beginning of the chapter states the purpose:

The Legislature finds and declares that there has been a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought primarily to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances. The Legislature finds and declares that it is in the public interest to encourage continued participation in matters of public significance, and that this participation should not be chilled through abuse of the judicial process.

The hallmark of a SLAPP suit is that it lacks merit. For example, if someone were to threaten a blog owner for making them look foolish for posting plagiaristic material, it is likely that the court would view that suit as lacking in merit and designed to quell the valid exercise of free speech.

How a lawsuit works is essentially this. Someone files a document accusing another of wrongdoing. The person doing the accusing is called the Petitioner or Complainant. The person accused of wrongdoing is called the Defendant. The document containing the accusations is called a Petition or Complaint. The Petition looks like this:


Unhappy Person,
The Plaintiff

v.

MeanGirl,
The Defendant

* * * *

Case No.

COMPLAINT

* * * *

Wherein the Unhappy Person states the following in support of her Unhappiness:

1. The Unhappy Person, of a certain county, has been made unhappy by MeanGirl.
2. MeanGirl did x, y, and double z wrong.
3. X, Y, and Double Z caused Unhappy Person to become Unhappy.
4. Many damages ensue.
5. Damages result of X, Y and Double Z done by MeanGirl.

Wherefore Unhappy Person respectfully prays the Court punish MeanGirl in all the ways including ones that are not on the books; but, if nothing else, in all ways that are just and equitable.


Massachusetts, a state in which certain agents base their business, has an anti-SLAPP provision. The anti-SLAPP provision allows the MeanGirl Defendant to ask the court to dismiss, or throw out, the Unhappy Petition.

In a 2003 case, MacDonald v. Paton, a website owner was sued for defamation by a political figure for content the owner placed on her site. MacDonald v. Paton, 782 N.E.2d 1089 (2003). The Unhappy Person was referred to as “Gestapo agent” in the Athol Daily News. Paton’s, the MeanGirl, site included a section called the “The First Dictionary of Athonics” and after the Athol Daily News piece, Paton wrote up the following definition:

“nazi – not see 1. A political affiliation whose platform espouses military dictatorship, racial cleansing, eugenics and intolerance. 2. In Athol, a term sometimes used to describe certain selectmen who wish to ignore most issues except for those which place them firmly in bed with chiefs of police. (see Old Macdonald had a gun, E – I – E – I – Oh shit).”

The Unhappy Person, the politician, brought a defamation suit against a number of individuals including Paton, the MeanGirl owner of the now defunct website. Paton filed for a special motion to dismiss according to the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP provision. G. L. c. 231,  § 59H. The Massachusetts Appellate Court found that the petition should be dismissed for several reasons:

  • First, the anti-SLAPP statute applies to cases in which both the Unhappy Person and MeanGirl are persons of modest means; Id. at 1093.
  • Second, it is applicable to defamation actions; Id.
  • Third, by having the site as a forum for speech by citizens of the community of the city, the website “served as a technological version of a meeting of citizens on the Town Green, a space where concerned individuals could come together to share information, express political opinions, and rally on town issues of concern to the community." Id. at 1093-94.

A previous Massachusetts case interpreting the anti-SLAPP provisions found that petitioning includes “reporting violations of law”. See Duracraft Corp. v. Holmes Prods. Corp., 427 Mass. 156, 161-162, 691 N.E.2d 935 (1998). Like us, reporting on the posting of plagiaristic material.

Under the anti-SLAPP statute, once a court grants a special motion to dismiss, the MeanGirl is awarded costs and reasonable attorney’s fees as well as appellate fees and costs. This is not within the discretion of the court. The court MUST award them, meaning not only is the Unhappy Person out her attorneys’ fees, but she has to pay MeanGirl’s attorneys’ fees and costs. And let me tell you, MeanGirl would hire very a expensive attorney, just for the fun of it.

So, for bloggers everywhere, you might want to be aware that there are protections for you in some states, such as the anti-SLAPP provisions. I wonder how many complaints ever result in an actual lawsuit. Instead, you have SEAPPs (coined by me without a corresponding law review article as far as I can tell via Google) or Strategic Emails Against Public Participation. SEAPPs are employed by the Unhappy Persons with the hopes of frightening individuals unfamiliar with the law into not speaking out. We here at Dear Author know the law and aren’t afraid to use it.

Next week, we will take a look at statement of fact v. statement of opinion.

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

135 Comments

  1. Kerry Allen
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 05:08:07

    Unhappy Person picked the wrong MeanGirl to screw around with!

  2. Gail
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 05:48:35

    Very edjamacational! and easy to understand. Excellent explanation.

  3. Maya Reynolds
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 06:16:06

    Jane: Suppressing your feelings this way can’t be healthy. Why don’t you come out and say what you really think? {grin}

    Thanks for a great post.

  4. Jayne
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 06:17:30

    And it’s day six and the Unhappy Person still has the plagiarized material up at her website.

  5. Jan
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 06:28:28

    I need to bookmark this one. Unfortunately, I think it will be beyond those at whom it was aimed. But for those of us meangirls in the crowd *snort*, it’s nice to know.

    (I’m wondering if a Double Z might be DIZZO!)

  6. ilona andrews
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 07:16:48

    Countersuit:

    Mean Girl, the Plaintiff

    v.

    Unhappy Person,
    The Defendant

    * * * *

    In the Court of Bring It On, You and Your Diddlos

    Case No.

    COMPLAINT

    * * * *

    1. Had the Plaintiff not caught the plagiarism and not posted it, Defendant would have proceeded with publication of plagiarized material

    2. Had the plagiarized work been published, Scary Huge Publisher would slap Defendant with a giant lawsuit

    3. Scary Huge Publisher would win the lawsuit and some monetary damages would have been awarded

    ERGO:

    Plaintiff kept Defendant from suffering a financial ruin, therefore Plaintiff should be compensated for her services.*

    Jane, why won’t your blog let me style a case properly? All my brackets were messed up :(

  7. Nora Roberts
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 07:23:55

    ~And it's day six and the Unhappy Person still has the plagiarized material up at her website.~

    She must be so proud of her purchased, plagiarized words. I imagine she plays her diddlo every time she reads them.

  8. December Quinn/Stacia Kane
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 07:29:23

    Sheesh. And she’s still plagiarizing, in addition to leaving up the original plagiarism–her “new” prologue is a pretty much exact retelling of the Gemmell one without the style or skill.

  9. Bianca
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 07:36:29

    loving this.

  10. M.
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 07:55:16

    Nice, Jane :)

    As to that person, my guess is that she has not received communication from the estate of David Gemmell … yet. *shrug*

    It is very easy to drop the word “lawsuit” here in the USA. It’s pretty much a generic term now used as an equivalent of “f**k off”. :P

  11. Carrie Lofty
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 08:01:54

    What an awesome post. Good one.

  12. emmigeek
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 08:19:13

    Wow. Thank you. This is really enlightening. Unfortunately I think most of it will fly right over the heads of certain Unhappy peoples.

    linking to it.

  13. TeddyPig
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 08:26:37

    That website is screaming in agony.

    Needs more tin foil.

