My Open Letter to Penguin
Dear Mr. Shanks, CEO of Penguin, and Susan Peterson Kennedy, President of Penguin:
I am writing to share with you my disilllusionment with your publishing house after the response you gave to the allegations of plagiarism against Signet author, Cassie Edwards.
As a reader, when I buy a book, I assume that my money is spent paying for original work. I know that you believe this is important to readers because you have taken the time and cost to alert readers when books are “first time in print” from popular authors who have often have reprints out on the shelf such as Ms. Edwards.
It seems to me that not deceiving the public is an important thing for you and I sincerely applaud that. Many of the authors from your house are big favorites of mine. You recently published a historical romance by Joanna Bourne which was revelatory within the genre.
The troubling thing is that your defense of Ms. Edwards seems contrary to your stated position that you “take plagiarism seriously”. The specific part of the statement I find most troubling is this:
Signet takes plagiarism seriously, and would act swiftly were there justification for such allegations against one of its authors. But in this case Ms. Edwards has done nothing wrong.
Perhaps your definition of plagiarism is different than mine, but the persistent copying of passages from sources other than Ms. Edwards own fits my definition. At least 16 passages in her book, published by your house, bore “identical language and/or common scene structure.” (I borrowed this phrase from the Forbes article on Opal Mehta plagiarism scandal. I would be happy to provide a link if you would like to look at it).
While it might be true that what Ms. Edwards did is not illegal, it still appears to be ethically incorrect. I disagree with the idea that there is a different ethical standard for academia and commercial publishing. It all boils to intellectual and creative honesty. I can certainly accept that there are different interpretations of the standard. What I cannot accept as appropriate is the condoning of the pattern of repeated offense as shown by Ms. Edwards in Shadow Bear.
I can believe you wanted to stand up for your author but in doing so you have actually chosen to harm all other authors within your house. Essentially you have declared publicly that it is appropriate to copy from another’s work so long as it does not rise to that of copyright infringement and subject themselves and you to a lawsuit. This does not appear to be the acceptable standard even within the romance genre whose readers you deem unworthy of a higher ethically edited product (and more importantly earns publishing houses lots of money).
In looking at the Romance Writers of America Code of Ethics, the following is a violation of the code and subject to investigation and possibly penalty:
16.2.4. Intentional copying of the written works of others (including but not limited to books, articles and/or manuscripts) with an intention to claim such work(s) as the member’s own.
You also stated that attribution for copied text is not done in fiction but that is simply untrue. Romance novelist Susan Johnson included extensive footnotes in many of her historicals such as Forbidden, Touch of Sin, Brazen, Pure Sin, for example. If you want further example of footnoting in fiction, please visit the following site: http://www.miskatonic.org/footnotes.html (link provided by Meezergrrrl).
The public affirmation of Ms. Edwards may endear her to your house and ensure that she remains with you for a long time. However, your actions cast a shadow of doubt over the ethical standards of your editorial department. It is possible for readers to now infer that the “first time in print” label you so proudly proclaim on Edwards’ books is actually false. Part of her work has been in print before.
It is also possible for readers to infer that because of your stance on what plagiarism is not that a whole host of other books, particularly those that might draw on public domain for references and inspiration, are also tainted thereby tarring authors within your house, unfairly, with the same unsavory brush.
I urge you to reconsider and ask yourself whether you want Penguin to be known as the house that supports plagiarism because, in my mind, that is what you have become.
Readers, if you want to send an email to these folks, you can find their emails on Google with certain key phrases like “online directory publishers”.