  14. Jennifer McKenzie
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 08:27:28

    So, I have a question. Would this apply if you were hypothetically wrong? I mean, say you did the whole post WITHOUT the research and just said “That person is plagiarizing her work”. And say that many believed you, even though you didn’t “prove” it. Would all of the anti-SLAPP laws apply to mischief?

    I’m asking because it’s scary how much MISinformation there is out there. Is there any protection for someone who is being lied about?

    It seems like some can throw around online accusations of all kinds of things and not held accountable. What say you?

  15. Anji
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 08:38:50

    That website is screaming in agony.

    Needs more tin foil.

    All that’s missing now are alien abductions – maybe Christopher Hill was an alien?????

    *snerk*

  16. Anji
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 08:47:42

    But really, if you’re going to intimidate someone, wouldn’t you want to inform yourself about the legal concepts that you’re throwing about, and whether they’re actually applicable?

    It does seem that some people use shows as Law & Order as a source of their legal knowledge instead of seriously consulting their legal counsel.

    And yeah, threatening to sue does unfortunately seem to chill free speech…

  17. Keishon
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 08:55:05

    Even on Judge Judy (yes, this is how I keep up with the law), she’ll get a case or two like this where someone posts something crude or not very nice on MySpace, etc. All she does is tell the defendant what they did wasn’t a very nice thing, but at the end of the day it is not actionable, case dismissed.

  18. Keishon
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 08:59:11

    But really, if you're going to intimidate someone, wouldn't you want to inform yourself about the legal concepts that you're throwing about, and whether they're actually applicable?

    Honestly, if someone was serious about suing anyone about anything, they wouldn’t blab to the whole world about it, they’d just do it.

  19. Darlene Marshall
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 09:07:41

    I followed the link to the agent’s website and found this:

    “…that will print, staple or comb bind your work. You can purchase one copy as a momento…”

    Am I the only one who suspects the agent and the “author” are the same person? I’m basing this suspicion solely on the wacko spellings and word combinations.

    Has anyone ever seen both of them in the same room?

  20. Caro Kinkead
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 09:48:09

    Darlene, there have been moments on the Making Light website where you know it’s one of the two parties posting, but because of the way they shift tenses and what they’re protesting back and forth, you can’t tell which on it actually is. Also, I believe I saw a reference that LL has been published in Pillsbury’s Angus Grady books, which are based on Pillsbury’s Forever Knight fan fic (and published with Publish America, that bastion of quality reading), so there’s a fairly long interconnection.

    I’m not saying they are the same person — the last thing this mess needs is another plot twist — but I sometimes wonder if they post for each other.

  21. Jane
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 09:53:21

    This is the ultimate head desker: according to Mimi in the other post:

    The latest from Long Story Short’s owners, who have missed the point completely.

    Denise Cassino Tuesday, 10/16/07, 7:16 AM

    Lanaia Lee, along with her publisher and lawyer, are addressing the situation that revolves around her book, Of Atlantis, and the David Gemmell book. She has posted a statement on her page in the Writers’ Lodge. Until she is proven guilty of something, her page will remain. This is America. Many of you are on a campaign to destroy her. Be aware that you will be hearing from her lawyers. If it is proven that she did indeed purposely plagarize the work, her page will be removed. Until then, she is a member of our Writers’ Lodge.

    Web Site: Long Story Short
    Email: [email protected]

  22. Shawn Struck
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 09:56:19

    That’s okay, according to Unhappy Person, she say she is “… guilty of just being stupid, right now I don’t even know my name, I am kinda like duh! So please forgive me. I have permission to post this news paper article, with God as my witness, I am only guily of being stupid and I appreciate whatever
    any one tries to do to help me.”

    Of course, when asked on her guestbook why the excerpt is still up after 5 days, she replies with “I really don’t know that one, Gail, something to do with my computer modem”.

    !

  23. kardis
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 09:57:46

    Very nice piece, Jane. Now the next time someone defames me on the myspaces I can go after them and shut them up good!!!!

    Seriously though, I hope that people will stop accusing bloggers of “slander” and threatening legal action. It is so 1990’s.

  24. Jayne
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 10:08:34

    “She must be so proud of her purchased, plagiarized words. I imagine she plays her diddlo every time she reads them.”

    She sure as hell paid enough for them. I guess she wants to get her money’s worth.

  25. bam
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 10:10:26

    I love you, Jane. This is the best birthday present ever.

  26. Jane
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 10:16:40

    So, I have a question. Would this apply if you were hypothetically wrong? I mean, say you did the whole post WITHOUT the research and just said “That person is plagiarizing her work”. And say that many believed you, even though you didn't “prove” it. Would all of the anti-SLAPP laws apply to mischief?

    Ms. McKenzie, you are getting ahead of the class. Tsk. Tsk.

    There is no easy answer to this because defamation law is different depending on whether the person allegedly being defamed is a public figure. The standard is much higher to prove defamation because you have to prove “actual malice” if the information printed or said is actually untrue. (Truth is always a defense even if the person defamed with malice).

    Essentially you would have to prove that the alleged defamer acted “in willful or wanton disregard” of the truth. It’s tough and the reason is that defamation is a restraint on a First Amendment fundamental right of free speech v. the right of reputation, not a fundamental right. So under your sceario, if you did the post without research that could very well be “in willful and wanton disregard” of the truth and the rights of the allegedly defamed.

  27. Dave Fragments
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 11:22:36

    Pennsylvania has the concept of “Slander per se” and that is very powerful. Sometime in your discussion you should warn speakers and writers to be aware of what can be utterly defenseless commentary.

  28. Jill Monroe
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 11:26:42

    Everything seems to be off the website of Long Story Short now.

  29. Meljean
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 11:39:13

    Everything seems to be off the website of Long Story Short now.

    Woot!

    Her paraphrased excerpt is gone, too, which surprises me — unfortunately, there is a note that she still intends to publish Of Atlantis in the future (but maybe that’s wishful thinking on her part? Any future publication will, I imagine, be one of the things addressed by Gemmell’s estate or whoever is representing the author.)

  30. Jan
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 11:43:31

    Someone with teeth must have threatened her.

  31. Janine
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 11:47:17

    Someone with teeth must have threatened her.

    Either she heard from Gemmell’s attorney or this post of Jane’s made her see the light.

  32. Anji
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 11:51:52

    Or maybe SallyQ’s request made them rethink leaving the excerpt posted. And it seems that the paraphrased part is also gone.

  33. Jane
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 11:54:47

    I’m thinking it’s probably SallyQ. It’s nice to see it down.

  34. Anji
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 12:41:07

    Re: slander per se – that applies to slander, right? Well, since these are written communications, is there such a concept in libel?

    Plus, isn’t there a difference between opinion and fact, and then the issue of the truth?

  35. Shannon C.
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 12:44:28

    I just read over the original huge, ginormous thread and this follow-up. I’m glad the story ends the way it should, with the excerpt being taken down as it should have been. But man, I haven’t laughed and boggled so much in a long time.

  36. Jane
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 12:47:33

    Yes, there are two forms of defamation: per se and per quod. There is a different standard of proof for each type of defamation. Per se being the easiest to prove. The difference between the types of defamation depends upon the statements made.

    There is a difference between fact/opinion as well as truth and I plan to go into all of those over the course of the next few weeks but I thought I would start with the SLAPP and move on from there given the timeliness of the topic.

  37. Anji
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 12:55:20

    Thanks for the information, Jane!

    And I liked Lee’s comment on the other thread on libel vs. slander:

    Fortunately, J. Jonah Jamison gives us a handy mnemonic in the first Spider-Man movie.

    Robbie: “But Mr. Jamison… that's slander!”

    Jamison: “It is not!” [beat] “Slander is spoken. This is libel.”

  38. Ann Bruce
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 13:05:33

    Isn’t it fun to educate those who threaten to sue you? Everytime I see someone threaten to sue a blog owner for slander, I just laugh because their credibility flies out the window and if they do have a lawyer, I wonder if the law degree came from Acme University.

  39. Pyre
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 13:07:17

    (Jane) The person doing the accusing is called the Petitioner or Complainant. The person accused of wrongdoing is called the Defendant.

    Or these may be called the Plaintiff and Respondent, respectively, depending on jurisdiction.

    (Denise Cassino) Be aware that you will be hearing from her lawyers.

    Quite possibly along the lines of “We apologize on behalf of our client.”

  40. Robin
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 13:25:04

    I don’t want to complicate things too much, but in regard to the slander v. libel debate, there IS some discussion among legal scholars as to which category of defamation certain Internet content belongs, especially when the content is, for example, presented as a video on someone’s blog. Although I haven’t read anything that challenges the basic written v. spoken distinction. It’s just that with new technologies, that distinction is not always black and white, so to speak.

  41. Shawn Struck
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 13:30:11

    According to Cheryl she’s still planning to sue (me, at least).

  42. Jennifer McKenzie
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 14:05:46

    I didn’t mean to get ahead of you, Jane. Now, I’d like to know if there’s a DEGREE of libel/slander. For example: Is it different to say “That person can’t write their way out of a paper bag” than to say “That person is racist”?
    To me, the first is opinion–something to shrug off and ignore. The second is VERY different but ALSO opinion. Of course, in legal terms, “racist” may have an entirely seperate meaning but I’m thinking in terms of what can be said without legal ramifications. Or does it all hinge on how much damage to ones “reputation” it may have?

  43. Jessica Inclan
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 14:12:58

    What about when one of my former students found one of my romances in Borders and wrote a blog startng that I was a “*&^%$ hack.” He also went to my web site and made comments about my looks. Is that defmation? I guess you could prove that I was a hack in a court of law. It’s a matter of perspective in terms of what constitutes hackdom. I guess you can not like my looks, either. But where is the line between opinion and libel/slander?

    Not that I am racing to sue anyone.

    Jessica

  44. Anji
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 14:18:04

    Quick note about the newspaper story – according to her yellbox , it’ll be in the Greensboro News and Record

  45. Darlene Marshall
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 14:30:20

    One hopes the newspaper reporter will remember what they teach you in Newswriting 101: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out!”

    Too often these days I see stories that look like they’re written from press releases. Very one sided.

  46. Karen Scott
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 14:44:54

    I imagine she plays her diddlo every time she reads them.

    Oh I like the sound of that. It’s been a while since I played my Diddlo, and I miss it.

  47. Robin
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 15:34:19

    Just when I was calming down, I read this by Victoria Strauss. Do I need to enumerate all the reasons that statement seems so wrong?

  48. Jenyfer Matthews
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 15:47:06

    Looking forward to future installments – both on legal education and on Unhappy Person.

    Particularly like “Invisible Cat Fight” !!

  49. Jane
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 15:51:39

    Is it different to say “That person can't write their way out of a paper bag” than to say “That person is racist”?

    and

    But where is the line between opinion and libel/slander?

    Yes, I think that there is. Next week I plan to talk about the difference between opinion and fact and sometimes that line is very thin. I’m pretty sure that “can’t write way out of paper bag” and “hack” and any comments on a person’s appearance is generally considered opinion.

  50. Jane
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 16:31:05

    Robin made me look up the race thing. Generally, the rule is that name calling is not actionable and that includes statements about someone being racist.

  51. Janine
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 16:39:23

    Suddenly I’m feeling awfully glad that two of my co-bloggers are lawyers.

  52. Kayleigh Jamison
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 16:45:15

    Jane,

    Nicely done. If I have to explain to one more person the difference between libel and slander I will go nuts. From now on, I’ll just send them here.

    (That saying about how once you get into law school everyone you know will come at you for free legal advice? Never mind that you can’t give legal advice yet anyway? Totally true.)

    KJ

  53. Nora Roberts
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 17:11:54

    Robin, I know. As if doing it once isn’t as bad as doing it multiple times. Once is really quite enough. And it doesn’t take two big names, or even one. It just takes copying someone else’s work and calling it yours.

    I think Victoria believes this woman, and feels sincere sympathy. But that was a really bad example or comparison, imo.

  54. Shawn Struck
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 17:38:38

    Now she’s posting her prologue:

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/lanaia/message/347

    But.. this is nothing like what she said was her original prologue.

    I’m confused all over again.

  55. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 17:43:00

    oye.

    Man, I miss all the good stuff. See? This is what happens when I do somebody a favor. Take a few weeks, go back to the old day job and train a new nurse, and see what I miss?

    This is mind-boggling.

  56. Michelle
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 17:56:51

    I take it that this Victoria Strauss is an author? Since she doesn’t see anything wrong with the complete denials and threats of lawsuits, and lack of any remorse I vote that she provide the poor pitiful and abused victim with her own manuscripts and allow Lanai to change the names and publish them as her very own. But funny I bet she won’t make the offer.

  57. Rebecca
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 18:21:49

    Michelle,

    Victoria Strauss is one of the good guys. She’s co creator of Writer Beware, a great site for information on writing scams. This site did great work in exposing the alleged scams pulled by the same Christopher Hill mentioned by Mary/Lee as her ‘ghostwriter’.

    Maybe you’re thinking of Cheryl Pillsbury who says she is Mary/Lee’s agent/friend?

  58. Rebecca
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 18:25:48

    Sorry Michelle, I see what you are referencing now–the text in Robins post. My bad.

    Maybe Victoria will change her mind now that it’s Oct 16th, not Oct 12 and all the new info is in…including reports on Making light that Mary/Lee was informed she had plagerized Gemmell’s work as early as July!

  59. Michelle
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 18:47:15

    I am not saying she is evil, but I fault her for minimizing plagerism, it is a big deal.

  60. Rebecca
    Oct 16, 2007 @ 20:37:48

    I can see what you mean….I hadn’t read Robin’s link yet.

  61. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 01:09:30

    I think Victoria believes this woman, and feels sincere sympathy. But that was a really bad example or comparison, imo.

    You know, I’m reeeaally hesitant to use the “p” word; in fact, I’ve tried to avoid using it in these threads. Because like defamation, plagiarism involves one’s reputation. And it can be explosive. In Lee’s case, though, there’s really no mystery here because intentional or not, committed personally or not, she was, in fact, going to print with a book published in her name that contained copied material. And from what I understand, it spans more than one chapter, although even if it is only one chapter, isn’t six full pages enough to constitute a significant act of copying copyrighted material? It wasn’t a sentence here or there, or even a handful of paragraphs scattered throughout an otherwise brilliant and original work. It wasn’t a question of attribution or factual disposition (e.g. the Ian McEwan/Lucilla Andrews situation).

    I don’t see Lee as the devil, or even as particularly malignant. I can believe that Hill scammed her, or rather, I have no more to disbelieve that assertion than I have to believe it. What really disturbed me about Strauss’s comments is that a) I think they’ve inadvertently egged Lee and Pillsbury on in their insistent claims of total “innocence,” their threats, and their general insulting behavior, and b) they violate the values Strauss relies on or takes for granted elsewhere, minimizing the copying simply because it didn’t originate with Lee, despite the fact that she thought nothing of publishing it despite knowing Hill was a scammer before the book went to press.

    I have been thinking a lot about the whole Viswanathan incident from a year or two ago. I’m still not convinced that Viswanathan was responsible for the alleged copying in her book (or whether it happened at the book packager) or that she did it intentionally. But regardless of who and how, Viswanathan quickly took responsibility for it and apologized. And she did so in a very, very high profile environment. She didn’t blame anyone else or act the victim, at least not publicly. If plagiarism is the height of unprofessional writerly behavior, then stepping up and truly apologizing is, IMO, what we hope for when such a thing is uncovered. It is a chance to restore some level of trust when a creative violation occurs. It is an opportunity to be forgiven, to move on, to write again with more care and/or respect for others’ intellectual property. Regardless of whether you physically did the copying or whether your research assistant or ghost writer made the switch. There’s a certain honor system I think writers hope they can rely on, at least from those who theoretically face the same risks (i.e. if I steal from you, someone else may steal from me, making everyone a potential victim).

    I have no doubt that the charge of plagiarism is terribly humiliating. And I think there really are cases of inadvertent or unconscious plagiarism that would make the sense of humiliation even worse. No matter what, it’s certainly a humiliation and a violation for the author whose work is copied. But in a writing environment, among people who aspire to be professional writers — or at least professional authors — I think we should be able to agree on a baseline level of intellectual honesty. And IMO, minimizing an act of copying in a work held out as professionally authored (no matter the self-published medium — after all, Lee was offering her freelance services), simply because it’s not two big name authors or a big name publisher, doesn’t, IMO, vindicate Lee anymore than her own behavior during this whole hot mess. If anything, I think Strauss’s comments can catalyze a certain backlash, because as a defense they are not only weak, but IMO run counter to the very principles Strauss articulates elsewhere in her advice to writers and her own indictment of Christopher Hill and others like him.

  62. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 01:13:59

    (That saying about how once you get into law school everyone you know will come at you for free legal advice? Never mind that you can't give legal advice yet anyway? Totally true.)

    Just wait until you’ve finished your law degree and no one understands why you can’t represent them yet? Or why you have to actually do things to gain admission to your state bar. Or why you need a license to practice law before you can start taking on people’s issues and cases. AND you’re paying off your freaking loans while you’re taking the stupid bar exam and undergoing a background check that’s more invasive than a full body scan.

  63. Maya Reynolds
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 05:15:42

    Robin: I remember the Kaavya Viswanathan incident, but not quite as kindly as you do.

    It first came to light when Random House sent a demand letter on behalf of their author Megan McCafferty to Little, Brown, Kaavya’s publisher.

    Kaavya was one of Little, Brown’s stars, a 19-year-old Harvard student who’d received a $500,000 advance and a two-book deal. Her first novel, “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,” was published in April, 2006. A sharp-eyed reader quickly contacted author Megan McCafferty to point out that large portions of the novel appeared to be taken from two of McCafferty’s books.

    Somehow the Harvard Crimson student newspaper got wind of the story and approached Kaavya to ask for a quote for the article they were running that weekend. Her first reaction was: “No comment. I have no idea what you are talking about.”

    By Monday, however, things changed. Then Little, Brown issued a statement from her saying, “When I was in high school, I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, ‘Sloppy Firsts’ and ‘Second Helpings,’ which spoke to me in a way few other books did.” She continued, “Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel, ‘How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life,’ and passages in these books.”

    I was one of the few people who bought the book between reading the Crimson’s story and Little, Brown’s pulling it off the shelves.

    I can tell you–this was no unconscious similiarity issue. There were pages and pages of passages–45 identified by McCafferty’s publisher. In fact, Steve Ross, McCafferty’s publisher, said that, “based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.”

    One example from McCafferty’s “Sloppy Firsts”: “Bridget is my age and lives across the street. For the first twelve years of my life, these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend. But that was before Bridget’s braces came off and her boyfriend Burke got on…”

    Viswanathan’s “HOMGKGWAGAL”: “Priscilla was my age and lived two blocks away. For the first fifteen years of my life, those were the only qualifications I needed in a best friend…But that was before freshman year, when Priscilla’s glasses came off, and the first in a long string of boyfriends came on.”

    Having said all that, I cannot imagine the pressure a 17-year-old en route to college–at Harvard no less–must have been under to perform once she accepted that $500,000 advance. William Morris, her literary agency, had put her in touch with a book packager, Alloy Entertainment, who shared the copyright with her. Some questions arose when it was discovered that Claudia Gabel, who worked at Alloy, was thanked in the acknowledgements of both Kaavya’s book and McCafferty’s book.

    A RH spokesman said that Ms. Gabel worked on Kaavya’s project in its “conceptual” stage and did not touch the writing. And Little, Brown, said: “Our understanding is that Kaavya wrote the book herself, so any problems are entirely the result of her writing and not the result of the packager’s involvement in the book.'”

    Yes, Kaavya came forward and accepted the blame, but blamed her unconscious each time she gave her explanation.

    The real tragedy was a 17-year-old being pushed to perform and to excel to the point where she lost track of her moral compass. I am not condoning what she did. It was wrong, and she suffered the consequences of her actions. I do think it was unfortunate that she was plunked into that position in the first place. News reports claimed that, in her junior year of high school, her parents hired a private counseling service that charged between $10K and $20K to get her into Harvard. Those were some serious helicopter parents.

  64. Jan
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 08:38:47

    DAs latest communication from Lanaia, received by Jane (Jane informed Lee on the 12th that all further communications between them should not be considered private, and that future contents might be posted). This seems to be descending into extortion-like phrasing at this point.

    At Last! Writer Beware Blogs! A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss Reveal All! I want you to admit to your un bias accusations and mistake, Victoria thinks, I’m innocent, remember by newspaper interview tommorrow, what if say I was unjustly accused or tomorrow I will give you a taste what unfavorable publicity is, and I’ll be right, my apology today and I’ll keep my mouth shut to the newspaper. You are a very familiar literary figure, how would it look if it were totally proven you wrote an untrue article about a fellow writer?

    Lanaia

    Jane, I’d go ahead and admit you’re unbiased. I’m glad Lanaia can see that. ;P

  65. Nora Roberts
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 09:08:21

    ~my apology today and I'll keep my mouth shut to the newspaper.~

    Plus the puppy gets it.

    This woman is off the rails. I can’t understand how anyone could sympathize with her at this point.

    Jane, maybe you can sue her for threatening to deform your character.

  66. ilona andrews
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 09:54:09

    Oy. I have a feeling she is under impression that Victoria absolved her of all her sins. I think she will write her name on a bat and try to bash Jane and James with it.

  67. Caro Kinkead
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 10:11:32

    This woman is off the rails. I can't understand how anyone could sympathize with her at this point.

    I feel some compassion that she’s off the rails because it’s very sad and I wish people hadn’t taken advantage of her.

    That’s the extent of it. None of that excuses her threats to Jane and others or her insistence that her hands are lily-white throughout this whole mess. Given her reactions so far, how do you think she’s going to react if the newspaper article doesn’t reflect the POV she wants?

  68. azteclady
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 10:24:11

    Well, now, she’ll sue ‘em, of course.

  69. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 10:44:22

    I have a feeling she is under impression that Victoria absolved her of all her sins.

    Funny, but I get that feeling too.

  70. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:07:27

    Maya: Thanks so much for all that history on Viswanathan. The last I had heard there were something like 13 isolated similarities, and I wasn’t aware it was as many as 45. Honestly, I don’t blame Viswanathan for her first reaction *because* she came out with an acknowledgment so soon afterward. I am not going to say that I don’t believe she could have copied those passaged deliberately. But I additionally blame others in the system, from Alloy to her own editors (for not seeing what others felt were such glaring similarities, especially given McCafferty’s popularity). IIRC, there was an admission that her book had been very heavily edited and worked on — which, to my mind, is its own sordid problem, sort of like the ghost writer issue. The freaking William Morris Agency hooked her up with the packager, for god’s sake — a girl the age of my own students, most of whom are really just learning how to write like grown-ups. But to me, for all of her mere 19 years, Viswanathan still behaved in a way where she didn’t blame anyone else (no pointing fingers at Alloy, for example), a dead dog, or her parents, even. It may not have been her unconscious, but IMO she really was in a position of being used by others, not scam agents, but those who saw in Viswanathan a chance to cash in on a big market and who were happy to exploit whatever ambitions Viswanathan (or her parents) had. And still she said: “I sincerely apologise to Megan McCafferty and to any who feel they have been misled by these unintentional errors on my part.” Even her publisher threw her to the dogs by insisting she wrote every word in the book. Was it a perfect admission? No. But it was an admission and an apology in a very high stakes situation, and it carried no threats, harassment, or other unsavory behavior, IMO.

  71. December Quinn/Stacia Kane
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:07:41

    Anybody contacted the Greensboro News-Register to tell them the story they’re being offered may not be all it seems?

  72. December Quinn/Stacia Kane
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:08:21

    Sorry, it’s the News-Record, apparently.

  73. Janine
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:34:17

    December — We haven’t, but I thought of suggesting it to Jane.

  74. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:37:02

    DAs latest communication from Lanaia, received by Jane.

    I just want to point out that Jane informed Lee days ago that any further communication from her should not be written with any expectation of privacy. Although IMO it’s been a kindness to Lee that Jane hasn’t posted more of what DA has received from her, including what IMO amount to a number of outright threats.

    I feel some compassion that she's off the rails because it's very sad and I wish people hadn't taken advantage of her.

    Absolutely. Which is why it surprises me that Pillsbury eggs her on, as well. Unless she’s not really off the rails, or is only selectively so. To me, the scamming by Hill is such a small part of this whole mess, but for Lee it seems to be the whole of it. That’s sad, too, but in a different way, IMO.

  75. Shawn Struck
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:38:17

    It wouldn’t surprise me if it was the News-Record:

    They’ve been given this song and dance before from Mary.

  76. Michelle
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:47:41

    Just email them the link to this thread. Poor puppy. Now cats can take care of themselves against curses and threats but puppies are so vulnerable. Also let me know if the herpes curse hits because Valtrex works very well.

    So do you have to be fingerprinted for the Bar or State License? As a resident working at a hospital with a nursing home facility I had to be fingerprinted. Actually twice since I hadn’t been in Ohio for 5 years, one for Ohio and one to mail back to California. It takes a lot of scrubbing to get the ink off. I just knew I was going to get pulled over on the way home and have to explain-but officer I am innocent -the fingerprints were just a background check.

  77. Janine
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:51:22

    I feel some compassion that she's off the rails because it's very sad and I wish people hadn't taken advantage of her.

    Same here. This is strictly my personal opinion, with no intent to defame her character, but this off the rails behavior seems to me like a sign of mental illness, and for that I do feel compassion, because it’s a very sad thing that many people have to stuggle with, and it does affect behavior in some cases.

    I think that Ms. Lee honestly doesn’t realize (and here I think Victoria Strauss and Cheryl Pillsbury aren’t helping) the severity of her situation and the fact that even if she was scammed by Mr. Hill, by putting her name on the book and claiming that she wrote this material, she has done something very, very wrong.

    The threats to Jane are extremely disturbing and seem to me to constitute harassment. But I don’t know if Ms. Lee can help herself by herself — it’s my opinion, that, in all seriousness, she might need help from a good psychiatrist.

  78. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 11:55:20

    So do you have to be fingerprinted for the Bar or State License?

    In my state, yes. Each state is different in what they require of lawyers. From what I understand there are some states that don’t even require a bar exam, but admit law school graduates directly to the state bar. Other states require only something called the MBE — the Multistate Bar Exam, a 200 – question multiple choice test administered across the country. Others require multi-day testing of state and national legal knowledge, plus other requirements like passing the MPRE, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam. California and New York are known as the most difficult states in which to gain bar admission.

  79. Bernita
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 12:05:39

    I agree, this has gone leagues beyond Hill, who is now little more than a footnote, and who, imo, only served, once he was identified as the source of the plagiarism, merely as an explanation, not an excuse.

  80. Shawn Struck
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 12:26:49

    And now Cheryl apparently has her husband acting as her attorney, ’cause here’s what my friend got after her latest e-mail exchange:

    “Any further emails will be considered spam and the next email will be sent to the FCC I am also copying this to Google as a notice it is up to this company to keep this man from harassing people especially my wife and if you do not do something about it I will sue him and you for harassment.”

    So I think Google will now be named in the lawsuit, too.

    What the hell, people?

  81. Bernita
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 12:35:34

    Of course, it’s Fall – but why won’t the squirrels take them away?

  82. Nora Roberts
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 12:51:05

    Someone should sue these people for failure to punctuate.

    If Lee is indeed impaired, I’d feel sympathy for that part of it. I guess I just don’t believe anything she’s claimed, including her disabilities.

    Disabilities aren’t, of course, an excuse for dishonesty or horrible behavior. But if she’s suffering from some mental disability, it would be a different matter.

    I just don’t buy it. So I can’t feel sorry for her.

  83. Jane
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 13:29:30

    Sorry, I was in a meeting all morning.

    I am honestly befuddled by the actions of Pillsbury and Lee. Since I told Lee to stop emailing me or I would make her threats public, I have received 37 emails from her and Pillsbury. If anyone is harassing, it would be them. I do notice that the real threat apparently appears to be maligning us in an interview.

    I have not been contacted by the paper and at this time do not plan to contact them. After all, I don’t know that they actually plan to do an interview, what the interview is about and whether it pertains to DA or Making Light in any way. I do know that if a paper would print statements of fact about DA that Lee claims: such as we lied or something similar to that; and that the paper failed to check the veracity of such statement, it would open itself up to defamatory claims.

  84. Jane
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 13:32:43

    As an addendum, I don’t think that Strauss intended anything more than to show that Lee was scammed by Hill. I don’t think Strauss meant for Lee to take Strauss’ name and use it as a hammer.

  85. Jayne
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 13:41:13

    I do know that if a paper would print statements of fact about DA that Lee claims: such as we lied or something similar to that; and that the paper failed to check the veracity of such statement, it would open itself up to defamatory claims.

    Or deformatory claims. Take your pick. ;)

  86. Shannon Stacey
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 13:43:33

    News Desk: How can I help you today?

    Unhappy Person: I need you to write an article about me because I paid this guy to steal some guy’s work and then paid this other woman to find me a publisher that I then paid to print the book that the first person I paid stole from some guy.

    News Desk: So…you were representing another author’s work as your own…

    Unhappy Person: Yes! And this Jane person accused me of plagiarizing and that is MEAN and I’m going to SUE her and a bunch of other people who are MEAN to me because I plagiarized somebody’s work. You need to write an article about me. And get a picture of my wheelchair in it.

    News Desk: I can has cheezburger?

  87. Janine
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 13:48:58

    Disabilities aren't, of course, an excuse for dishonesty or horrible behavior. But if she's suffering from some mental disability, it would be a different matter.

    I just don't buy it. So I can't feel sorry for her.

    Fair enough, since there’s no way to know with certainty whether or not she is mentally healthy. I tend to give a lot of people the benefit of the doubt but I can be gullible, too. In any case I agree that Ms. Lee should, at the very least, apologize to Mr. Gemmell’s family for taking credit for his writing, and to Jane for the harrassment.

  88. emmigeek
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 15:28:22

    I feel bad for Victoria Strauss. All her hard work to get to the bottom of the actual scam, seems to have been turned into what Lanaia thinks is a ‘get out of trouble’ card.

  89. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 15:42:01

    News Desk: So…you were representing another author's work as your own…

    I’ve been thinking a lot about why this ghostwriting issue bugs me so much. Especially since I have worked as a writer in the manner of a political speech writer (like that, not exactly as that) myself, so I am not inherently hostile to ghosting at all. I also don’t, for example, need to know who’s the hand behind the Nancy Drew franchise. The truth is in the copyright. I noticed recently that I series I have read for a while is now being copyrighted under the name of the author’s corporation, and I immediately wondered if the books are now being written by more than just the author.

    Somewhere in the other thread, someone commented that if a writer is under contract, and the choice is to work or not, then hiring a ghost might be acceptable (I’m paraphrasing here, and if I have the sentiment wrong, I apologize — feel free to correct me). But the thing is, in my mind, hiring a ghost in a situation like that *wouldn’t* be working, at least not as the writer of the piece. And yet, let’s say Bestselling Author decides that she can’t write another ten books for whatever reason, so she hires a ghost, and then goes out and continues to advertise all those books as her own. She accepts the praise for those books, the money paid, the accolades and fan letters. She gives interviews on the books. Should readers have some expectation that the author is indeed the writer in that kind of situation?

    Authorship, IMO, is not an entitlement. If one can’t or doesn’t want to write, then co-author (and co-copyright like Viswanathan did with Alloy — although even there I’m bothered by the packaging aspect of her case). Or don’t write. But there’s something about certain ghosting situations that feels to me like authorship is seen as an entitlement. And that rubs right against everything I love, respect, and admire about the art and craft of writing, whether it’s a brilliant advertising jingle written by an unnamed copywriter or a beautiful poem written by an obscure poet or a masterful work of fiction written by a big name author. I can accept and even embrace that there are circumstances where ghosting is not only acceptable but accepted practice. But when named authors are out there representing creative work as wholly theirs when it’s not, that seems another situation to me, one to which I’m not particularly resolved.

  90. Pyre
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 15:47:01

    Jane: I have not been contacted by the paper and at this time do not plan to contact them.

    Jane, if they do contact you, please please give them links to this and the top-10-tips thread here, as well as the threads on Making Light and Absolute Write, so they have access to all the research (and commentary) therein.

    But let them get their own popcorn!

  91. Maya Reynolds
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 15:53:31

    I’m with both Janine and emmigeek. I think Lee is either not wrapped tightly enough or too tightly wrapped. Her reasoning and desperation seem to indicate a disability that goes far beyond the physical.

    I also feel badly for Victoria, who has done such good work for so long. She was merely trying to help and now has her good name thrown about by a sick woman egged on by what appears to be an opportunist person.

  92. Pyre
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 15:56:14

    Robin, I’ve noticed some well-known authors (like Dean Koontz) copyrighting under corporate names, but I suspect the reason is to manage the literary rights and income (and taxes!), including after the author’s death for the benefit of his or her surviving family. Note that copyright terms are life+75, and corporations need never die.

  93. Maya Reynolds
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 16:00:57

    Robin: I completely agree with your subsequent post.

    It was the college prep company that put Kaavya in touch with William Morris who, in turn, pulled in the book packager and put together the deal with Little, Brown.

    I will confess to wondering if the packager didn’t hand the kid a copy of McCafferty’s book and say, “This is what the publisher is looking for.”

    I worked with kids for years on the County’s crisis team and running clinics. Their reasoning can be so strange at times, especially when they’re trying to please. A part of me wondered if Kaavya thought that if she changed some of the words it wouldn’t count as plagiarism.

    And, of course, the publisher held all the cards. They were well within their rights to ask for that $500K back.

    {Shrug} It was all so sad.

    Best,

    Maya

  94. Bernita
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 16:03:14

    Problems, yes, illness, no.
    For it appears to be a shared delusion, also entertained by her agent, her site owner (temporarily) and certain of her ‘fans.”

  95. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 16:41:49

    Robin, I've noticed some well-known authors (like Dean Koontz) copyrighting under corporate names, but I suspect the reason is to manage the literary rights and income (and taxes!), including after the author's death for the benefit of his or her surviving family. Note that copyright terms are life+75, and corporations need never die.

    You’re probably right about the financial management aspect of it. Although corporate copyright only extends 70 years past the date of publication, whereas personal copyright is life of the author + 70. But in some cases, when the author basically becomes a corporate franchise, then there have to be advantages to subsuming the copyright within the corporation despite the length of protection (especially if it’s a family-based corporate structure).

  96. Belinda
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 16:54:12

    In business or non-fiction applications, ghostwriting serves the purpose of putting the name of an authority in the subject on the cover while allowing a person who is possibly more familiar with grammar and syntax to do the actual writing. That’s a win-win and I don’t see it as deceptive. Ghostwritten franchise series don’t bother me, either. But paying someone to write “the novel of one’s heart” is something entirely different that I find deeply troubling.

    See, this is one reason I don’t think Lanaia gets the plagiarism charge – she was ALWAYS planning to pass off someone else’s work as her own. The fact that someone else wrote it even before he did is just a nit to her.

  97. WritingHermit
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 16:54:12

    Like Robin, the ghosting thing bothers me too and it’s weird for me because I do ghostwriting for business clients all the time. The difference is, I think, that in this situation the author strongly implies/outright states that she is the author of the work. All that “writing is my gift” stuff makes you expect that all the writing is hers. When I write for business clients, they do not make claims on their websites about their writing ability. They usually have a field of expertise and no knowledge of writing. With some of the fiction authors mentioned here, you can easily find out about their ghosting. I recall reading “Sweet Valley High” as a kid and knowing even then that the books were not written by Francine Pascal. That’s very different, it seems to me, than this case. When someone claims that writing is so important to them you expect that their writing is, well, theirs. When it’s not, you feel defrauded somehow. I’ve thought about this over the past few days because it really bugs me and that’s what I’ve come up with, anyway.

    I don’t buy that she is mentally ill. I think she realized that she cannot write on her own, and rather than working on her writing for years she decided to associate with scammers who would praise her and make her feel good. It’s very. very telling that she goes after Jane (who just pointed out the theft) rather than venting all her rage against Hill. She lost all my sympathy and earned my disgust when she started the whole “lawsuit” threats. To me that smacks of trying (very ineffectively) to convince people not to talk. No excuse for that.

    Sorry for the long post, but like many here I have been having a hard time keeping this out of my mind. I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.

  98. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 16:57:04

    I will confess to wondering if the packager didn't hand the kid a copy of McCafferty's book and say, “This is what the publisher is looking for.”

    Yeah, I had exactly the same thought. I looked up Viswanathan after your first post, and according this this piece in Gawker she’s writing her senior thesis at Harvard under the guidance of Jamaica Kinkaid. I have to say that it seems a bit strange to me that Janet Dailey could go on to snag an enormous deal from Kate Duffy at Kensington (according to her website), while Viswanathan is garnering the kinds of comments she is on that Gawker piece. Although it seems to reflect my own cynical sense that it all comes down to how much money publishers can make on any given author. Ugh, this whole thing is so depressing in some ways.

  99. Nora Roberts
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 17:21:42

    ~Authorship, IMO, is not an entitlement~

    I not only agree completely and absolutely, I may no have to ask Robin to marry me.

  100. Nora Roberts
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 17:22:23

    That’s now ask.

  101. Nora Roberts
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 17:24:37

    ~Robin, I've noticed some well-known authors (like Dean Koontz) copyrighting under corporate names, but I suspect the reason is to manage the literary rights and income (and taxes!), including after the author's death for the benefit of his or her surviving family. Note that copyright terms are life+75, and corporations need never die.~

    Yes, I know a lot of writers incorporate for tax purposes, business reasons, etc.

  102. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 17:42:09

    I not only agree completely and absolutely, I may no have to ask Robin to marry me.

    Proof positive that someone’s tenfold Wiccan curse took hold.

  103. Anne Marble
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 17:52:02

    Robin says Somewhere in the other thread, someone commented that if a writer is under contract, and the choice is to work or not, then hiring a ghost might be acceptable (I'm paraphrasing here, and if I have the sentiment wrong, I apologize -‘ feel free to correct me).
    You might be thinking of what I mentioned about Sylvie Sommerfield. I don’t think it was acceptable for her to hire a ghostwriter in that case. If you can’t write ten books in a set period, don’t sign the bloody ten-book contract. If you’re ill and can’t write, for God’s sake, tell the publisher. Don’t hire a ghostwriter. That betrays your fans and your publisher.

    By the way, there have been ghostwriting rumors about a number of authors. For example, many people have asserted for years that Jerzy Kosinski did not write “The Painted Bird.” In his case, there were also accusations of plagiarism. I don’t know if they’re true. I do know that some accusations of plagiarism are bunk.

    By the way, I could be wrong here, but I think the length of copyright of something owned by a corporation has been extended to 95 years.

  104. Anne Marble
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 18:33:13

    emmigeek wrote I feel bad for Victoria Strauss. All her hard work to get to the bottom of the actual scam, seems to have been turned into what Lanaia thinks is a ‘get out of trouble' card.

    Have you seen the latest comment on this from Victoria Strauss? Even Victoria is peeved!

  105. Robin
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 18:34:53

    Anne, I don’t know whose comment it was, but I don’t want whoever it was to feel that I’m attacking the comment, because that was not my intent at all. It simply prompted me to figure out why the ghosting issue bothered me so much (and both Belinda and WritingHermit articulated a lot of things that hit home for me, too).

    As for the copyright duration for corporations, you could very well be right. I have strong feelings about current copyright durations that make it very difficult for me to keep the various lengths in my head (you know, amidst the screaming voices of protest).

  106. WritingHermit
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 19:19:34

    I am wondering — If Lee knew that she could not write but wanted to publish, why not team up with a good writer? Couldn’t she also narrate her story to a good writer and have a book “as told to.” Is there something about being the sole author that is so enticing that she went to these lengths or did she just think she would not get caught?

    Also, I am curious about the webmaster of Lee’s page. I don’t know much about law in the US, but would A Long Story Short be held liable for knowing about the theft but doing nothing to remove the offending material?

  107. Lynne
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 19:19:44

    Didn’t Lee hang out her shingle as a freelance writer at one point? I would’ve sworn I followed some links to some ads about that. Maybe she wanted to use her status as a “published author” to get freelance gigs. Who knows, maybe she eventually would have done the same thing to others that Hill allegedly did to her.

    I say “allegedly” because I’m still not convinced that Hill is a part of all this. Unless Victoria Strauss actually logged in with Lee’s PayPal user ID to look at those transactions, she has no way of knowing for sure that the email confirmations were legit. That stuff can easily be forged.

  108. Anne Marble
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 19:44:19

    Robin says Anne, I don't know whose comment it was, but I don't want whoever it was to feel that I'm attacking the comment, because that was not my intent at all. It simply prompted me to figure out why the ghosting issue bothered me so much (and both Belinda and WritingHermit articulated a lot of things that hit home for me, too).

    I didn’t think you were attacking the comment. I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t written my earlier post so badly that I made it sound as if I approved of what that writer did. :-)

    And the new copyright laws and durations make the voices in my head scream, too. Loudly.

  109. Scammers, Plagiarism and Witchcraft, Oh My « C. A. Casey
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 20:26:28

    […] How to Fling About Legal Insults Like a Lawyer, Part 1 of Many Parts […]

  110. Shawn Struck
    Oct 17, 2007 @ 22:37:24

    Interesting.

    When I clicked on the link to the News-Record article earlier today just NOW, it lead my to an “invalid template” error. A refresh gave me a 404.

    Now, searching for the article is returning no results at all.

    I wonder if it’s been taken down?

  111. Jan
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 04:29:18

    The article is still there Shawn. Maybe they were just rebooting the server or something.

  112. Nora Roberts
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 08:42:26

    ~If you can't write ten books in a set period, don't sign the bloody ten-book contract. If you're ill and can't write, for God's sake, tell the publisher. Don't hire a ghostwriter. That betrays your fans~

    It really does, imo.

    I know we often hear harsh opinions about publishers, but the fact is a publishing house is run by people. And those people will be sympathetic and understanding with a writer’s problems.

    I know two writers personally who signed contracts, then because of personal/physical difficulties simply couldn’t deliver the book on schedule. Could not do it. In neither case did the publisher hound them for it, but instead consistently told them to take all the time they needed. And when, in one of these cases, the writer never could deliver, more understanding.

    In neither case did the publisher ask for the advance back.

  113. emmigeek
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 11:01:39

    It is comforting to know the publishers will work with an author in those circumstances.

  114. HelenB
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 17:10:46

    I have read all the various posts on this with amazement. With the best will in the world, this Lee woman sounds like a complete twit – with all the brain power of cheese. Why bother with her, let the Gemmel estate lawyers do that.

  115. Bernita
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 07:25:01

    I suppose we “bother” because the issues have gone beyond plagiarism.

  116. Maya Reynolds
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 13:45:15

    Today’s Wall Street Journal had a story about similarities between cookbooks.

    Jessica Seinfeld, wife of comedian Jerry, published a cookbook titled Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food (HarperCollins) on October 5. After Oprah invited Jessica to guest star on her show on October 8th, the book took off.

    Then Running Press, an imprint owned by Perseus Books, contacted HarperCollins. The independent press was concerned about “similarities between Deceptively Delicious and RP’s The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals by Missy Chase Lapine, published in April.

    Jessica Seinfeld strenuously denies any plagiarism, and it appears that HarperCollins is accepting her at her word. They plan to sell as many as 1.5 million copies of the book between now and Chrismas.

    According to today’s Publishers Lunch, Perseus CEO David Steinberger says Missy Lapine “first raised concerns about the Seinfeld book this spring after seeing promotional materials for the book. Steinberger says they were ‘struck by what seemed to be uncanny similarities…. One of the most obvious was that their cover had the same image, a drawing of what looks like a mom hiding carrots behind her back’.”

    Steinberger also says after his publishing house contacted Harper by letter in May, they were told some changes would be made, including alterations to the cover. The carrots were moved to a cutting board in the final cover for Seinfeld’s book.

    It will be interesting to see how this situation resolves itself.

  117. Jane
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 13:49:32

    I just blogged about that Maya because the NYT had an article about it. Things that make you go hmmm

  118. Maya Reynolds
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 13:55:15

    Jane: I’m so sorry.

    I was following this thread and got an email alerting me to Bernita’s posting. I had just finished reading the story in the WSJ and PL so added this to the thread behind Bernita’s post.

  119. Jane
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 13:59:55

    No apologies. I just thought – great minds thinking alike – and all that. It is an eyebrow raising coincidence.

  120. Jane
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 14:08:26

    I think the cover makes me question the whole deal. I think it’s one thing to have similarities in recipes although how many would think to put avocado in chocolate pudding, but another to have the similiarities in recipes and book cover???

  121. Maya Reynolds
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 14:38:32

    Jane: The fact that you and I both posted on the same story at practically the same time proves how coincidences do happen.

    But . . . I gotta say . . . two book covers with cooks hiding carrots behind their backs AND similar recipes???? I’m with you. All that PLUS chocolate and avocado stretches the bounds of my credulity a little too far.

  122. DonnaG
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 18:10:50

    Last night, before I’d even read through this thread, I emailed News-Record to suggest they review the appropriateness of their article about Mary Kellis in light of the past week’s revelations. I included links to DA, Making Light and Victoria’s blog for their reference.

    Have had no reply from anyone at News-Record and it’s creep-making to think they may publish something more next week.

  123. Anji
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 19:20:34

    They interviewed her yesterday, and I believe a few people on the Absolute Write forum have mentioned being contacted by the reporter there.

    So who knows what’ll happen with this whole story now…

    The Burlington paper, which originally had a story about her too has taken that page down. I haven’t seen any comment by them on this whole mess.

  124. Anji
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 19:21:55

    (Sorry, with her I mean Lanaia Lee).

    I think the article is supposed to come out next week?

  125. Jane
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 19:39:56

    The reporter did not contact us so I don’t think they are going with the plagiarism angle but rather the scam issue.

  126. Shawn Struck
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 19:48:43

    Sadly, they don’t look like they took the article enteirely, just removed a live link:

    http://www.news-record.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070919/NRSTAFF/709190301/-1/LIFE02

  127. DonnaG
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 19:51:30

    So, we’ll all get to read some more ‘poor ole me’ stuff in the New-Record, eh? Peachy! ;)

    On the bright side, maybe it’ll alert a few more unsuspecting newbies about the sketchy goings on in the lives of fee-sucking writers’ agents like CH.

  128. Robin
    Oct 19, 2007 @ 20:10:16

    I think the cover makes me question the whole deal. I think it's one thing to have similarities in recipes although how many would think to put avocado in chocolate pudding, but another to have the similiarities in recipes and book cover???

    Yeah, the cover is definitely a ‘things that make you go hmm’ similarity. And really, as a devoted foodie, I can tell you that coming up with enough recipes like that to fill up a whole cookbook, having them be nutritionally sound and balanced, etc. is quite a feat (lots of chemistry involved, for one thing). Forgive me for being a bit cynical about the idea that Seinfeld did the whole project by herself. It feels a bit like packaging again.

  129. Gennita Low
    Oct 20, 2007 @ 10:16:21

    I found this entry on Lanaia Lee at Encyclopaedia Dramatica:

    http://www.encyclopediadramatica.com/Lanaia_Lee

    It’s a bit mean (but the article nicely sums up all the sordid details, with links) but I thought Jane should know her name was mentioned in there too.

  130. Robin
    Oct 20, 2007 @ 12:40:03

    It's a bit mean

    Although impressively accurate. Thanks for posting that link, Gennita. I had never seen that Encyclopedia Dramatica, but it’s a fitting forum for this drama, isn’t it? I found some of the links quite instructive, actually.

  131. It’s Only My Opinion, But You Are a Mean Girl | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Oct 23, 2007 @ 04:02:31

    […] is the second part in How to Fling About Legal Insults Like a Lawyer. One of the questions last week wondered whether free speech was simply unfettered. Absolutely not […]

  132. Pyre
    Oct 24, 2007 @ 07:39:18

  133. Unsubstantiated Cease and Desist Letters Have | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Sep 02, 2008 @ 04:00:28

    […] take a legal threat. Bloggers, however, are not without their resources. For example, there is the anti-SLAPP statutes being enacted around the country. A couple of weeks ago, a federal district judge in Northern […]

  134. Aelwyn
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 14:30:54

    Wow, just wow!

    Personally I think Lanaia/Mary and Cheryl are one and the same person. BOTH have written Forever Knight fanfic, BOTH are the only regular posters on Lanaia’s Yahoo group (Cheryl uses two different accounts to post), BOTH claim to be witches, and their grammar and spelling issues are identical. I’ll be Cheryl’s “Husband” is Cheryl as well.

    I also think Lanaia/Mary’s claims of disability (not to mention 6 misacarriages–usually after 3 doctors tell you to use birth control) are a lie. She and her husband are both apparently “wheelchair bound”, but the ONE photo of her up on a website shows them BOTH standing. Things that make you go “hmmmmmmm…..”

    I’ve been searching for more information about what has inevitably occured since 2007 with this issue, and haven’t found much. If anyone knows anything, I’d be interested to read it.

    I did find this, though: http://www.mysticboard.com/introduce_yourself/search.php?search_author=lanaia74

    So now Lanaia/Mary is not only a witch, she is an Empath (if she is empathic, why couldn’t she sense her ghost writer was a fraud?????).

  135. Home Health Care Services
    May 30, 2009 @ 18:44:22

    Home Health Care Services…

    Home Health Care Service Providers offer a wide range of services for the elderly….

%d bloggers like this: