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Plagiarism Is a Community Issue

funny cat pictures & lolcats - Noooo they be stealin� mah brain!!!!

“Plagiarism is the academic and literary equivalent of robbery, taking somebody else’s property. If you copy somebody’s test answers, take an essay from a magazine and pass it off as your own, lift a well-phrased sentence or two and include them without crediting the author or using quotation marks, or even pass off somebody’s good ideas as examples of your own genius, you are guilty of intellectual thievery. If you are caught you should expect punishment or contempt or both.” Quote from Robert M. Gorrell and Charlton Laid, Modern English Handbook, 6th edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1976), p. 71.

WRITING WITH SOURCES: A Guide for Harvard Students, by Gordon Harvey, Expository Writing Program, Copyright 1995.

I can hear it now. But, Jane, that’s Harvard’s definition and we are just talking about romance books. Genre fiction, girl, don’t be so serious. To borrow someone else’s phrase, I am serious as a heart attack.

Of all the things that authors should care about, particularly published ones who make their living off of the written word, it is the theft of their words. If they care about the theft of their own words, then they should be even more diligent in preventing their own theft of other people’s work. Further, plagiarism is an act of fraud on the reading, buying public. When a reader buys a book buy Mary Sue Author, she assumes that Mary Sue Author wrote the words inside the book, unless told otherwise (i.e., through attribution or acknowledgment or both).

I have seen authors get up in arms about the sale of Advance Reader Copies. The weight of the law that I have read indicates that the sale of ARCs is not illegal nor does it appear to be an infringement of copyright. Yet authors are stirred up, arguing in some places that it takes wrongful advantage of the author’s work.

I have seen authors be up in arms against fan fiction writers because while the fan fiction work contains original work of the fan, it heavily borrows from the canon created by the author.

What could be worse, then, than copying someone else’s work and passing it off as your own and ultimately earning money from that act?

What would you think of me if I wrote a book and copied 16 passages from Nora Roberts’ Holding the Dream? Would you feel sorry for me or would you be at the front of the pitchfork line? How about if I started reposting one post a week from Smart Bitches archives but under my own heading and my own title? Would I deserve some gleeful mocking? Oh yeah.

Copyright v. Plagiarism

Intellectual theft is not always a copyright infringement. The US Copyright Act prevents unlawful copying but the Act permits copying without permission in cases of “fair use.” Paraphrasing work without attribution is probably not copyright infringement but it is likely plagiarism. Using four or five paragraphs in a 300 page book of someone else’s material is probably fair use but without attribution it is likely plagiarism. Some even accuse those of borrowing ideas without attribution as plagiarism. An idea is not copyrightable. Alternatively, copying a work and selling it is infringement. I.e., if I took the Smart Bitches work and sold it to someone in a package saying that Sarah and Candy wrote all of the contents that would be unlawful copying but because I wasn’t claiming it as my own, it isn’t infringement.

Every act of plagiarism is not a copyright infringement and every act of copyright infringement is not always plagiarism. However, the US Copyright Act is about the only US law that can be used to prosecute plagiarists.

If you do not register your work for a copyright, you cannot avail yourself of legal enforcement through the court system. “Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.” If you do not register within 3 months after the publication or prior to the infringement, you only get “actual damages and profits.” What does that mean? Let’s assume I started reposting all of the Smart Bitches posts on another site and charged ads for the site. The Smart Bitches would have to register their work before it could sue me and then all the posts that are older than three months would entitle the Smart Bitches to the ad money that I had taken in.

If they had registered their work all along, then they would be entitled to “treble” damages and attorneys’ fees.

Plagiarism an issue of ethics.

Plagiarism is mostly an issue of ethics. Ethics differ from community to community. Each profession, each group, has its own set of mores. For example, in the legal profession, wholesale copying is encouraged. We are not talk to be original thinkers in law school. When I write a brief for court, I look for an opinion that states my position and follow the pattern of thought and quote from it liberally. Of course, every legal and factual statement needs a citation but its not because judges care about plagiarism but because of the rules of precedence. (I.e., if the court ruled this way before, this is the way it should rule again).

In academia, plagiarism is often the subject of zero tolerance policies. At Northwestern University, if you include a quotation without attribution, you fail. At Harvard University, if you are found to have plagiarized, this is the policy:

If the majority of Board members believe, after considering the evidence and your own account of the events, that you misused sources, they will likely vote that you be required to withdraw from the College for at least two semesters.

Since a vote of requirement to withdraw is effective immediately, you lose all coursework you have done that semester (unless it’s virtually over), along with the money you have paid for it. You must leave Cambridge; any return to campus will violate the terms of your withdrawal. You must find a full-time job, stay in it for at least six months, and have your supervisor send a satisfactory report of your performance in order to be readmitted. – Finally, any letter of recommendation written for you on behalf of Harvard College-‘including letters to graduate schools, law schools, and medical schools-‘will report that you were required to withdraw for academic dishonest

Plagiarism should not be tolerated by the publishing community

In a profession that makes its money off the written word, the ethical standard should be of the highest form. It should exceed that of what is required by Universities of its students. After all, the student is paying to go to school so essentially the community that is harmed isn’t paying any money to the plagiarist unlike what happens in the writing profession.

When the Opal Mehta scandal shook out, it was discovered that there were about 40 passages that “contain identical language and/or common scene or dialogue structure.” Crown Publishing Group, Megan McCafferty’s publisher, demanded the removal of the Opal Mehta books from the shelves. Originally Little Brown planned to republish the book with the offending passages removed but eventually scrapped the whole deal and also refused to publish the second book in the book deal. Kaavya Viswanathan was paid $500,000.00 in an advance. Whether she returned it is unknown.

To not stand against plagiarism as an author is troubling. Does it mean that authors fear being in that same position? Is it because attribution suggests a weakness in their own authorship? One of the things I loved about Susan Johnson’s older works were the footnotes. I learned so much about small details of history from them. For example, from Forbidden by Susan Johnson:

Daisy’s formidable record of successes in the courtroom, Judge Nott had discourteously suggested Braddock-Black Ltd. would be better served by a “capable” lawyer.

Red-faced and frustrated he couldn’t legally eject her from his court, he’d insisted on presenting his views on women in an inflammatory, avowedly antifeminist, tirade.

“We cannot but think,” he’d expostulated, ignoring the intent of the state law as incidental to his personal attitude, “the common law wise in excluding women from the profession of law. The law of nature destines and qualifies the female sex for the bearing and nurture of the children of our race” (at which point, his disapproval of Daisy’s race was openly evident in his bitter, piercing gaze) “and for the custody of the homes of the world, and their maintenance in love and honor. And all lifelong calling of women-” His voice was beginning to thunder, his jowls quivering in sympathy. “- inconsistent with these social duties of their sex, as-is-the-profession-of-law-” A hint of purple tinged his cheeks, so rabid were his emotions. “- are departures from the order of nature, and when voluntary, treason against it! [FN3]

[FN3] This speech is excerpted from a longer opinion of a Judge Edward Ryan of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1875 in denying Lavinia Goodell admission to the state bar. Since law practice on the county level often didn’t require admission to a state or territorial bar, women lawyers were able to practice locally. But the admission of women to state bars became a state-by-state struggle. Belle Babb Mansfield has the distinction of being the first woman in the United States to be formally admitted to the bar. In June 1869, Iowa allowed her admittance. The following year the Iowa State Legislature ensured the admission of women to the profession by removing the restrictive gender language in its admissions statute. Over the next five decades, women were slowly allowed equal rights to practice as attorneys, Delaware having the dubious distinction of being the last state to admit women to its bar in 1923. Montana’s first woman lawyer, Ella Knowles Haskell, was admitted to the bar in 1889.

The ironic thing is that one of the detractions of the Cassie Edwards books is that they are faux Native American and if she had provided footnotes, she could say “look at my sources, bitches.” Attribution can be done. It need not be intrusive nor does it show that the writer is incompetent. I’ve thought Johnson’s footnoted books worlds better than her recent offerings which contain nary of footnote, endnote or attribution of any kind.

Avoiding Plagiarism is an easy task.

In 2002, the Weekly Standard broke the story of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s extensive borrowing from three works published prior to her own 1987 book, "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys." Changes were made to subsequent editions of Goodwin’s work including additional footnotes and an inclusion in the acknowledgments that Lynne McTaggart’s biography "Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times" was the "definitive biography of Kathleen Kennedy and which I used as a primary source for information on Kathleen Kennedy, both in my research and in my writing. Kearns characterized this as a mistake due to the fact that her notes, written in longhand, were not clear on whether the words were a "close paraphrase of the original work".

The Crimson reported on the Opal Mehta issue,

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," a representative for Random House said in a statement on Tuesday, April 25. In a letter obtained by The Crimson, a Random House lawyer put it more bluntly, writing to Little, Brown that "we are certain that some literal copying actually occurred here."

Cassie Edward’s Shadow Bear appears to have at least 16 passage of literal copying. Is it longhand notes the reason for the borrowed texts? Can 16 passages be an unconscious or unintentional act? She wasn’t 19 when the book was published like Viswanathan. She is a New York Times Bestselling author with 99 romances published, the majority of them about Native Americans.

Ironically, Kearns herself complained another author used her work without attribution:

“There’s nothing wrong with an author building on material from a previous book. That’s the way history is built, as long as you credit the source. . . . I just don’t understand why that wasn’t done.”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and 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


  1. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 06:20:08

    In a profession that makes its money off the written word, the ethical standard should be of the highest form. It should exceed that of what is required by Universities of its students. After all, the student is paying to go to school so essentially the community that is harmed isn't paying any money to the plagiarist unlike what happens in the writing profession.

    But academics are also part of a “profession that makes its money off the written word”. And a university degree is training for entering that profession (although students may not see it that way), so the punishment is intended as a signal that plagiarisism won’t be tolerated even among apprentice academics. One might also think of plagiarism by students as something which potentially brings the whole system of academic education into disrepute and thus lowers the “value” of a university degree.

    In any case I don’t think the issue of money and the direction in which it’s flowing is really relevant to the ethics of this. In academic subjects plagiarism could possibly be considered the equivalent of a medical doctor not adhering to the professional standards required of someone in that profession. Any breach of those standards would be considered very wrong, regardless of whether the doctor was being paid by the patient or not. Similarly, lawyers would be expected to maintain the same standards of ethics whether they’re being paid or working pro bono. And I’d imagine that trainee doctors and lawyers who didn’t live up to those standards would also be severely punished, even though they weren’t being paid, because their behaviour would suggest they were unfit to enter those professions.

  2. ilona andrews
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 06:51:13

    Well, I think my stance on plagiarism is pretty much clear from the Gemmel thing.

    I agree with you that plagiarism is damaging on many levels. The readers feel betrayed, because they paid for original material. (I went rabid when the Lanaya scandal happened, because Gemmel is one of my favorite authors. I couldn’t see anything but red for three days.) The publisher, as in Viswanathan’s fiasco, is ridiculed for not catching the plagiarism and often has to eat the costs. The author from whom the plagiarist stole – and it is theft, no doubt about it – feels victimized.

    But what kills me on a purely professional level is how can you just copy and paste somebody else’s words into your manuscript? Forget for a moment that it’s morally and legally wrong. Professionally it’s simply incomprehensible.

    I sit there and tug and smooth every sentence. I nip at it an rephrase it and mess with it endlessly. Oh look, here it says he is listening to her spiel, I used spiel four pages up, it’s an unusual word, better change it to chatter. Hmmm, obsidian eyes might be pushing it, maybe they should be coal black. Oh look, this dude is ‘riding a flightless bird that can’t fly.” Kill me now. This process stops only when I have to send the manuscript off to the publisher, and then I screw with it some more when it comes from the copy editor. That’s why reviewing galleys is so hard. You sit there and twist your hands into a pretzel, because you see stuff you’d like to change but the train has sailed.

    How in the world can you pick up chunks of somebody else’s word and stick them into your own work without making the words your own is beyond me. Especially in Edwards’ case, where the prose is so obviously stilted and academic in tone. Can she not tell the difference in the narrative? Is she that tone-deaf?

    All writers steal to a small degree. We do it unconsciously – sometimes a phrase or sentence gets stuck in your brain and you use it because you love it, not realizing where you got it. Sometimes writers steal consciously: I wrote a book about a swamp and one of the source books described cypresses as “tinseled” with spanish moss. Oh, I loved it. I wanted to use it so badly. I got so weirded out by whether or not it would be plagiarism, I asked my agent, who stated that as long as I was not quoting the sentence verbatim, but only using the turn of phrase, I was safe.

    Most writers I know go through this sort of process. I know none of them would ever dream of picking up and plunking a chunk of somebody else’s words into their work. It’s not their words. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong, ethically, legally, personally, but it is simply impossible professionally. The fact the passages are there verbatim, to me means that Ms. Edwards does not edit her manuscripts. You would actually have to actively try to keep the plagiarized passages intact, because they stick out like a sore thumb and most people would reword them on edit.

    In case of Viswanathan I understand how it happened. She was young, she was under a huge amount of pressure from her parents and her publisher, and I firmly believe that she was somewhat pushed toward imitation, if not outright plagiarism, by her packager. Ms. Viswanathan didn’t struggle for years to break in. She didn’t have five trunked novels under her bed. As a result, she simply didn’t have the skills to write and edit the manuscript. That doesn’t mean she was right to plagiarize, but I do believe plagiarism in that case occurred due to inexperience and lack of understanding more than anything else.

    But Ms. Edwards has been writing for years. She ought to know better.

    As I said, unintentional plagiarism does occur. But cases like this, cases of intentional plagiarism, of direct and unquestionable copy-and-paste, they should be ridiculed. They should be held up to light for everyone to see. Because you know what, if you copy and paste somebody else’s words into your manuscript again and again, you’re not only dishonest, you’re also don’t give a damn about the quality of your work. You’re a hack.

  3. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 07:14:07

    Nicely done, Jane.

  4. Jill Myles
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 07:25:40

    I think that’s one of the biggest fears I have as an author – that I will subconsciously ‘lift’ something and be smacked for it later. It’s not my goal to plagiarize anyone, but like Ilona said, sometimes we fall in love with turns of phrase and ever since Opal Mehta, I wonder if it’s my brain shooting it out, or if I’ve read it in a hundred different places.

    But to knowingly sit down and copy someone else’s stuff? No way, no how. That’s the same as fraud.

  5. ilona andrews
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 07:38:14

    “I think that's one of the biggest fears I have as an author – that I will subconsciously ‘lift' something and be smacked for it later.”

    Me too. I stress out about it a lot.

    That’s why blatant plagiarism makes me rant – which I resolved not to do ever in public.

  6. Angela James
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 07:47:29

    Thanks for the in-depth and thought provoking article, Jane. I dislike it when I see my random (and not very meaningful) blog posts, which usually take me only a few minutes, not a few months, to write being used by those spam sites to draw Google hits. I can’t imagine how much worse it is to have words you’ve carefully crafted and spent so much time on, as Ilona spoke of, liberally used as if they were the writer’s own.

  7. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 08:41:32

    I don’t worry about unconsciously taking someone else’s words because I can’t even remember whether or not I brushed my hair this morning and I sincerely doubt my brain is memorizing paragraphs of someone else’s text while I’m reading.

    I don’t worry about words or turns of phrase because I know that those do not constitute plagiarism.

    Plagiarism CANNOT be done accidentally. It’s a conscious act of copying. As a former teacher, I spent entire semesters trying to UNteach my high school students the bad habits they learned in elementary school that led them to plagiarize without knowing what they were doing.

    My daughter’s school is a great example. She’s in the 4th grade. A few weeks ago, she was required to write a RESEARCH PAPER to accompany her Science Fair project. I asked the teacher if she’d instructed the students on HOW to write a research paper and she told me, “No, they can just look up information on the Internet. No need for a bibliography.” In other words, she was giving them blanket permission to plagiarize and no instruction on how to properly paraphrase or do footnotes or at least acknowledge the original writer of the information. When this starts this young, how does a high school teacher with one semester to “teach the research paper” in addition to all other studies undo all that bad learning?

    I had to take the time to show my daughter how to do a rudimentary, but correct research paper and though I didn’t include the bibliography, she made a list of the sites we used to gather our information. But I didn’t do a very good job of it, truth be told. I’m on deadline.

    But I’m hyper sensitive to this issue because I’m a writer and because I’ve had my work plagiarized (by a fan fiction site, btw, so that’s a double whammy for me.) There is no excuse for it, there is no situation where it is acceptable. Authors, even of genre fiction, can put attributions in their Acknowledgments, at the very least. It’s not that hard to do.

  8. Leeann Burke
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 09:05:42

    I’m with you Julie I can’t remember the exact words used in the books I’ve read. However I do fear that there will be enough similarities for it to be close enought to get me deep trouble. So I can identify and share Jill’s fears.

    Jane, great article.

  9. Jennifer Estep
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 09:05:59

    There’s a reason they flunk out college students who plagarize — because it’s wrong. Especially when all that’s needed to properly recognize a work is quotation marks, attribution on the page, and a three-line bibliography at the end. I wrote a hundred bibliographies in college. They don’t take that long.

    Of course, you can’t exactly do that in a novel, but there had to have been some way to acknowledge the other work.

    That being said, I’m with Jill. I worry about subconsciously using popular phrases in my books. I think it’s partly inevitable, given how electronic and focused on pop culture our society is. But I would never, ever knowingly plagarize.

    And really, don’t people know better by now? With the Internet and all the readers out there, somebody somewhere is going to notice if you plagarize.

  10. jmc
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 09:19:10

    Not to distract from a weighty topic, but how did the photographer get the cat to stand still for that photo? Mine freaks out when the vacuum cleaner comes out, even if it isn’t turned on.

  11. Jill Myles
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 09:46:05

    Deaf cat? :)

    And Julie Leto’s comments are terrific. Made me feel a little better. I like that plagiarism is a ‘conscious’ move and not a subconscious one. I have trouble remembering where my car keys are (and I’m holding them) so I like to think that this wouldn’t happen to me, but it’s one of the ‘Big Fears’ of an author, I think. We are proud of our work and want others to love it. Plagiarism makes you a leper in the writing community.

  12. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 09:56:00

    Jennifer, if a phrase is popular, then that means everyone is using it and it’s not plagiarism.

    The fear that authors have of unconsciously copying someone else’s work is the EXACTLY the reason why people poo-poo the seriousness of plagiarism. It CANNOT be done accidentally! Get it out of your head NOW. It is IMPOSSIBLE.

    Even if you did somehow lift one full sentence–one full sentence is not enough within the context of an entire novel to be plagiarism. It has to be paragraph after paragraph…sentence after sentence…passage after passage. Even if the copying is not concurrent or word for word.

    But one sentence isn’t going to do it and I sincerely doubt that anyone could do more than that as an accident.

    Honestly, people believing they can accidentally do this JUSTIFIES writers who plagiarize their most used defense–it was an accident! I didn’t mean to!

    You CANNOT do this accidentally. It’s impossible. Plagiarism is the WILLFUL act of copying someone else’s work. It’s sitting there with the other person’s work right next to you, typing in the passage or using the cut-and-paste feature from something you’ve read online. You’d think that Nora’s situation and this one we’re looking at here would prove that.

  13. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 09:58:33

    Plagiarism makes you a leper in the writing community.

    And so it should.

    I just wish it made those writers lepers in the READING community.

  14. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:02:54

    ~Honestly, people believing they can accidentally do this JUSTIFIES writers who plagiarize their most used defense-it was an accident! I didn't mean to!~


  15. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:06:36

    Here’s an example. I just opened a book on my desk and read the sentence:

    “Good afternoon,” she said with a welcoming smile.

    Pretty innocuous stuff, right? Anyone could have written it. Anyone. I probably have in some form or another. If someone else types that sentence today in their current WIP without reading this post, then they have not plagiarized. Hell, even if they did read this post and purposefully put that sentence in their book, it’s still not enough to prove plagiarism. Nor should it be. It’s just one little sentence amid thousands in a book!

    Even if it were one entire paragraph, it would not be enough to prove anything.

    But we’re seeing examples here and have seen them previously with the Opal Mentha book and Janet Dailey’s thievery of Nora’s books that it’s not just one paragraph or one sentence…it’s entire passages.

    In the case of the person who stole from me, they thought they’d be clever and put “based on the novel by Julie Elizabeth Leto” on there, as if this attribution would be enough to make me feel honored that they’d otherwise stolen my work, changed the names of the characters and the situation and pawned it off as their own. It did not make me feel honored and several cease-and-desist letters later, the crappy fanfiction was taken down. I still go looking for it every once in a while. I’m not the only author this has happened to.

    In a less publicized situation, a very good friend of mine had a reader contact her because she saw a similarity between an online story she wrote for eHarlequin and a ebook just about to be published by a well-known ebook publisher. The “author” had changed the names and added her own lingo, but it was crystal clear that the rest of the book was stolen from my friend. Luckily, RWA acted quickly upon the complaint, tossing the plagiarist out of the organization. And the ebook publisher immediately pulled the book. That was the end of the story, but it totally convinced me that plagiarism is always willful, never accidental and should never, ever be minimized as a crime of intellectual thievery.

    I’m passionate on the subject. Sue me. :-)

  16. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:08:42

    Thanks, Nora. Your “word!” is powerful on this subject, in particular.

    I probably need to shut up now. When my blood reaches this temperature and no sex is involved, it’s not a good thing.

  17. Jane
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:13:44

    I don’t really get the sense that plagiarism makes writers lepers in the writing community. IIRC, Dailey had alot of sympathy from BOTH writers and readers during the Roberts/Dailey plagiarism issue.

    Also, I know from personal experience that even authors are upset when plagiarism is exposed.

  18. Leslie Kelly
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:19:18

    Jane, did you raise your question about whether other authors “care” about this issue because there haven’t been a ton of authors coming out on these message boards, or because you’re actually seeing authors defend CE?

    Because every author I know sure as hell cares about it, and every other instance of plagiarism we’ve all heard about. Maybe they’re not here railing about it, but I don’t know a single one who’s nodding her head going, “ah, well, these things happen.” People are (as they should be…as I am…) disgusted and angry.

    Three of the four of us involved in my multi-author blog have been plagiarized. That’s 75%. I wish I could bold that…I can’t, so I’ll shout it: SEVENTY-FIVE percent.

    That makes me sick. And you can bet we’ve raged about it among ourselves, to our friends, to our editors, agents and attorneys. The fact that we haven’t gone on blog message boards and screamed about it does not mean it makes us any less furious. (It could just mean we’re too busy fantasizing about the appropriate tortures and just desserts being visited upon the thieves who do it…or sticking pins in the voodoo dolls our plotting pals buy for us in New Orleans. Eh, Jules?)

    Silence does not always indicate apathy. In this case, it could merely mean that a lot of people, as I did yesterday, were just shaking their heads in disgust and turning away to quietly mourn the fresh heaping of disdain brought down on all our heads by someone who damn well should have known better.

  19. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:33:50

    Okay, I’m back.

    Jane, I never heard ONE WORD of sympathy for Janet Dailey. I’m a very active member of my local RWA chapter, as well as a long-distance one and among the 200+ writers in those two groups, no one said a single word in defense of this theft. In fact, the whole debacle is regularly brought up to newbies so they know they’d better watch their step.

    Just this morning, before I started posting here, I posted a message to my RWA chapter encouraging people to come here and to Smart Bitches to bear witness on this situation and to LEARN from it.

    I’ve heard nothing but outrage when it comes to plagiarism–except, as evidenced here, when people refuse to accept that accidental plagiarism does not exist.

  20. Darlene Marshall
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:34:57

    Good job, Jane. Thanks for clarifying an issue that so many people do not understand.

  21. Sarah Frantz
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:38:44

    While plagiarism can’t be done accidentally, it can be done in ignorance. As a college professor, I don’t receive many students who have been taught by teachers like Julie Leto. I get what she’s experiencing with her fourth grader, but it’s gone on all through high school. In fact, I’ve SEEN my foster children do it–just cut and paste their “reports”. More egregiously, I’ve dealt with a student who came to me asking me for help in another class (geology) and we worked out that the ONLY way to get an A in that class was to plagiarize. That all her attempts to do what I’d taught her to do and NOT plagiarize were exactly what was getting her the C while the other plagiarizing students were getting the As.

    So, from a *student* POV, they’re taught to plagiarize. And it kills me, because I have to try to beat it out of them every single class, every single semester. Even students who have had me before, even when I explicitly say “No research AT ALL”, I get the plagiarism. And sometimes, they legitimately don’t know that they’re doing it because they don’t know what it is.

    I can see CE actually thinking that because she’s copying the scientific stuff, the “lives of Native Americans” stuff, that it’s not plagiarism. I can see that she would be horrified if someone accused her of what Janet Dailey was doing to Nora Roberts, copying the actual love story, the interactions between characters, but not having a clue that what she IS doing in copying the academic stuff is wrong.

    By NO means am I justifying what she does. I think it’s sickening. But my experience with my students, with the education system, and with the perceived difference between “creative” work and “scientific” work leads me to think that SHE might think that it was no biggie.

  22. Kathleen O\'Reilly
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:39:18

    re: lepers — I always felt peeved when I saw books by a plagerist who shall not be named on the bookshelves, hitting best seller lists. It is sad that the crime of plagerism doesn’t stop a writer’s career cold. Writers care, but readers very rarely know.

  23. Jane
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:42:44

    I raise my question for a number of reasons. First, because I know of authors who have complained about the expose of Cassie Edwards and because of past exposes both on this website (not me but the person who actually discovered the plagiarism) and others. I have seen many attempts to “shoot the messenger” in these cases. It was done here. It was done at the SB site recently.

    Second, because I have seen comments by individuals, not necessarily authors, who believe that the issue of plagiarism is one between the offending writer and the victim (hate that word) writer.

    Third, because silence by the majority of authors on this subject does not create an atmosphere conducive to either the expose of the subject nor the castigation of the offending writer. Additionally, attacks on the people expose the “borrowing” give support to the idea that it is wrong to expose it and wrong to talk about it.

    Fourth, because silence by authors gives tacit approval and perpetuates the idea for readers that this plagiarism thing is no big deal. Many readers follow authors’ leads.

    There are alot of posts about power and there is a suggestion that we bloggers have power in this community. Maybe we do. But in the community of romance, there is no more powerful voice than an author (which is why when authors post anonymously at AAR and others they would use Anon Author – they knew it had gravitas). Exponentially, there would be no more powerful voice than a chorus of authors who would rise up and say this is wrong. It provides a powerful disincentive to the author and it educates the reader.

  24. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:44:30

    I agree with Sarah. Makes me want to throttle teachers who do not understand the difference between using sources and plagiarizing–and I, too, saw other teachers reward this bad behavior out of ignorance. It’s incomprehensible.

    But once a person is out of school and once they take a position as a writer, they need to learn what plagiarism means. Can you imagine an accountant going to work with H&R Block without first studying the tax code? It’s sort of the same thing. Writers need to know. And if you don’t know, ask. And raspberries on the editors in this situation…I mean, the examples are so clearly didactic, couldn’t they tell they’d been lifted from a scholarly text?

    Maybe, if nothing else, this example will be a “teaching moment” for all the writers out there who are researching their next novel.

  25. sallahdog
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:49:59

    Interesting blog and interesting points of view. I just want to say that just the other day, my 5th grader was asked to write a paper, and on my reading his rough draft (he actually had to do a bibliography) I noticed that the report was pretty much a copy and paste job which led to a very interesting and lively discussion of what plagarism is, and why its not a good thing.

    Much to his disgust, I made him rewrite the paper. Ok, I sat with him for 6 hours as he rewrote the paper. Now I come to find out that his teacher would have been fine with the cut and paste job… but I wasn’t and I want him to be able to do a real paper, that won’t get him kicked out of college, if he ever gets there.

    This has been great, and who says romance discussions has nothing to offer in the real world.

  26. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 10:50:04

    Jane, it takes cojones to speak up. When I protested the plagiarism of my story on that fan fiction site, I got pummeled. Destroyed. Not by other authors–by readers.

    Now, I pretty much decided that I don’t want the kind of readers who can’t understand the basic principle of right vs. wrong, but it was a risky position to take. I didn’t stay for the blood bath, either. I posted my opinion, argued once, then left that community to their own devices.

    Authors who do not speak up, IMO, do so because they are afraid of the fallout from readers. Maybe readers won’t buy my book because I spoke out against the plagiarist, who is their favorite author. Readers have threatened to not buy our books for lesser reasons, that’s for sure. Just the other day I read a rant about readers who won’t buy books with certain words in the back cover copy…even though authors do not write back cover copy and oftentimes have no control over what is written there.

    That was at AAR, if I remember correctly.

    So don’t take silence as tacit approval. Silence is sometimes just CYA. Me, I’m an opinionated so-and-so. I don’t much care if people don’t buy my books because of something I said because I don’t say things I don’t feel strongly about. I respect people who have an opinion, even if I don’t agree with it.

  27. Sarah Frantz
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 11:07:40

    Thinking about my post, I want to post a clarification. Plagiarism is wrong, whether done in ignorance or not. That’s why I make my policy very clear in my syllabi, then teach the difference between plagiarism and good citation methods, then punish plagiarism if I find it, whether or not I deem it ignorance. So I’m not trying to excuse CE at all. Just saying that that might have been her personal justification. It’s wrong, and should be punished somehow, but I can see her being shocked! shocked, I tell you!! at the flap because she doesn’t think that she did anything wrong. ::shrug:: Who knows–it’s not like she’s speaking up.

  28. Charlene Teglia
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 11:10:18

    I don’t see silence as approval. What can I add to this? It’s wrong, it’s inexcusable, and as Julie rightly pointed out, it is impossible to do by accident. What else is there to say?

  29. Keishon
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 11:18:10

    Jane, I never heard ONE WORD of sympathy for Janet Dailey

    Trust me, they are out there.

  30. Chicklet
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 11:23:16

    I don't see silence as approval. What can I add to this? It's wrong, it's inexcusable, and as Julie rightly pointed out, it is impossible to do by accident. What else is there to say?

    Charlene, I don’t think it’s so much “having” to add new verbiage to the debate so much as it’s adding one’s voice to the chorus against plagiarism. As a reader, I hope there is substantial discussion about this case, in forums (fora?) wider than a few romance-review websites. Because I don’t think Edwards should be able to continue publishing plagiarized words, and I’m worried that readers and publishers will shrug it off. (See also: Kensington’s signing Janet Dailey to a new contract in 2001.)

  31. Charlene Teglia
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 11:33:45

    Chicklet, I’m continually amazed that Dailey’s career has gone merrily onward. I don’t buy her books any more and never will again. I can’t stop buying Cassie Edwards books because, um, I already don’t. *g* I do wonder if Dailey’s ability to continue publishing would have had a different outcome if the plagiarism case happened today.

  32. Jenyfer Matthews
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 11:41:22

    Excellent article, Jane. No one can claim ignorance now (don’t think they had a leg to stand on before, frankly)

  33. Leslie Kelly
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 11:50:00

    Jane, again, I definitely don't see silence as approval. There could be any number of reasons for authors not to discuss this issue here, beyond your question about whether they even care, or Julie's that they're worried about covering their own asses.

    I love your site, and SBTB, and I know a lot of other authors do too. But I also know a lot of other authors who do not. They don't want anything to do with it. They don't visit, don't pay attention to what's happening here and would never dream of commenting.

    A lot of authors have no idea this is happening. I could contact fifty writer friends/associates/loop & chapter mates right now and ask if they knew anything about this issue at all and be told no by the majority of them.(Then I’ll tell them…)

    I know authors who hate blogs in general. They don't do them, don't visit them, don't comment on them. Ever.

    I know authors who've had the “don't make comments on the internet, they never go away” lesson ingrained in them. (You'd think I'd be one of them given some of my early career foot-in-mouth moments.)

    Maybe some authors would respond to a journalist's request for a comment on this. But there are a lot who would simply find it unthinkable to seek out a public forum to voice an unsolicited opinion on any issue.

    A lot of people were raised with Mama repeating Thumper's motto: “if you can't say something nice…” and they apply it to every aspect of their life, including their professional one. (My Mama taught me to not be walked on and that I had the right to voice my opinion no matter how unpopular it may be…I suspect Julie's did, too. And Nora's.)

    And yes, you're right, some authors might be feeling a little pity about the public flogging, and they'd rather not jump onto her back, too, despite how they feel about the core issue.

    None of these things mean they do not care about plagiarism.

    As I see it, this goes both ways. Just as everyone has a right to express his or her opinion, they also have the right to not express it. Those who don't choose to shouldn't be judged as apathetic co-conspirators for their silence any more than those who do choose to should be called rabble-rousing shit-stirrers.

    The issue of authors actually defending this action is entirely different. As I said before, I haven't seen that at all in this particular situation (fan-girl readers? Yes. No verbal defenses or “pleas for understanding” by other authors.) You say you have seen it in the past, and I am truly sickened by that. It’s indefensible by anyone, but especially by other authors who you’d think would be the first line of defense against plagiarism.

    Nora is the one who knows best about her own case, and I'm sure she felt backlash she never expected and that we'll never know about. But I can only back-up what Julie said: I don't personally know any author who can see Dailey's name on a bestseller list and not want to get a big black Sharpie and scrawl “Thief” across it.

  34. Tasha
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 11:50:05

    I agree with post #26. As an editor, I’ve found instances of blatant plagiarism in several manuscripts. One author posted a message to their web site that included my personal contact information, claiming I’d ruined their publishing career. I was getting death threats!

    Just as students don’t understand what plagiarism is and why it’s wrong, many readers don’t. All they see is an attack on their favorite author.

  35. Kalen Hughes
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 11:53:27

    rise up and say this is wrong

    This [plagiarism] is wrong. Wrong. WRONG.

  36. Jules Jones
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 12:06:22

    Said “plagiarism is wrong” at SBTB. Said it in detail on my own blog. Saw more than one author saying it at SBTB. But there’ll be a fair few who won’t say anything because they’re scared to, and a fair few more who won’t say anything because they don’t know about it.

  37. Tracy
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 12:28:25

    Julie Leto Said:

    I'm passionate on the subject

    And I can completely understand why. When something has been done to you or someone close to you, it will make you passionate about it.

    I think plagiarism is wrong, wrong, wrong. No gray area IMHO. However, I may not have the passionate feelings you do regarding it b/c I’m not a writer and have never been plagiarized. I have my own “issues” that I am passionate about b/c they effect me or my family.

    Those with experience with plagiarism should be telling us how it feels, how it effects them, etc. People need to see that what they may see has “harmless” really isn’t.

    I don’t get this “cut and paste is okay for reports” thing. I remember writing extensive bibliographies and using footnotes in all my college papers. Whey would that all of a sudden change? sheesh. I better keep an eye on my kids when they get to that age.

  38. Kathryn S
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 12:37:04

    Plagiarism grosses me out. How’s that for eloquent? lol. I agree on the turn of phrase issue, however. Sometimes you hear something and you really need to use it. I remember reading how Sylvia Plath referred to the ‘delicate throat’ of her wrist and I LOVED it. Someday I’m going to use it, too! I also remember one time that Lisa Kleypas used the ‘supple arch’ of her heroine’s spine, and I loved that phrase so much I asked LK if she would mind if I used it.

    As for lifting someone else’s words in passages or pages, I can’t imagine it. Their voice wouldn’t sound like mine, wouldn’t match. I’d have to re-write it all anyway, so what would be the point?

  39. HelenKay Dimon
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 12:42:55

    I agree with Leslie. Why in the world would an author be afraid to stand up and say plagarism is wrong? I don’t get it. Isn’t it like saying lying and cheating are wrong? There’s no debate here. These are wrong. I really don’t know any authors who sit back and say plagarism is okay. Being on meds, depressed, too busy, stressed, young or whatever is not an excuse to take someone else’s hard work and pass it off as your own. I’m all for redemption and forgiveness, but people who engage in plagarism have to take personal responsibility for their poor choices and actions and pay a price in some manner.

    And bless Julie for her passion on the “not by accident” reality of plagarism. I understand the fear of unintentionally taking an idea and using it for your own. But step back and think about it. Would you ever actually take someone else’s ideas or words? Plagarism is an intentional thing bourne out of desperation, fear, greed…something. Julie’s explanation should make all of us who are conscientious and concerned sleep a little better.

  40. Ann Aguirre
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 12:45:51

    I just spent an hour reading all the passages on SB. I can only say, damn. That’s a lot of lifted material. There should be consequences.

    I’ll add my voice to those who say plagiarism is wrong. And I don’t give a crap about the person’s age, stress levels, personal life, deadlines, or any other factor. I don’t care if the dog ran away or the truck broke down or if Uncle Sam repo’d the family farm. When an author signs a contract, (s)he is guaranteeing all original material, not 90/10, or whatever split they can be bothered to create.

    As intellectual property, words are all I have. I’m not selling t-shirts, keychains, or Jax bobblehead dolls. So I’d be pissed as hell if anyone stole from me.

  41. Kristie(J)
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 12:50:11

    I just wish it made those writers lepers in the READING community.

    If it’s any consolation, it does to this reader. I hadn’t read Janet Dailey before the plagiarism against Nora, but there is No Way I will Ever even pick up a book she’s written now. And it infuriates me every time I’m in the book store and see her books. I want to grab them all, take them to the front and dump them and say ‘don’t you realize this woman is a cheater of the worst kind? How dare you help her make money!’
    The chances of me ever reading a Cassie Edwards book were nil to begin with, so there’s nothing I can that I’m not already doing, but I applaud those who expose plagerism and should an author I do like ever get caught – I will tear up their books and never read them again.

  42. Sandra Schwab
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 12:59:16

    In a profession that makes its money off the written word, the ethical standard should be of the highest form. It should exceed that of what is required by Universities of its students. After all, the student is paying to go to school so essentially the community that is harmed isn't paying any money to the plagiarist unlike what happens in the writing profession.

    And yet there is a big difference between academic writing (especially in the philologies) and writing fiction: in the academic text all direct and indirect (i.e. summaries, if ever so short) quotations need to be documented. E.g., I can’t just write, “Sir John Tenniel loved collecting medieval armor and filled his house with his finds.” This is not common knowledge, hence I have to give my source. If I don’t do it, it’s plagiarism.

    However, if I were to write a novel about Sir John Tenniel and would work his love for medieval armor into the text, it would not be considered plagiarism. Which raises the question when exactly it becomes legally and morally necessary for a novelist to mention research books in the author’s note. (And please note that I’m not talking about direct, unattributed quotations from copyrighted works here!!! This is beyond the question.)

  43. Nora Roberts
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 13:01:35

    ~Trust me, they are out there.~

    Oh God, yes. I had writers complain that I should’ve kept quiet, that I was picking on an icon, that it wasn’t any big deal. Why wasn’t I FLATTERED?

    The majority didn’t fall into this kind of group, but there were plenty. I was told I should just forgive and move on, that I was mean and heartless.

    I had one come up to me, face to face, and laugh about it–while it was going on, and at its worst media-wise.

    Many of my writer pals were afaid to speak out publically–fear of being sued.

    I took a great deal of heat from readers, too.

    I don’t want it to seem as if I had no support in the writing community. I did, and needed it, appreciated it–have never forgotten it. But I haven’t forgotten the flip side of that coin either.

  44. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 13:01:42

    I see often see silence more as disapproval than approval. I haven’t seen a bunch of people flocking around and saying, Hey, it’s not big deal.

    When a person does something wrong, it’s on them. They made the mistake, and eventually, they will suffer consequences. Even if there’s no legal punishment, I firmly believe that every wrong decision a person makes sooner or later comes back to haunt them.

    It’s their wrong-doing. Something they did. Something I firmly believe they’ll ultimately pay for even if they aren’t caught. I can’t control it and ultimately, I don’t think I could even prevent it from happening again, because as long as free will exists, there will be those who take shortcuts.

    I made the decision a while back to focus on the things I can change, the areas where I can make a difference.

    Frankly, I don’t see that this one of them. Even if every romance author banded together and signed some big petition, paid for online and on air ad campaigns denouncing plagiarism, it would happen again and again.

  45. Bev Stephans
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 13:17:25

    I’m with Kristie(J). I’m an avid reader and plagiarism has no place on my bookshelf! I’ve never read Janet Daily and never will. I think that there are a lot of readers out there who don’t like plagiarism, but don’t know who to complain to!

  46. Sandra Coburn
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 13:31:45

    I don't get this “cut and paste is okay for reports” thing. I remember writing extensive bibliographies and using footnotes in all my college papers. Whey would that all of a sudden change? sheesh. I better keep an eye on my kids when they get to that age.

    My oldest son dual-enrolled at the local community college, and not only did they require bibliographies, they also used a computer program to detect plagiarism in term papers. I pity the kids who were taught to cut and paste in elementary school, and then get hit with charges of plagiarism in the upper grades or college.

    Oh, and yes, it’s just plain wrong!!!

  47. Robin Bayne
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 13:33:33

    I agree with Bev and the others and would never pick up a J.D. book.

  48. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 13:49:18

    Maybe organizations such as RWA and NINC need to start an Awareness Program aimed at elementary level students and teachers regarding what is Plagiarism and How to Avoid It. It could be like D.A.R.E. We could call it, “Don’t Steal My Words.”

    I’m going to write to the board of both organizations right now. Talk about advocacy that could help us all!

  49. Jessica Inclan
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 14:20:13

    I can see by reading through the posts that teachers aren’t really surprised by this–my college won’t buy the service that helps us find the plagiarists, but some of my colleagues subscribe to other services. One has the students submit papers through their site and the service checks it for lifted information. Only after the check, does the teacher allow the student to turn in the paper.

    I’m not sure about the idea that authors don’t care and don’t speak up. Seems like many authors are doing so here, and certainly the Mehta case and others have brought people to the discussion table.

    I do want to know what Jane thinks or knows about the common knowledge rule. I always believed that if the information has been put or written about in five soruces, a cite for that information does not have to be included. So if I’m talking about Sir Issac Newton, I can write about his theory and apple without citing a source. Of course, I wouldn’t steal someone else’s writing about said topic but craft my own. I think that’s part of the boggle with the ferret issue.

    In any case, I don’t take this problem lightly as a teacher or a writer, and I actually don’t know a writer who does.


  50. Robin
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 14:52:38

    Whether or not authors are disgusted by plagiarism, IMO there is a dangerous culture of silence around this issue.

    I think one of the reasons you see such extreme opinions on this (i.e. get the pitchforks or no big deal) is because we have not incorporated any good common standards of what is and isn’t acceptable into the writing AND reading communities. I wonder what you’d get if you asked every author and reader to even DEFINE plagiarism. Heck, I don’t completely agree with Julie Leto’s insistence that you can’t unintentionally plagiarize, so I know there’s a pretty significant gray area that can be addressed, let alone the black and white basics.

    Since it’s so often readers who catch this stuff, I think it’s very important that there be open discussion of plagiarism, not with all the moralizing and apologias, but with common sense, rationality, and forthright explanations of why we value creative knowledge and how we try to balance community ownership of creative expression with individual protections for certain aspects of that expression. It’s a complicated issue, or set of issues, which creates another layer or urgency, IMO.

    The last thing I want to see is authors coming out to raise hell against Cassie Edwards or any author per se. But I’d love to see them talk openly about the issue of plagiarism in general, especially when it comes to what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to writing fiction, because I think it would lessen the strange taboo around the subject. And since there’s so much anxiety around fan fiction, I can see more open discussion of the issue creating more awareness in those circles, too, of what is and isn’t okay.

    Overall, it is just so strange to me that the issue of plagiarism only comes up as a topic of conversation when it happens, but so many authors don’t seem shy at all when talking about ARC sales, fan fiction, or other topics. Is it only those authors who are aware they have been plagiarized who give the issue much thought? And if there’s a fear of reader backlash, I’d argue again that the fear is driven partially by the taboo itself.

  51. Jane
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 14:55:45

    I haven’t read all the recent comments. I had to go to a meeting and I will go back and address them, but I wanted to say something about Leslie Kelly’s comment. My desire for open discussion regarding plagiarism is not about this blog or the SB blog or any blog. It’s about the fact that the community of the genre, comprised of readers and authors should discuss this openly.

    Openly does not mean come out and make a stance here on any blog, particularly if you don’t like blogs. It’s about taking this issue back to the fifty chapter members who don’t know about it. It’s about making the issue of plagiarism – what it is and what it isn’t – a topic that can be discussed without fear, without retribution. So there is no need for any CYA. So that everyone in the outside world understands that the romance genre does not tolerate this sort of thing.

    It’s a discussion that should be had between every crit group, every writing group. If the authors lead on this topic, the readers will follow. If authors take the time to educate their readers on message boards, email lists and other forums, the possible reader backlash will decline.

    Because ethics is a community issue, it must be defined by the community. The authors in the romance writing community need to define for itself the ethical right or wrong because the fact that you can’t talk about it openly, the fact that there are people who don’t know the Janet Dailey/Nora Roberts story, seems to give rise to the idea that the romance genre doesn’t care or tacitly approves it.

    And of course, I am not talking about people who are willing to talk about it here. Good for you. But why should there be any fear, concern, etc. for talking about it with other authors. Isn’t it an important enough issue to get out there? Isn’t it something that should be discussed at every RWA chapter and on the national level?

  52. Ann Bruce
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 15:00:52

    Okay, screw the new year’s resolution. I’m breaking my blog silence and adding my voice to the writers who condemn plagiarism.

    Plagiarism is WRONG. INEXCUSABLE. And cannot be done ACCIDENTALLY! Unless you have a photographic memory, you cannot type out ENTIRE PASSAGES that bear remarkable similiarity to someone else’s work BY ACCIDENT (even then, it’s still deliberate). If they weren’t cut-and-pasted from the Internet, you must have the book open in front of you as you type.

    And also count me in as someone who’s always worried about committing plagiarism herself. In fact, I generally don’t read books in the specific subgenre I write. Too risky.

    And all this talk about how students don’t know they are plagiarising in their reports and such? I was taught to use quotes and footnotes and bibliographies by grade 3. Sorry, if you don’t do this in junior high, high school, and university, it’s not because you don’t know how or don’t know that it’s wrong, it’s because you didn’t bother to pay attention in school.

    But if the parents out there tell me the education system has deteriorated in the last couple of decades… *shaking my head*

  53. CourtneyCarroll
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 15:06:36

    Word Jane.

  54. Jane
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 15:26:23

    I do want to know what Jane thinks or knows about the common knowledge rule. I always believed that if the information has been put or written about in five soruces, a cite for that information does not have to be included.

    There is an humorous saying – copy from one source, it is plagiarism; copy from twenty and it is research. I don’t know the extent of the common knowledge rule but what I read at the SB site seems to be more inclusive than common knowledge. I think plagiarism that stems from the use of Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V keys once too often. (If I might quote Bam’s hilarious comment here).

  55. Phyllis Towzey
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 15:43:03

    At least some schools are on the right track — at my son’s high school a copy of every paper turned in must also be submitted through a website (I think it’s called that checks for plagiarism. This is a small private school that prides itself on its high academic standards — I wish all schools treated it this seriously.

    My daughter’s middle school also teaches the kids about plagiarism, but sometimes too much of the focus is on finding information through Internet research, and not enough focus on what you do with the information once you have it.

    I will always be shocked that Janet Dailey’s career has continued. I agree with the commenter who said what Dailey did copying Nora Roberts’ prose was more offensive than what Edwards did paraphrasing research materials without attribution — but both are clearly wrong.

  56. Sandra Coburn
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 16:02:19

    And also count me in as someone who’s always worried about committing plagiarism herself. In fact, I generally don’t read books in the specific subgenre I write. Too risky.

    Give up reading my favorite genre? Eeek! I think I’ll take the risk. :-)

  57. Cady
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 16:03:35

    As a reader, I didn’t know about the Dailey/Roberts thing for years. At the time, I just enjoyed books, didn’t jump all over the web, finally read about it on Adwoff two or three years ago. I think the average reader who just picks a book up at the store, doesn’t always pay attention to these things, unless the mainstream media plays it up or it becomes broader knowledge, it is easy to miss it. Now, knowing I stick away from Dailey, but I could see where someone like my mom just going to the store to pick up a book might grab one not knowing.

  58. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 16:05:51

    Plagiarism is the passing off of someone else’s words as your own–or ideas in such a blatant way that it’s clear the original concept was not your own. It’s not a single word or even a single phrase…it’s a pattern.

    Seems pretty black and white to me. BUT, what in this world is truly black and white? Not much…and expecting something to be so before you take a position on it makes no sense. I mean, I’m against murder. I would never go out and kill someone or plan a murder even if I hated them with every fiber of my being. Killing is wrong.

    However, if they threatened my kid, you can better believe I’d blow their head off without an ounce of remorse.

    I wrote the following paragraph (off the cuff, so excuse me if it’s not Pulitzer material):

    Jennifer’s stomach roiled sickeningly when she saw the words on the screen. One sentence, then two. The chapter changed, a new character’s point of view took over, but the names and places were all wrong. She hadn’t set her book in Scotland, but Ireland. And her hero wasn’t named Ian. And yet, there he was, making love to some bitch named Kate when the woman he truly loved languished in a book with her name on it, written years ago, but hers all the same.

    and then, an eagle-eyed reader or librarian (always the best detectives in this situation) reads this:

    Sondra thought she was going to throw up as she read the words on the page. First, one sentence seemed familiar, then two. She turned the page to the next chapter told from the hero’s perspective, but the names and places were strange. Unfamiliar. Wrong.

    Madre di Dios! She hadn’t set her book in Spain, but Cuba. And her hero answered to Luis, not Fidel. And yet, there he was, fucking some puta named Maria when the his one true love waited for him in her book. Sure, she’d written it a long time ago. She wasn’t even a writer anymore, deciding instead to become a translator for the embassy in Madrid, but damn, these were still her words. Hers. And she wasn’t going to sit by and let this go unpunished.

    That’s plagiarism. Seems pretty simple. There’s a pattern of the same idea, the same cadence, the same progression of story as the original…even if the words are entirely different or at the very least, mostly different. I paraphrased without attribution and that’s WRONG.

    Another situation that hasn’t been mentioned was Gina Wilkins and some plagiarist whose name escapes me. You can read more about it here:

  59. Sandra Coburn
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 16:06:53

    Maybe organizations such as RWA and NINC need to start an Awareness Program aimed at elementary level students and teachers regarding what is Plagiarism and How to Avoid It. It could be like D.A.R.E. We could call it, “Don't Steal My Words.”

    Julie, that’s a great idea. But DSMW? Googled it — not terrible. Digital Soil Map of the World. Hmmmm.

    How about Stop Taking Our Words (STOW)? Stop Hijacking Our Words (SHOW)? Stop Looting Our Words (SLOW)? Okay. There’s a reason I didn’t major in marketing. :-P

    Great idea, though.

  60. Leslie Kelly
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 16:18:14

    >>My desire for open discussion regarding plagiarism is not about this blog or the SB blog or any blog. It's about the fact that the community of the genre, comprised of readers and authors should discuss this openly.<<

    Where is the community of the genre that involves both readers and writers other than sites like this one?

    I’m not being facetious here, Jane, I truly am curious. If we are excluding blogs (given your comment quoted above, and the knowledge that the “online” romance community is an very small one compared to the actual readership)–how exactly is the average romance reader on the street supposed to know how everyday authors A-B-and C feel about this issue, or how insidious and nasty it is, unless she meets them at a book signing or hears them speak? Okay, that was a long sentence, but hopefully you get the point.

    I know there are conferences specifically designed for author/readers get-togethers (RT, Celebrate Romance, etc.) but we're talking a tiny little drop in the bucket of readers and very few authors. There's one “official” industry magazine–and you know it's not going to be discussed there because 95% of RT is for reviews and advertising and the rest is fluff. The RWR is for writers, not readers. Ditto Writer's Digest, etc. And the mainstream media usually doesn't cover romance unless it's Valentine's Day or time for the latest cover snark story. So we're back to the internet: blogs, message boards, e-newsletters. Back to that very small percentage of the readership. And they ARE hearing it from authors…not all authors, because not all authors are blog-savvy or internet-trusting. But they are hearing it.

    As far as this being discussed among writers, why on earth do you think it isn't? I've been in the RWA since 1997. I was at the Orlando conference when the Roberts/Dailey story broke and EVERY person at the conference was talking about it and has talked about it again and again. The issue of plagiarism has/does/will continue to come up in discussions with my blogging partners (75% of us, remember?) my RWA chapter meetings, my RWA chapter loops, my “group author” loops (including today, by the way.) As I've said several times–it's discussed enough that I could easily name dozens of authors who loathe the very thought of plagiarism (and many who've been touched by it themselves) and not a single one who's ever defended it. I can't recall whether or not there have been specific workshops at Nationals on it–I've never attended one, but I know they run the gamut on other legal writing issues, so I have to think it’s been addressed.

    When an aspiring writer wrote to me and listed specific sentences and descriptions from one of my books that she wondered if she could “borrow” for use in her own, oh, boy, did she get a lesson on plagiarism. And when I see someone I know reading a Dailey book, or even glancing at one, that person gets a history lesson from me, too.

    So we're trying. But what else can we do, especially those authors who, as I said earlier, just don't feel comfortable exposing themselves in an online arena for their own multitude of reasons, and who aren't likely to be sought out by the mainstream media to share their opinions? If they're talking about it among their colleagues but not seeking out readers to educate on the plagiarism issue, are they still painted with the “silence means they don't care” brush?

    In my opinion (obviously) the answer is no.

  61. Leslie Kelly
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 16:22:41


    I can see glimmers of pitchforks. But, as of right now, I’m not seeing any “no big deal” type comments. Did I miss those, or are you mainly speaking about previous brouhahas?

  62. Jessica Inclan
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 16:57:19

    Jane, thanks for your spin on the common knowledge rule. Yes, research can be a bit “iffy” sometimes.

    Phyllis– is the site I was thinking of. Many of my colleagues use it, and the reason it is so necessary is the internet. I can’t tell you how many papers I get with chunks of wikipedia thrown in without citation.


  63. Jaci Burton
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 17:40:15

    Late to the party here today, but such a great topic. I’ve been reading the Cassie Edwards debacle here and at the SB’s and am appalled. And I can’t believe Janet Dailey is still in publishing. I shake my head and mutter under my breath whenever I pass by her books in the bookstore.

    I had an entire e-book plagiarized on a fanfic site a couple years ago. An entire e-book. They changed the title, but every single word, including the character names, remained the same. Not very clever. And I had to fight like hell to get it removed.

    Plagiarism is vile and a huge threat to writers everywhere. As writers, we have to stand up and scream NO! long and loud to anyone and everyone and anywhere we can whenever it rears its ugly head. And Julie, it’s scary that our children aren’t being taught about plagiarism, but I agree and it’s sad and scary and it would be great if we could do something to support better education about it.

  64. Seressia
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 17:51:03

    Excuse me while I polish my horns…

    I’ve read through this here and at SBTB but haven’t commented at either place before now. My silence IS NOT tacit approval. Not commenting before now was simply my way of not adding to the pile on (which is not to say I’m in any way sympathetic to CE; I’m not).

    If you want to turn this post into a petition wherein authors add comments saying they find plagiarism deplorable, consider this my signature. But don’t consider my (previous) silence as acceptance of plagiarism.

    For every author and reader online here, there are dozens who don’t visit these sites. There are hundreds more who don’t roam online at all. So the silence could just be people not visiting DA and SBTB and therefore don’t know about the discussion. Even if they know, they’re not going to come here and run up 200 “me too!” posts. Some people just don’t like to do that.

  65. Julia Sullivan
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 17:52:50

    Actually, plagiarism can be done accidentally. Now, you have to be pretty careless to do it, but it’s possible.

    One of the things we were taught to do Back In The Day when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and computers lived in the basement of the science building was to take notes on index cards. If we came across a passage in a book that we thought might be useful for future citation, we were supposed to write it on the index card like so:

    All brontosauruses are thin at one end, much much thicker in the middle, then thin again at the far end. — A. Elk, “My Theory”, page 217.

    Now, if you were sloppy about doing this, you might end up with a few index cards that said something like The brontosaurus was the king of thunder lizards. Then you would wrack your brains trying to remember whether this was your brilliant insight, or whether you’d taken it from J. Filboid-Studge’s 600-page tome that you’d already returned to the library.

    Here’s where the carelessness comes in. The careful writer would say, “Well, since I don’t remember whether that’s my own work or a secondary source, I’m not going to include it in the paper.” The uncareful writer just goes ahead and bungs the thing right on in there and hopes for the best.

    So it’s not inconceivable that some limited plagiarism can happen unintentionally–but when it does, it’s still unprofessional and sloppy and disrespectful, and the plagiarist needs to put on the big-kid underpants, apologize, and do what he or she can to make things right.

  66. Kristen
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 18:08:49

    As one of the co-owners of Romance Divas, I will be sure our members know about this. Not only will they care, but our members (who are mainly writers) are also voracious readers with the power to express themselves through the almighty purchasing dollar.

    Plagiarism is stealing. Plain and simple. For those of us who consider our books to be our children, it’s really a form of kidnapping. Absolutely disgusting.

  67. azteclady
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 19:09:40

    Not quite off-topic: talking with my mother about this, I asked her what the Spanish noun for “plagiarist” is–as I couldn’t remember it at the moment–and she fired back, “ladrón (thief).” Made my morning.

  68. Robin
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 19:33:13

    When an aspiring writer wrote to me and listed specific sentences and descriptions from one of my books that she wondered if she could “borrow” for use in her own, oh, boy, did she get a lesson on plagiarism. And when I see someone I know reading a Dailey book, or even glancing at one, that person gets a history lesson from me, too.

    I read stuff like this, or like the assertion by author Melissa Blue that “how [the examples were] found lends itself to criticism,” or how Janet Dailey can proudly proclaim on her website that she is the “#1 Best-Selling Author in North America,” or the assertion by Jill Sorenson on the SBs that Candy and Sarah’s posting “smacks of a witch hunt” and I think — something’s off in the Romance culture around the plagiarism issue. And when I read your comments here, I don’t quite get the disagreement between you and Jane, because IMO everything you are saying is justifying everything she is saying — namely, that there is a culture of silence around plagiarism that is caused by and causes fear. Fear of what I’m a little foggy on, perhaps because I can’t imagine anything that would weigh as worse than having plagiarism be the subject of fear and anxiety and ignorance and even tolerance (i.e. Janet Dailey is still being published; in fact, read the editor comment on her website for an interesting take).

    I remember being a wee graduate student, and every time the writing TAs would meet, we’d discuss what was happening in our classes. If we had a case of plagiarism to share, that was an opportunity for all of us to go back to our classrooms and preach to the rafters about what plagiarism is, how to avoid it, and what could happen if you’re caught doing it. We didn’t even hesitate because we knew that the only way we were going to get our students to understand both WHAT IS WAS and WHY IT WAS BAD was to deliver the message and broadly and loudly as we could.

    So color me baffled that every author in reach of the Internet isn’t posting ANYWHERE (and according to Laurie Gold, AAR gets 310,000 unique visitors a month, so lots and lots of readers ARE online) — whether that be their own websites, blogs, fan messageboards, etc. — about the issue. NOT about Cassie Edwards, necessarily; in fact, her name wouldn’t even need to be mentioned, as this is an ongoing issue and concern. Can you imagine, for example, what would happen if the authors on the Avon Ladies board, for example, started a public discussion on plagiarism there? I guarantee you that those readers over there would be spreading the good word of awareness, too, and that plagiarism would be a very hot topic online, garnering respectful discussion not talk of a witch hunt. I just went over to that board and put the word “plagiarism” in the search box and got NOT ONE hit. NOT ONE.

    I honest to god do not understand why this is such a taboo subject IN GENERAL in a writer-reader oriented community. I mean, Cassie Edwards has published MORE THAN 100 NOVELS! How many of them, do you think, have unattributed source work in them? That Nora Roberts was the one vilified when Janet Dailey was found to be plagiarizing says it all to me about the way plagiarism is — or more properly isn’t — treated within the public realm of this community. That doesn’t mean Jane or the SBs are looking for comments on THEIR blogs; instead, I think they’d be thrilled if everyone who saw the posts went back to their own blogs, websites, and writers groups and spoke out about why this is such an important issue within any community of authors and readers (especially one in which so many readers are themselves aspiring authors). Because clearly, plagiarism is NOT part of the common vocabulary of public discussion about the genre, or there wouldn’t be the fear, there wouldn’t be the anxiety, there wouldn’t be the silence when something like this Cassie Edwards thing happens, because people would be used to and comfortable with talking about it. That there seems to be so much discomfort in talking about it seems to me completely counterintuitive and counter to the interests of both authors and readers.

  69. Michelle
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 19:41:09

    There does seem to be a camp chanting “witch hunt” and “mob”. Even a popular review site posted on a blog that she deleted her initial post about this because her opinion would be unpopular and that she would get negative comments from the “mob”.

    Isn’t this back to blame the victim? I too cringe whenever I see J. Daileys books and really couldn’t believe that a reputable publisher would sign her up. I mean really how can you defend plagerism-besides the “it was an accident” or “being off my psych meds made me do it” ?

  70. Robin
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 19:58:55

    There does seem to be a camp chanting “witch hunt” and “mob”. Even a popular review site posted on a blog that she deleted her initial post about this because her opinion would be unpopular and that she would get negative comments from the “mob”.

    Yeah, see, this kind of stuff suggests to me that there’s a taboo around something that people should be talking about regularly and comfortably. Not because they feel they *have to* but because it’s simply part of the cultural discourse.

  71. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 20:32:24

    Robin, we may not have the same traffic as Avon Ladies, but Google “Plotmonkeys” and “plagiarism.” You’ll get hits, trust me. And we try very hard not to “do” controversial on our blog. However, to us, this is not controversial. It’s cut-and-dried wrong. Maybe, because as Leslie said earlier, three out of four of us have been plagiarized…and for all we know, the fourth one has too, but no one has caught it yet.

  72. cecilia
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 20:36:28

    We didn't even hesitate because we knew that the only way we were going to get our students to understand both WHAT IS WAS and WHY IT WAS BAD was to deliver the message and broadly and loudly as we could.

    Robin, do I know what you mean. At the same time, as a teacher who (spending far more time than it should need) teaches how to research, what plagiarism is (and that it includes “unacceptable paraphrase”), I want to roll my eyes (more with you than at you). For the love of God, giving credit to your sources is not rocket science. Kids who plagiarize their term papers (and what teacher has not chortled merrily over a “Click here” in the middle of the essay?) are lazy. Too lazy to even read what they stole, apparently. I’m not convinced that it is at all about not knowing what plagiarism is, and all the teaching in the world isn’t going to convince that type that it’s better to work than steal.

    As as a general comment about CE, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, a novelist who copies nearly word for word is an embarrassment to her profession.

    On the other hand, to a naive little corner of my heart, this particular story is pitiful. Here’s Cassie Edwards, reviled for writing stereotypes instead of characters, putting actual book learnin’ in her novels. Boy, she just can’t win.* That’s sad.

    *Yes, I know the plagiarism part means she doesn’t deserve to. Still. Ouch.

  73. K. Z. Snow
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 21:10:06

    It’s easy to rail against plagiarism. I doubt the practice has any public supporters. Yes, yes already, we all know it’s BAD. Like we know Internet predation is bad. Like we know poor hygiene is bad. So let’s move on to Step Two. What, really, are blog ranters trying to accomplish? What meaningful results do they hope to achieve?

    An ordinary, non-writing reader could justifiably respond, “Okay, I get the point…now what the hell do you expect me to do about it?” What would you say to that person?

    “All right, dear reader, this is your role in the Battle Against Plagiarism. You must boycott all books by offending authors. Here are their names. Then you must write outraged letters to their publishers and agents. Next, you must spend as many waking hours as possible poring over every work of fiction in print, and then you must Google stand-out words and phrases to look for suspicious similarities. And then…”

    Get my point? This and the Smart Bitches thread, laid end to end, could girdle the globe…yet all the posters are doing is agreeing with one another. It’s like a big ol’ righteous-indignation circle-jerk. So where are y’all going from here?

  74. Leslie Kelly
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 21:40:29

    >And when I read your comments here, I don't quite get the disagreement between you and Jane, because IMO everything you are saying is justifying everything she is saying -‘ namely, that there is a culture of silence around plagiarism that is caused by and causes fear. Fourth, because silence by authors gives tacit approval and perpetuates the idea for readers that this plagiarism thing is no big deal.<

    I say there are plenty of other reasons authors aren’t shouting about publicly, including because, heck, they don’t even KNOW this is happening. Silence does not equal approval.

  75. Leslie Kelly
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 21:46:24

    That last message didn’t turn out right because of me trying to quote two different things. Robin, I was trying to answer your question by saying the reason I’m disagreeing with Jane is because of one single sentence in all of today’s (and yesterday’s) epic writings. This one:

    Fourth, because silence by authors gives tacit approval and perpetuates the idea for readers that this plagiarism thing is no big deal.

    That’s what I’m disagreeing with.

  76. sherry thomas
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 21:53:25

    I usually don’t get into “big-issue” discussions but here I just want to say that SBs are doing important work–I hope the unearthing of and publicity around Cassie Edwards’ plagiarism will deter some would be plagiarizer, knowing how easy it is to get caught now–and that Jane and Janet are doing equally important work by trying to broaden the audience for the discussion on this subejct.

  77. Jane
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 22:15:44

    My point, Ms. Kelly, is that it needs to be discussed until there is longer fear of reprisals. Until every reader is educated on the manner. Is this one big circle jerk? I guess so if nothing does anything about it but to me doing nothing is staying silent.

    And if there are authors that you, Ms. Kelly know and that are in your RWA chapter, that are ignorant of this matter, why not tell them about it? Is it not important enough? Is there some fear that someone will think poorly of you? The mere fact that some are afraid to talk, some authors, lends this idea that plagiarism is okay. You might not agree with me but that is how I see it.

    It has nothing to do with blog comments or blog traffic. If I really cared about that I would post a mocking post of a couple of authors today. I would have had a ton of traffic and a ton of posts. This is about the community of readers and writers taking a stand on what I see as a black and white issue. Either it is wrong to copy word for word prose (whether it be non fiction or fiction) into your own work and claim it as your own. Or it is okay to do so. Where is the in between standard?

    And if the fact that Bestselling authors are doing this isn’t enough, then let’s look at Diana Gabaldon’s statement to her readers and aspiring writers on the Compuserve writing forum:

    At the forum Ms. Gabaldon says this:

    Dear Jenny–

    Oh–with regard to your last sentence…in fact, you _can_ legally use absolutely anything that’s in the public domain (i.e., out of copyright). And in fact, at least two of the “sources” they were mentioning almost certainly are. Given the peculiarities of style in some of the bits quoted, I still don’t know why one _would_–but it’s totally legit to do so.

    Bottom line being that no, in fact, you _can’t_ plagiarize a source that’s out of copyright. You can do anything you want to with it.

    So essentially, I could take Jane Austen’s work and pass it off as my own? I think that Gabaldon is conflating copyright infringement with plagiarism but I could be totally off base. The fact is that plagiarism, as defined above, is any non attributed copying or even slight paraphrasing. There is no distinction between public domain works and works under copyright when determing plagiarism. If Kaavya Viswanathan had mimicked 40 pages of Bronte instead of McCafferty, it is still plagiarism.

  78. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 22:32:42

    Until every reader is educated on the manner.

    Jane, I can understand your frustration, but this isn’t going to happen. It’s a wonderful idea… but not a likely one.

    Online readers tend to be dedicated, fervent readers and they’ll do what they can to show their disapproval by not buying, but telling friends, etc.

    But the readers you won’t reach are those that aren’t book junkies. Those who read a book every few weeks, once a month. They aren’t going to be made aware unless there’s some big stink over it, like the Frey/Oprah scandal. I can imagine there are some who would react by just shrugging and going… well, that sucks. But that would be the extent of their concern. I bet I know people who’d react just that way. A lot of people, unless it affects them, don’t worry about things like this.

    Talking to other authors about it? It does happen. I know I’ve been involved in discussions over it in my local RWA chapter. But those discussions aren’t always going to make a difference. Most, and I say most, not all, but most of the writers involved in such discussions wouldn’t dare plagiarize. And those who would…. chances are discussion isn’t going to keep them from doing it.

    People who take short cuts rationalize it away. They excuse their behavior. IMO, it’s in their nature.

    Awareness among authors isn’t really an issue. We are aware. But I’d imagine the authors that have plagiarized were also aware yet it didn’t stop them.

    Raising awareness among the general public is a lovely idea, but the cynic in me says that most people outside the romance genre won’t care.

  79. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 22:39:50

    Jane, honestly, Leslie Kelly is a very outspoken person against plagiarism. As I posted previously, she and I have discussed this topic at our own blog on more than one occasion and publically. She has gone on several loops and told them about the discussion here (as have I) long before you invited her to do so. I really don’t think we should be chastising people in the choir, so to speak.

    I see Shiloh’s point, though, but I chose to speak out anyway. I’ve been doing it for years. I started a conversation on the topic on my RWA loop today and guess what? Only about three people chimed in. Why? Because I think most people think, “This is clearly wrong and I have nothing more to add to this discussion.” It’s cut and dried.

    Reaching readers? Not so much. Like someone said before, if readers didn’t react to the Oprah/Frey thing with outrage, if they joked to Nora about the thievery against her, then they will be hard to reach. But I’m sure authors will do their part where they can.

    And since most if not every single plagiarism situation I’ve heard of was discovered by a reader or librarian (though I can think of one that possibly was found by the author herself) I think people out there DO know this is wrong. But just as I said in an earlier post, everyone knows murder is wrong, too…doesn’t mean people have to talk about it all the time.

    That said, I still think it should be talked about more. That’s why I’ve been here all day instead of working on my WIP.

  80. Christine Merrill
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 22:42:16

    I’m standing with K Z and Leslie on this one. As an author, if I’m afraid of anything, it’s not speaking out on plagiarism. It’s a sentence like this:

    Fourth, because silence by authors gives tacit approval and perpetuates the idea for readers that this plagiarism thing is no big deal.

    Although the theft has been going on for years, the uncovery is less than 48 hours old. But already there is the assumption of closed ranks and a conspiracy of silence among authors.

    I’m sorry, but I find it very threatening that anyone would assume I approved of plagiarism, just because I didn’t say out loud that I don’t. It’s stealing. I’m against it (and the other nine commandments. I also hate terrorists, and people who are mean to puppies).

    The idea that we all need to be seen agreeing to prove that we’re on the right side of the issue is stifling to conversation. As is the idea that there better not be any hesitation or waffling about getting online and saying something.

    While I might not want to waste my time on this pathetic person by adding to the endless string of posts, it does not mean that I want to give her tea and sympathy, or that I condone her actions.

    At this point, I don’t see how repeating what we all know is true will do anything to solve the problem. Especially since the people guilty of the crime of plagiarism are just the sort to lie about it, and stand beside us as we shout ‘Down with plagiarists!’

    What I really want to hear, at this point, is a response from the publishers and the accused author. I don’t think there’s going to be any magic revelation that will explain everything. But the people on the other side of this deserve a chance to speak. At the very least, it will tell us all something about the future of these books and this author in the marketplace.

    But it has still only been less than 48 hours. While we all might be hardwired to the internet, it is too soon to accuse people of dodging an issue that they might not have heard about, if they haven’t been online for a day or two.

  81. azteclady
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 22:48:00

    In answer to KZSnow: As Stephanie Baker says here, the more publicity, the better a chance for plagiarists/thieves to face the consequences of their actions in a way that will actually impact their future choices: their pockets. And word of mouth, through bloggers ‘rantings’ or otherwise, is a form of publicity.

  82. Leslie Kelly
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 22:48:10

    And if there are authors that you, Ms. Kelly know and that are in your RWA chapter, that are ignorant of this matter, why not tell them about it?

    I did. All over the place. As soon as I heard about this. I suggested that members of my RWA chapter and my author loops come here and to SBTB, whether they wanted to comment or not, just to get a quick-and-dirty primer on just how ugly and dangerous an issue this is. And considering the number of notes I got in response, I think a lot of people did.

    Is there some fear that someone will think poorly of you

    Okay, I’ve been opening my mouth about this all day, putting my opinions out there. So how exactly am I being scared off by the fear that someone will think poorly of me? Could I have said much more plainly that plagiarism is vile and I loathe the thieves who do it, and that I’ve been a victim myself?

    Didn’t one of my posts today make it clear that, in my opinion, this is something that IS talked about at chapter meetings, in critique groups, etc.? I had the feeling that you were saying it is not–that authors don’t talk about it, period. And I was telling you that in my experience they do. Maybe not enough to engage and inform readers…I was very sincerely asking you for ideas on how to do this, and in response, I get smacked by you as being afraid to talk about it. Huh???

    How did that suddenly turn into me not having the balls to stand up against plagiarism, when that’s exactly what I’ve been doing (in very long, boring posts, I’m sure) all day?

    We–you and I–really are talking in circles now, so let’s leave it at this. We both agree that plagiarism by anyone, in any form, is a horrible, offensive act. And if I have the opportunity to let people know about it, I will.

  83. Meljean Brook
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 22:49:53

    (Long long LONG post. My apologies.)

    I’m coming in late, but I don’t see it as taboo as much as “Well, of course,” and that’s why it’s not being discussed.

    Writers know it’s wrong. Readers know it’s wrong. No one will ever convince me that, no matter how many excuses are made, Janet Dailey, Cassie Edwards, and anyone else who does it doesn’t KNOW they are doing something wrong. THEY JUST DON’T CARE. The only time they care is when they get caught. And those readers who don’t care now won’t care later, either — the only thing they’ll care about is if their favorite writer isn’t writing anymore because she was caught. They’ll say “What’s the big deal?”

    But for the rest of us, the “big deal” is a given. There’s nothing to discuss about plagiarism, nothing to debate: it’s wrong. Full stop. It’s a disgusting practice, and it’s appalling that the publishers/editors/readers didn’t catch it sooner … although I suspect that if one reader unfamiliar with romance picked up on it so easily, it HAS been discovered before, but swept under the rug (or the publisher/editor/reader didn’t care enough to alert anyone).

    If true, that’s disgusting as well. And maybe I’m just cynical, but saying that on my blog is going to be preaching to the choir, and those who are sinning will keep on doing it, praying they won’t be caught.

    So to me, the thing to be posting on my blog is “What to do and who to contact if you suspect an author of plagiarism” and maybe “What is plagiarism? (but really, I'd just create a link to Jane's post or one of the billion academic sites that answer it)” If someone recognizes a plagiarized passage, keeping silent and letting it slide is wrong — but I don’t see anything wrong with an author or reader refraining from saying, “me, too” on a blog, at a RWA meeting, or wherever. I've never liked just going around, nodding my head. And really, mostly the discussion would be something along the lines of:

    Hey, did you hear about Cassie Edwards?
    Yeah. Plagiarizing. That's makes me so mad.
    Yeah. It's so stupid. Stupid and lazy.
    Yeah. And as if romance writers don't get enough crap about formulaic writing. This comes up, and it just adds to the joke. Grr.
    Grr. It's just an insult to every writer and reader.
    Grr. I'm glad she was caught.

    And, you know, that would pretty much be it, whether I was at a meeting or sending an e-mail to a friend or reader. Maybe we'd have a disagreement about how it came about (me, I like the SBs style) — but on the issue itself? Nope. And in the community of writers I know, not a single one a) doesn't know about plagiarism or b) condones it, or thinks it isn't a big deal.

    So it disturbs me that the feeling I'm getting from some of these comments is that if I don't use my blog to make a PSA about plagiarism, it's because I'm afraid to talk about something because it's taboo and because it makes me uncomfortable, or that I'm giving tacit approval. It just makes too many assumptions about me as a person. And I don't assume that other authors and readers who don't discuss it on their blogs are uncomfortable or afraid to talk about it, either. I just assume that, if they do talk about it, they'll pick their time and place.

    Talking about my sex life on my blog would make me uncomfortable, and is something I consider taboo. Saying that seeing Janet Dailey's books on the shelf makes me grit my teeth or that Cassie Edwards shouldn't have been so lazy about integrating her research into her work? Saying that their (and anyone else's) plagiarism is inexcusable? That's easy.

    But there's really no discussion there. Even in this set of comments, the discussion isn't whether it's wrong to plagiarize, there's a little debate about common knowledge–but is primarily about what an author's duty is. Is a “me too” enough? Is the fact that most of us go crazy writing original prose and carefully use our sources enough? Like Ilona, I simply can't comprehend copy/pasting text in; and I'd bet that most of us can't comprehend it. I think most of us would blow the whistle if we detected it. Now we are charged educating and telling people (most of whom already know) what plagiarism is and that they shouldn't do it–and if we don't, we're condoning all plagiarists?

    And furthermore, someone has determined that *now* is the time that PSA should be showing up, that the discussion should spread across blogland and RWA, and doesn't understand why we haven't gone forth and done it? (Even though many of us have said it at various times and in various forums?)

    Not all of us are comfortable being teachers — that's why I'm not teaching now. I don't like the role. Why are we being told how to position our stance against plagiarism and how to carry it out? We all stand in different ways.

    It IS being talked about now. It WILL be talked about in the future. Just because it's not showing up everywhere online (except at the two biggest romance blogs–which happen to be popular with both authors and readers–a handful of other personal blogs, and probably AAR before too long) doesn't mean it's not happening.

    And that doesn't mean I don't think a public swell of author voices would be great — it would. I don't disagree that if an author can and wants to say something, she should. I'll be posting something to my blog in the next few days. I've said that plagiarism shouldn’t be tolerated before, on my site and fanfic sites I've been on; it's easy for me to say again. But if I hadn't happened to read my Google reader today and come over here to check out the comments … yikes, I guess that would have meant I'm on the side of the plagiarists, and too afraid to address topics that are taboo.

    Seriously — “speak out or you're condoning plagiarism” and “why oh why aren't you authors talking about it instead of hiding in fear?” Don't you think that just a bit extreme and presumptive? And (not to derail the topic) — but how is it different from anything Monica has argued for years about racism in publishing? People are often silent then, too — but I don't assume it's out of fear or because they condone racism.

  84. Julie Leto
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 23:01:47

    Excellent post, Meljean. I hate that this intelligent discussion is becoming an “us vs. them.” Hate it.

  85. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 23:10:29

    So it disturbs me that the feeling I'm getting from some of these comments is that if I don't use my blog to make a PSA about plagiarism,

    Yeah. Me, too. Although I did make my own PSA about plagiarism today on my blog, Meljean. :P

    Jane, something I don’t think you understand, although it’s been pointed out is that writers do discuss it. Do we always do it in a public forum? No, although I’d imagine many of us are willing when the avenue is there.
    But it is discussed in writer groups, writer chats, RWA meetings, etc. There is actually gets read by somebody who may or may not have the temptation to plagiarize and isn’t that a good thing?

    A lot of writers will discuss things in a writer’s forum that we may not necessarily discuss outside of it. But since those plagiarizing are writers, and they see the discussion, that’s not a wasted thing.

  86. Jane
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 23:11:14

    Where was it that I said that the response had to be today? My itemization of reasons why I want authors to “care” was in direct response to Ms. Kelly’s query.

    No where did I say that if response was not immediate, that meant tacit approval. Some of you people are imputing words and motivations that were never stated, implied nor meant.

    Further, I responded to Ms. Kelly because she directed her statements to me. I was explaining why I thought it was important to talk about these issues and why it appeared that there was a culture of silence about them. This opinion was formed by the fact that of the people who are engaging in shooting the messenger all but two were authors in this recent debacle. That the more than one poster was concerned about reprisals from speaking out. That during the Janet Dailey/Nora Robert episodes, I’ve read numerous sympathies poured out for Dailey as further confirmed by Ms. Roberts own statement here.

    And when Ms. Kelly said that there were people that she knew that didn’t know of the plagiarism, I did challenge that because I wanted to make it clear that by open discussion it did not have anything to do with the blog (which people apparently keep coming back to). It has to do with spreading awareness of the subject which if any of you read the Gabaldon post that I copied and pasted, there clearly needs to be education within the writing community. Authors can all say that it is wrong and that they know that it is wrong, but there doesn't seem to even be a clear consensus as to what it entails.

    I don’t agree with Ms. Snow. This is not a circle jerk. This is my way of spreading the word that I don’t agree with plagiarism. And I’ll do that with every reader I know in an attempt to effectuate change for the future.

  87. Meljean Brook
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 23:29:55

    Reading your first response to Leslie, it left me with the impression that time didn’t matter so much, it was a “do it when you can” type of thing. But, honestly, that’s almost in direct opposition to the statement of silence being tacit approval.

    Attached to that is an underlying sense that, until you speak up and break your silence, you are complicit. You may not have intended it, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but that’s part of the reason I feel there is a rush on this, a “go out and do it now!” tone behind the comments. That, and Robin’s description of TAs who rally the troops and educate as quickly as possible.

    RE: fanfic (not quickly, because I’m incapable):

    And since there's so much anxiety around fan fiction, I can see more open discussion of the issue creating more awareness in those circles, too, of what is and isn't okay.

    In fan fiction circles? (Sorry if I’m misreading this comment — I’m reading this as, “fan fiction communities don’t know what plagiarizing is” but if it is more in the vein of “authors should know what most fanfic writers are actually borrowing, that might ease (or not) their anxiety,” I'm going to be way off the mark.)

    In every fan fiction community that I’ve participated in, there is a very clear-cut and accepted difference between using characters and concepts, and plagiarizing (stealing passages, and typically just changing the names), and a policy on plagiarism. Most fanfic authors even attribute dialogue taken directly from canon (if they rewrite a scene from a different POV, for example) and there’s always an acknowledgment of the original creator and copyright owner.

    And the flare-ups here when Lanaia Lee (or ghostwriter) plagiarized, or the discussion at SBTB about Edwards is nothing in comparison to the evisceration I’ve seen on several fanfic boards when a plagiarist has been exposed. Communities police themselves, and they usually throw away the rubber bullets and go for the Billy clubs.

    There is always a small but vocal readership (and, I imagine, a few crit partners) who says, “what’s the big deal?” But there is also always a larger and louder response from fanfic readers and writers willing to tell them exactly what the big deal is, what is acceptable in the community, and what is not.

    Fanfic writers know they walk a very fine line, and most are rabid about not crossing it. Those who do are pretty much trampled and shoved out of the community. (I'm honestly surprised that it took a lot of effort to get Jaci's story off the site — usually, it's a bit of a witch hunt once the plagiarism has been exposed.)

    Also, for most of these plagiarists, it is, once again, not an issue of ignorance. They’re usually plagiarizing popular or published works so that they receive (holy of holies!) adoring feedback. When they get caught, they always whine and say, “what’s the big deal?” and come up with a million excuses — but they KNOW they were wrong in the first place.

    It is pretty much only because they fear the wrath of the community that keeps some from trying it (which is why, Yay! SBs) — just as some kids are afraid to drink because their parents might catch them, not because underage drinking is illegal. But the others? Don’t care — they’ll move on to the next fandom, and start Ctrl+C Ctrl+V Ctrl+Hing again.

  88. vanessa jaye
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 23:38:14

    Can I give another reason for “not saying” anything? As others have said, first you’re just speechless, then you don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said.

    Secondly, and this may just be me, but in the last couple of years I find that I hardly watch the news or read the papers anymore. Just too much depressing news.

    By the same token, sometimes it feels like there’s just too much bad news, too much bad behavior, too many misunderstandings and too much anger and angry words (justified or not) online, and it just makes a body want to bypass the whole thing after an initial read, and stand on the sidelines at most. I’m not pointing a finger at any blog in particular, just feels like a cumulative thing as one controversy follows hard on the heels of another until reader fatigue (for some) descends.

    And FWIW, my personal opinion is plagiarism is wrong, wrong, wrong.

  89. Bekki
    Jan 08, 2008 @ 23:57:54

    As a new author, but not new to writing, I’m constantly aware of this issue.

    I stand strong on the issue where I say no to ideas put to me if at some point I’ve critiqued anything in the same realm. I warn new writers if I see things I’ve seen before.

    If I’m reading a novel and I come across something so close to what I’ve written in one of my many manuscripts waiting to be picked up, I go back and change it. But for one exception.

    This last spring, I picked up a book I had critted right up until it was submitted to an editor. By the time I finished it, I was livid. In the last few pages, she had added three elements she’d read in two of my stories, before she stopped to take care of editor edits on the story. I can do nothing about it, because it didn’t meet plagarism or copyright classifications.

    Will I face issues when my two stories are picked up? I don’t know. I do know I have the legal department of the crit group behind me just in case.


  90. Jane
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 00:08:14

    I am sorry that you feel this way, Meljean. And I am sorry if Ms. Kelly feels that I unjustly attacked her. My response was to show what can be done instead of sitting around and bemoaning the state of things because to me that is a circle jerk.

  91. Plagiarism |
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 00:46:04

    […] Plagiarism is unethical and wrong but the message about it doesn’t have legs outside the online community nor much sympathy with readers. I’m not speaking of academia where plagiarism will get you kicked out of college. Some readers are going to continue reading Janet Dailey’s Calder series–despite the fact that she committed fraud against another author – that’s a fact and the reason why she continues to thrive. Cassie Edwards fans may stick with her regardless of the charges of fraud. As reading community we should care about this issue but I’m a realist, I know that many don’t. When plagiarists start getting penalized in a monetary way then I’ll start to believe that this an issue that is taken seriously by the publishing industry. This ends my two cents on the subject. Other articles of note on plagiarism: SBTB and Dear Author. […]

  92. Roslyn
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 00:48:04

    You CANNOT do this accidentally.

    I agree with this sentiment totally. In one of my books I used a description that I’d read in someone else’s work. I didn’t do it deliberately (an encyclopedic memory can be a bitch sometimes), but I knew it wasn’t mine and it bothered the hell out of me until I remembered where I’d gotten it and deleted it immediately. It was a three-word description. No way in hell can you copy whole paragraphs and not know you’re doing it.

    I know my writing ‘voice’ as if it were my child’s face. I know when something isn’t mine, even if I don’t remember to whom it belongs.

    Accidental plagiarism simply isn’t possible and I call bullshit on anyone who says otherwise. I’ve never been plagiarized, but I’ve had a book stolen from me, and I’d imagine that the agony is similar. Writing is too goddamned hard for anyone to get a pass on stealing what is literally the product of someone else’s brain. It’s wrong, always will be wrong and it should be condemned in the strongest sentiments possible.

  93. Jane
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 01:07:36

    I was going to not comment another time tonight but I couldn’t help myself. First, I realize this is the choir and I do apologize if I offended the choir. Not that was not my intent. I applaud what the choir is doing. But I know that there are a couple thousand lurkers that visit on a daily basis and I wanted to urge everyone that it is important to speak out about the issue because I do believe that without open dialogue on this discussion by everyone in the community (and I do not limit this to the online community), there will be a lack of understanding and awareness and therefore no corresponding change.

    I think that we can agree that if we were all on the same page, and by all, I am talking the collective ALL, not the blog all, this type of discussion that we are currently would never need to arise again. But because there is no common language that we are speaking (and again we is a collective WE) as evidenced by Gabaldon’s comment, it is a discussion that must be had in every part of the community again and again until a consensus is reached about what is ethical copying of another’s work regardless of copyright law.

    I think my pov is colored by the fact that in the legal profession, you must pass an ethics test in order to sit for the bar exam. Once you pass the bar, you must take a certain amount of ethics each year in continuing education. You must certify to the Supreme Court of the state under oath that you have met those requirements. Every month, my bar journal lists by name, location and violation, each and every ethics offender and the corresponding punishment. It is our ethical obligation to report ethical violations by other attorneys. We are honor bound to do so and if we do not, we are violating the ethical code ourselves. I know a lot of people call lawyers cheats and liars but I do not of any group of professionals that police themselves so rigorously.

  94. Robin
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 01:39:23

    Okay, I need to respond generally here, because I’m already afraid this is going to be so long that I’m going to be here all night.

    First I’m sorry if I gave the impression to anyone that if you don’t turn your blog into a PSA you’re on the side of the plagiarists. I don’t believe that silence of individual authors constitutes approval of plagiarism. And I’m trying not to feel my own intelligence being insulted by the intimation that I’m suggesting that authors should merely be advertising against plagiarism. I’ve commented extensively at the SB site (and, I thought, here, too) about what is IMO the complexity of this issue. Hell, I haven’t even called Edwards a plagiarist because I’m so cautious of using that word because of its explosive power.

    I’m also sorry, though, at the way this issue is being flattened out in various discussions so that it’s either “plagiarism is good” or “plagiarism is bad” and ‘how dare you bloggers suggest that this isn’t being talked about enough.’ I am so horrified and saddened by some of the things I’ve read over the past two days — from authors and readers — that I honest to god want to put my head in my hands and cry. And I hardly ever cry.

    For the record, and in no particular order, I don’t think authors should feel obligated to talk about this issue, but OTOH, I honest to god don’t understand why they don’t want to. And I’m not talking specifically about individual authors, but about the community in general. I don’t understand why it takes an issue like that on the SBs for the topic to even come up (and yes, Julie, I see that it’s discussed on Plot Monkeys, and I do wonder if it’s because most of you have been plagiarized). And FWIW, I agree with Monica that there’s a terrible taboo in Romance around race, too, even if I don’t agree that it constitutes racism. I do, however, absolutely think people are uncomfortable talking about race in Romance, not merely in the context of authors, but also in terms of how different racial groups are represented in the genre.

    I have heard from multiple sources that there is a decided fear of backlash to authors who speak out about plagiarism. That there’s a terrible sense of discomfort when an author is exposed for such. In the forum Jane linked to with the Gabaldon quote, there is some stuff about what’s appropriate that almost curled my stick straight hair. I urge, beg, and plead with all of you to read that comment from Gabaldon in which she says point blank that you can copy sources which are out of copyright. I read that and I thought, hmm, three days ago, it would never have occurred to me to wonder how secondary sources are being used in, say, historical Romance. Now I am, though, and while I’m at it, I’m wondering whether plagiarism is really so well understood, especially as it coincides with and departs from copyright law. And that’s, incidentally, where I was coming from with the fanfic comment, especially in light of authors like Holly Lisle who have come out saying they will legally pursue anyone who writes fan fiction of their work. Not only is there tension, but there’s lots of slippage around the issues of plagiarism and copyright infringement.

    Anyway, reading the forum on Absolute Write, reading some of the comments here and on the SBs, remembering the Lanaia Lee incident, I gotta say that I think it’s going to be pretty difficult to convince me that there’s not a strange cultural tension and silence around the issue of plagiarism, NOT, necessarily, around its condemnation (although clearly that’s an issue in some corners when the whistleblower takes the blame), but about what intellectual property is and isn’t, about why this is such an important ethical value upon which both authors and readers should be able to rely, about what is and isn’t okay in using secondary source work, for example.

    I’m not quite sure why this has been reduced to a plagiarism good/bad dichotomy. The fact that Sandra Schwab and I — two academics with a lot of experience in research matters — can be debating what the expectations are around citing secondary source work in a Romance novel indicates to me, at least, that there’s lots of fertile ground here. Every time the ARC discussion comes up, I think it becomes clear that the “rules” around intellectual property are nowhere near clear to everyone or even agreed upon, whatever the law might say (and although I wonder sometimes how many Romance authors are or were attys — some days it seems like an awful lot — not everyone is a lawyer or knows IP law).

    I realize that some of the authors posting here are vocal about plagiarism, but when I post, it’s often a general statement about ‘out there’ not an indictment of who’s already reading and talking. I certainly understand the frustration around feeling like you’re being called out when you’re on the side of preaching to the choir, so I don’t want to contribute to that. But honest to god I’m frustrated at what I perceive as a day to day in general absence of any real public conversation about the ethics of writing and reading beyond “you’re being mean” (and I fully cop to the hyperbole in that last clause). I’m frustrated that there’s any serious consideration of the so-called motives behind what the SBs uncovered (and it’s not just on their blog, but on Absolute Write, among other places). I’m frustrated that on some issues there seems to be a passionate call from authors for readers to protect their intellectual property (it’s your moral obligation not to sell ARCs, dammit), but on this issue a very well-known author uses the SB post primarily as an opportunity to take them to task for mocking Cassie Edwards one time too many. My frustration doesn’t necessarily implicate anyone speaking here, nor does it impart an ethical or moral obligation on anyone else’s part. But I’m not going to feel that there’s something wrong with wondering why the nuances of writing and reading ethics don’t get very much play when we can talk endlessly about epub bankruptcies and mean girl bloggers and the limits of erotic Romance. It does and will, I’m sure, continue to frustrate the daylights about of me, because as a writer completely outside Romance, I’m real passionate about the balance between community ownership of knowledge and individual creative expression. I want to know what I can and can’t expect as a reader, especially when I’m reading books that incorporate a good deal of secondary research. I don’t think we talk nearly enough about the tensions here, or about why it all matters.

    Lastly, as a teacher who has caught more than my share of plagiarism cases, I can tell you that it is gut wrenching to have to turn a student in. I have hated it each and every time, wanting so badly to save them from what they have done, especially as our culture seems to become more and more informal about the sale of papers and the cutting and pasting of information and research. I learned early on that simply telling my students that plagiarism was wrong earned me and them nothing. Instead I had to initiate and continue a more general discussion of intellectual property, intellectual honesty, and academic ethics, and overall it was a really rewarding experience, at least for me, because it brought us together as members of the same community, as peers in a certain way. No it didn’t stop every student from committing plagiarism, but it did create meaning around what we were all doing in that classroom and the overall value of being part of an intellectual community. I see a lot of the same issues to be relevant in a writer-reader community, as well, although obviously not in a student-teacher capacity. Where the parallel is for me is in the overall value (and values) of ethics around reading and writing. To me this goes way, way beyond plagiarism, although the latest issue has cast it in those terms. More broadly, though, I think plagiarism is simply one small part of a whole bunch of issues around individual expression and community ownership of knowledge and creativity.

  95. Random
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 01:44:20

    I’m with Roslyn. The people who blame their plagiarism on a photographic memory scare the hell out of me because I have a photographic/visual memory and I’m terrified that the accident is possible. But the one time I turned out someone else’s sentence I stopped and sat and looked at it until I figured out where it’d come from, and then I fixed it.

    But I’ve still seen authors, both fandom and professional, stand with known plagiarists. And I still don’t understand their reasoning.

  96. Robin
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 01:50:47

    Where is the perception coming from that plagiarism must constitute paragraphs upon paragraphs of copied or paraphrased work? In an academic context, I know students who have been severely disciplined for far, far less than that. Whether a sentence or two is copyright infringement might be a different question. But I know plagiarism has been called by universities for much less than what’s being offered here as illustrative.

    And when I think about some of the conversations that have ensued about certain authors and similarities among their books and those of others, I view plagiarism in a fictional context as even more amorphous in some ways (characters, thematic constructs, plot structures, tropes and motifs). And in an academic context, where ideas can be plagiarized as well as words, things get real muddy all the time. Did so and so come up with that idea or did he get it from joe? After reading literally thousands of books (hundreds in your own area of specialization, at least), try knowing if every single idea you’ve come up with simply sprang from your collective reading or was suggested by someone else or might have been said in a source you didn’t even read. Not necessarily plagiarism, but a constant concern for scholars who are trying to police themselves while working with massive amounts of information and research, not all of which is recorded in pretty little stenciled and color coded bins and files.

    For the academic, plagiarism is merely the extreme to be avoided in an ongoing struggle to ensure that everything you put out there are your work is, knowing that the mere fact that you’re formulating your own ideas from reading those of others is making it impossible for you to even have your idea without the work of others. Which goes back to this notion of a constant interplay between the work of an individual scholar and the shared ownership of collective knowledge.

  97. Meljean Brook
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 02:01:49

    Nah, I don’t see it as a circle jerk. I see a lot of writers and readers who are really passionate about the topic and don’t necessarily agree on how to handle it, and (like always) are probably talking past each other.

    But, yeah, we’ll have to agree to disagree that silence=tacit approval (or as a different take, that silence is the result of fear) simply because there’s a judgment and assumption there that I’m not willing to make.

    FWIW, I agree it’s important that plagiarists are exposed and that people talk about it and condemn it. And although I have a very, very, very difficult time believing that anyone who copies/pastes doesn’t know that they’re doing something wrong, whether they know what to call it or not, I do think you’re right that posts like this and at the SBs, as well as whatever effort readers and authors are able to make on their own, are a step toward having a common understanding and an ability to talk about plagiarism on the same terms.

    And now I think I’m over my word count for the day. :-)

  98. GrowlyCub
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 02:49:41

    Hi all!

    As a reader I’m extremely concerned about the reaction I have seen by readers and especially some established authors. Not necessarily here, but in other places.

    Crusie and Rich attacked SB and deflected the focus off CE’s acts. By questioning the ethics of the people uncovering this, they de facto implied that the act itself wasn’t that big of a deal.

    Gabaldon was cited above. If she doesn’t know that even if there’s no copyright it’s still plagiarism and she’s telling that to younger authors and the public, we have a problem, don’t you think?

    On the new Romance Reader Anonymous loop ( a fairly prominent author questioned whether this was ‘really legal theft’ on a Dailey scale, if CE couldn’t be prosecuted.

    I’m distraught by the glaring lack of understanding that it’s still stealing somebody else’s ideas and passing them off as their own on the part of authors who do this, even if nobody may be able to sue for damages.

    It seems to me we need to do a lot more to educate authors and readers, one person at a time! It may take forever and it may seem like an endless task, but to throw in the towel because of that seems counterproductive.

    The last two days have certainly been eye-opening for me about some authors and not in a good way, unfortunately.


  99. Robin
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 03:50:56

    Rock on, GrowlyCub!

  100. Meljean Brook
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 04:32:51

    It’s past twelve, so, w00t, new word count!

    But I'm not going to feel that there's something wrong with wondering why the nuances of writing and reading ethics don't get very much play…

    (I haven’t read all of the comments at SB, so if this restates something that someone said there, or completely misses the point again, my apologies).

    I don’t discuss how I use resources and the ethics of using them to prevent spoilers more than any other reason (and definitely not because I fear readers will think less of my work because I need to reference something). When the issue comes up, it’s because I probably have a specific example in mind. I don’t find that speaking in generalities really helps when it’s a question of ethics, a “should I or shouldn’t I make an acknowledgment for this?” because every source and every use of it is different, and often how it is used is critical.

    I look at a lot of secondary sources, and if I happened to have a question about the ethics of using a quote (or even an idea) from one of them, or the proper way to document it, I wouldn’t go to my blog or a reader forum (although I did once) — because most likely, I’d bring with me both the source, and the passage from my manuscript that I intended to work the material into, so that there’s a concrete example with which I can seek advice and discuss what can and can’t be used, and how I can and can’t use it. I might pose the question to an author loop, my crit partner, or my editor. I might talk to one of my professors, or a small group of readers in an e-mail discussion.

    But, no, I’m not likely to bring the discussion back to a public forum in general terms, because talking around details is just too difficult — and saying “I had to send a question to my editor today, because I wasn’t sure if the way I used source material was plagiarizing it or not…” is probably not going to happen. Because without specifics, it’s very difficult to follow up with a “But it was okay; I didn’t plagiarize” or “But it’s okay; we rewrote the passage and worked through it” and sound like you weren’t on the borderline of lifting something, even if no actual copying, plagiarism, or any other type of infringement was or would ever be committed, in rough draft or published form. Frankly, that’s something I’d rather avoid — not just because of the time and frustration it would likely take to explain myself (again, while never using specifics) but because it might affect my career. And because I’m certain that my published work would stand up to scrutiny, so why go through the hassle? (Anyway, once it’s published, I actually like talking about the sources and how I used them, but by then the issue of plagiarism (hopefully) won’t be an issue at all.)

    But is that considered fear of reader backlash and the reason it’s not often discussed? The taboo? I don’t know. If it is, that’s a fear I don’t feel too bad admitting; I’d hate to be misunderstood with a topic as flammable as plagiarism.

    And, yes, I also am frustrated by the way the SBs motives have been questioned. I would hope that any reader or author would do the same if they came across any plagiarized text — not necessarily in the same way, because that wouldn’t fit everyone and some would prefer to do it quietly — but to bring to light something they thought wrong, or discuss whether what they are seeing actually IS plagiarism? Definitely.

    I won’t even touch fanfic; I’ll be here forever :-D

  101. Bernita
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 05:07:48

    When one sees a lack of consequences, as in the Roberts/Dailey incident, when one sees the offender continue to thrive ( though, like others, I personally will never buy another Dailey book) it produces a sense of helpless ennui.
    I have my doubts that these revelations about Edwards’s work will have more than a minimal effect on her sales, her contracts, or even her reputation.
    And it is this lack of consequences which produces, I suspect, the “no big deal” reaction among many.

  102. Charlene Teglia
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 06:57:11

    In case anybody’s interested, NINC (Novelists Inc) has material regarding professional issues, including copyright and plagiarism, right here:

    I don’t know if RWA has anything similar on their site, but SFWA probably does. Professional organizations do discuss this issue, in depth.

  103. Gennita Low
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 08:36:55

    Just a quick suggestion, Jane. You have written an excellent and interesting article on the subject. why not create a workshop out of it and submit it to RWA for a workshop during the national convention? I’m sure many writers would attend and would definitely leave with a better understanding of the definitions of copyright infringement, plagiarism, and source citation.

    It is not a “tacit” silence as much as “where do you want to go with this” silence. Once this kind of conversation starts, many readers move on because it has become a lecture and I know I fell asleep in many a lecture hall. OTOH, a RWA workshop opens the debate in a smaller setting. With printouts and your giving permission to members to reprint for their chapter newsletters, that will help to spread the conversation. Lastly, a taped session of the workshop will also be available for non-attendees.

    Of course, no idea whether the workshop proposal would be accepted by RWA since I don’t know the rules and requirements to propose one. Just a thought I have as I drink my morning coffee.

  104. Natalie
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 08:48:20

    I have to agree with Jane here, and say silence _looks_ like tacit approval. But silence isn’t quite the right word (we don’t need a hundred posts vowing never to read Dailey again to know that people are upset); Bernita pinpoints it more accurately with ‘lack of consequences’. A ‘lack of consequences’ looks like tacit approval. Having spent most of the morning chasing various plagiarism cases around the internet (none of which I’d heard of before, even the apparently more famous ones), it’s clear that the lack of consequences has more to do with the publishers than the authors. When settlements actively prevent the original author from speaking out (, or when cases can’t be fully pursued because the publishers haven’t registered the copyrights, it’s no wonder that the reading public isn’t learning of the plagiarism. From my point of view, I can’t understand why a publisher would take the risks of using an author previously accused of plagiarism such as Dailey, but that they are belittles the crime in the eyes of the public. Not only can you Get Away With It, but you can also Be Caught and still Get Away With It.

    I remember, as a young teen, reading one of Anne Rice’s novels (Pandora, I think, but I can’t really remember – reading the wikipedia summary I suspect I never even finished the book). It was set in Rome, and contained a passage translated from a Roman author, describing a historical event. Legally, there’s no problem with this: obviously copyright ran out milleniae ago, and if Rice did the translation herself (or borrowed from an out of copyright translation) then its all fine and dandy. But it jarred, and it wasn’t hers, and it really pissed me off because I’d been translating the same passage only a few weeks before, and my gut reaction was that it was devalued for being misused used in a fictional context. My author head, rather than my latin geek head, said it simply didn’t belong in the novel, and seemed to be there solely to show off the fact she had done some research.

    I get the same feeling with Cassie Edwards’s work; the non-fiction passages are there to lend credibility and authority, and I suspect she felt that direct quotation accomplished this better without understanding that it constituted plagiarism. And if she has been cunning enough to stick to out of copyright sources, then I can’t see what legal action can be taken. Again, lack of consequences.

    Silence isn’t leading to this lack of consequences (it seems to be partly the other way around), but I can’t help but wonder if it could do something about it. Spreading the word about plagiarists and discouraging people from buying their works is obviously one route, but would louder protests from authors also force the industry to be harsher? Literary plagiarism needs the same kind of penalities that academic has; where students are expelled, let authors be blacklisted. I can’t see why the industry _is_ so determinedly blind to the problem and its prevention, and I’m in danger of getting conspiracy-theory-ist trying to work it out.

  105. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 08:50:56

    It’s true the lack of consequences can equal a sense of helplessness. I know, in my own case, I was stunned by it.

    However, I like to think that more knowledge, understanding and outrage in the community (not just Romance, but ALL writing communities) will result in more consequences. Will result, eventually, in publishers being a lot more leery of signing up a proven plagiarist.

    I also like to think that continued, intelligent, reasoned discussion on the issue itself will result in the victim of plagiarism not being roasted–as is so often the case–when he or she fights back.

    And I fully realize I’m probably thinking this in my world where the sky is a soft, pretty pink and all the birds sing classic rock for my entertainment.

  106. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 08:56:01

    ~but would louder protests from authors also force the industry to be harsher?~

    I don’t think I could’ve protested any louder.

    Lack of consequences there because scores of readers didn’t know–and scores more didn’t care–so publishing someone very publically accused of plagiarism, one who had to pay a court settlement on infringement–wasn’t any sort of risk.

    I have to ask myself if it had happened now, with the internet, with blogs, with so many readers linked in, would the outcome have been the same.

    Dunno. Can’t know. But I do believe the landscape is changing.

  107. Jane
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 08:59:32

    Gennita – I don’t think I’m the appropriate person to talk about this at a professional organization because I am not an author. There are many authors who not only hate this site but think that my voice is one that should just go away. I know that there are authors who didn’t want bloggers even at the convention let alone talking about a subject like this.

    Further, one of the reasons I encourage, plead, whatever, authors to talk about this issue is because plagiarism is an ethical situation and ethics are a community set standard and I really think it is authors who should lead in this, not readers.

    Which leads me to Bernita’s point and that is because plagiarism is not always a legal violation, there currently appears to be no deterrent. I do see that the RWA Code of Ethics says the following:

    An RWA member shall be subject to disciplinary action if the actions of such member are determined, in accordance with the Disciplinary Procedures in the most current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, to constitute one or more of the following:

    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.

    I am not sure what the standard for “intentional” is. The procedure is as follows:

    16.3.1. All allegations must be made in writing, must specify what part of the Code of Ethics has been violated and must be mailed to the ED. All
    supporting and verifiable evidence must be submitted along with the

    16.3.2. The Complainant must sign the allegation. Anonymous allegations will not be presented to the Membership Committee for investigation or action.

    16.3.3. The allegation must be first party, that is, the Complainant must allege the Accused has committed acts that specifically affect the Complainant or RWA. No RWA member may file a Code of Ethics allegation on behalf of another member.

    16.3.4. The ED must notify the Board of the allegation and forward the allegation and evidence to the Membership Committee within five business days.

    16.3.5. The ED must notify the Accused of the allegation, including the name of the Complainant, and copies of the supporting evidence within those same five business days.

    16.3.6. The Membership Committee, including the ED as a non-voting member,
    has 30 business days to conduct the investigation. As part of the investigation, the Committee shall make every reasonable effort to talk to
    the Accused and the Accused has every right to provide verifiable evidence to dispute the allegation. At the end of the investigation period (or sooner), the Committee must decide whether to exonerate the Accused or to recommend specific charges and set a trial.

    16.3.7. If the Committee recommends a trial, then the Accused has 45 days to prepare a defense and can hire a lawyer at his or her own expense. If the Accused does not require that much time to prepare, he/she has the right to request that a date for trial be set within 30 days. The trial may be held via conference call at RWA's expense.

    16.3.8. If, prior to or during a trial, the Accused admits in writing to the allegation(s) set forth by the Complainant, then within 14 business days, the Membership Committee must forward to the Board the Code of Ethics allegation(s), the supporting proof, and the accompanying admission of guilt, along with Membership Committee's report recommending a penalty, for the Board's decision on an appropriate action.

    16.3.9. If, after the due process of a trial, the Committee finds for the Accused, the Committee has five business days to prepare and submit to the Board a report recommending exoneration. If the Committee finds against the
    Accused, the Committee has 14 business days to prepare and submit to the Board a report recommending a penalty.

    16.3.10. After the Board receives the Committee's report, it shall decide on the penalty (if any) at or before the next scheduled Board meeting. Deliberation on the matter shall be conducted in Executive Session. If the Board is not meeting in person, all voting Directors must have copies of all documentation and full access to discussion before voting. Once the penalty is decided, the Accused must be notified within two business days. The Accused shall have the right to appeal the Board's decision to the Board within 30 days thereafter.

    16.3.11. The Membership Committee members, Directors, and RWA staff involved in the investigation must hold all information, including the results of an investigation, in strictest confidence.

    16.3.12. The Membership Committee and RWA Office will keep records of all aspects of investigation, including copies of all correspondence.

    16.3.13. Any Membership Committee members, Directors, and RWA staff with a conflict of interest in an investigation cannot participate in the investigation or vote on the outcome. Any Director who is either the Complainant or the Accused in an investigation is encouraged but not required to recuse herself or himself from the portion of any Board meeting that concerns such investigation; such Director shall not in any event participate in the discussion or vote on the question.

    16.3.14. The Board liaison to the Membership Committee and the President (as ex-officio member of all RWA committees) have no vote on the Membership Committee. No Director shall participate in investigations.

    16.3.15. Notification of the Accused of any Code of Ethics allegations or decision, any and all submissions of evidence, and acknowledgements from the
    Accused to RWA must all be in writing and sent via Certified Return Receipt Requested US Mail, or other delivery service that provides delivery confirmation and within established time limits.

    16.3.16. Individuals who refuse delivery of a notice of Code of Ethics allegations, or who fail to respond to one, will be deemed to have waived their right to provide a written response. Thirty days from the sending date in the case of a delivery refusal, or thirty days from the verified receipt date, otherwise, the Membership Committee shall declare a default judgment against the Accused. In this instance, the Code of Ethics allegation and the verifiable proof provided by the Complainant, along with the Membership Committee's report recommending a penalty, shall be forwarded to the Board for a decision on an appropriate action. Once a penalty is decided, the Accused must be sent notice of the default judgment within two business days. The Accused will then have thirty days from the sending date of the default judgment to request in writing to the ED that the default be set aside, and that a trial take place pursuant to this Section.


    As I read the above policies, the Board decides the penalty, if any, of an ethics violation and that is then kept in the strictest confidence? If that is true, that doesn’t help to provide a deterrent, in my opinion. Reminds me of how the medical board does things – although I know that with medical board, you can have privileges stripped and possibly be uninsurable so that there are consequences.

    What are the measurable consequences within the writing community for plagiarism (which, by most definitions, requires no proof of intent).

  108. Ros
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 09:04:26

    There may be no legal action that can be taken but that need not necessarily mean no consequences. It seems to me that there’s sufficient evidence here to make a big public splash which would seriously embarrass not just Ms. Edwards, but more importantly her publishers. I’d guess that Penguin would not want to be headline news for this kind of thing and, if the story could be made mainstream news, they’d take action pretty quickly to prevent this happening again, and possibly even to reconsider their contract with Ms. Edwards.

    This isn’t necessarily just a story about one author plagiarising. It’s a story about the failure of agents and editors to do their job and ultimately of the publishers defrauding the public by passing off material from old text books as romance fiction.

  109. Jane
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 09:10:43

    Ah, and still more misunderstanding about plagiarism. From the AARlist:

    < >

    No, it’s not. Public domain text is no longer the property of
    anyone, thus cannot be “stolen,” ie, it’s not plagiarism in the legal
    sense of the word.

    Lisa Hendrix
    Coming Fall 2008

    Is there a legal sense of the word plagiarism? The one thing that I see beneficial from this is that we all are talking about it and hopefully it is a teaching lesson and Gennita, since the time for submissions is past, if I was invited to talk about it; set up a panel; host a roundtable, etc., I would do it.

  110. Gennita Low
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 09:11:08

    Quickie because I have to run to work:

    Jane, all you have to do is set up a workshop with you and a few other authors who have been plagiarized (in book form or through the internet). There, you have the voices of experience and yours is the voice of a reader who understands the law.

  111. Christine Merrill
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 09:21:23

    From Robin:

    Where is the perception coming from that plagiarism must constitute paragraphs upon paragraphs of copied or paraphrased work? In an academic context, I know students who have been severely disciplined for far, far less than that.

    Writing fiction isn’t the same as writing in an academic context. I used to be an academic librarian (tech school) so I have a basic understanding of citations, bibliographies, etc. And if I was helping a student I felt was on dangerous ground, I’d have warned him off of it, or gotten a second opinion.

    But when I’m writing fiction, I’m worrying about whole different areas. In a way, the project should be original scholarship, by default. It’s like trying to do your dissertation, twice a year for your entire career. You are trying to write a project that no one has ever seen before, over and over and over. And it is the project as a whole that is judged, not the facts collected and the conclusions drawn from them.

    In fiction, you don't worry about whether you are pulling single ideas or sentences from another project. Because it really is possible to duplicate sentences and ideas totally by accident, and it doesn't automatically make you a plagiarist. I remember there being some suspected plagiarism around The Life of Pi, and another book. There were amazing similarities between the two plots. And legally, they turned out to be just that: amazing similarities (Someone please correct me if I'm wrong on this. I don't have time to find the exact story). There are a limited number of original plots. The creativity and originality is in the execution.

    And since the most important part of the story is the stuff you made up out of whole cloth, you don't usually think about doing a full works cited page, because most of your researched facts are common knowledge, except where you decide to throw them out the window and make something up. You are making your profits on the original fiction, not the facts. I think this is getting close to the guys that tried to sue Dan Brown for plagiarism of their nonfiction book. There is no law that says if you make a kazillion dollars writing a fictionalized account of something, that your sources get a cut of the profits, and whether you credit them or not is a matter of courtesy and not ethics.

    For fiction writers, it only becomes an ethical issue if you are obviously not writing the whole story yourself. And if you are copying parts of your book from an encyclopedia, or someone else's romance novel, you are not writing that entire book by yourself. You are padding out your ideas with someone else's work. And you are a plagiarist.

    In academic writing, you don't have a legitimate chance to claim coincidence as the source of the problem, if two projects are similar. In fiction you do. But there is no way to coincidentally steal a couple of pages of someone else's work, or to usurp their original writing voice and use it as your own.

  112. Jane
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 09:33:24

    For fiction writers, it only becomes an ethical issue if you are obviously not writing the whole story yourself. And if you are copying parts of your book from an encyclopedia, or someone else's romance novel, you are not writing that entire book by yourself. You are padding out your ideas with someone else's work. And you are a plagiarist.

    I think the question then becomes, for authors, how much padding is too much? Does it have to be 40 instances like the Opal Mehta story? Can it be 16 instances? What constitutes an instance? Is the ethical matter going to come down to what is “legal” v. “not legal” i.e., if it is not copyright infringement, it is not an ethical violation?

  113. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 09:43:14

    Jane, I don’t know the answer. I do know in the Dailey case we established a pattern of copying–over several books.

    Another time, another plagiarist–it was lifting out an entire (but single) scene from one of my books and simply changing the names.

    In another it was several scenes, barely reworded.

    In yet another, it was the entire book (on the internet) with only the names changed. And a few times, she missed making the change. The. Entire. Book.

    All of these were different types of copying, and all were ethical violations. Only in the first did I have to pursue toward legal ramifications. In the others, the books (and the site in the internet case) were removed from the shelves re the publisher’s orders. In all cases but the first, all parties cooperated and resolved the problem quickly.

  114. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 09:43:16

    Would I be right in thinking that because of this part of the RWA regulations

    16.3.3. The allegation must be first party, that is, the Complainant must allege the Accused has committed acts that specifically affect the Complainant or RWA. No RWA member may file a Code of Ethics allegation on behalf of another member.

    it’s not possible for the RWA to take any action on plagiarism of any work (fiction or non-fiction) written by a non-RWA member? Or is it possible to interpret the bit about “specifically affect the […] RWA” in a very broad sense? To paraphrase John Donne, could it be argued that “No romance author is an island, entire of herself…any RWA author’s plagiarism diminishes the RWA; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”?

  115. Sandra Schwab
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 09:51:44

    So essentially, I could take Jane Austen's work and pass it off as my own? I think that Gabaldon is conflating copyright infringement with plagiarism but I could be totally off base. The fact is that plagiarism, as defined above, is any non attributed copying or even slight paraphrasing. There is no distinction between public domain works and works under copyright when determing plagiarism.

    Jane, as I already said on the Smart Bitches blog, there are some areas in fiction where the rules of academia just don’t apply, and one of them concerns references to other works of fiction. In Castle of the Wolf I used umpteen quotations from medieval and 19th-century literature as well as several less obvious references to other works of fiction, and in most cases I didn’t give any indication as to the sources, which is perfectly fine. It’s a literary convention. Nobody would ever think of accusing J.R.R. Tolkien of plagiarising just because several passages in The Hobbit very closely mirror passages from Beowulf. Just like nobody would ever think of accusing Terry Pratchett of plagiarising because of the many intertextual references in his novels.

  116. Angelle
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 09:56:32

    I remember Nora & Janet Daily thing. I actually thought it was a spoof at first because I couldn’t believe that JD would throw away her career like that.

    But what do I know? She’s still published, making $$$$$$$$ doing it too. I don’t ever remember her saying she was genuinely sorry about the incident. I think she was sorry she got caught but doesn’t care because it didn’t hurt her career all that much.

    It’s unfortunate that CE got caught. But it’s only unfortunate for CE and I don’t think it’s going to mean anything because she’s a bestselling author and her fans will continue to buy her stuff.

    Sad, but true.

  117. Angelle
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 09:58:29

    But it's only unfortunate for CE

    That should’ve been it’s only unfortunate for CE’s victims…

    I think I sounded a bit pessimistic, but I really feel like as long as there’s no real consequence, there will be some who will continue to profit from stealing.

  118. Sandra Schwab
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 10:06:14

    For fiction writers, it only becomes an ethical issue if you are obviously not writing the whole story yourself.

    Unless you are obviously writing a retelling of an existing story which is in the public domain. Writing a retelling of, sequel or prequel to a Nora Roberts novel is a no-go and would/should have legal consequences, whereas writing a retelling of, sequel or prequel to a Jane Austen novel is not only perfectly fine, but also immensely popular.

  119. Angela James
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 10:10:56

    it's not possible for the RWA to take any action on plagiarism of any work (fiction or non-fiction) written by a non-RWA member? Or is it possible to interpret the bit about “specifically affect the […] RWA” in a very broad sense? To paraphrase John Donne, could it be argued that “No romance author is an island, entire of herself…any RWA author's plagiarism diminishes the RWA; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”?

    I can answer this, I think. This is a long and bizarre story, but it boils down to last fall, an unpublished author got an ARC of an upcoming release. 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.

    Eventually, she filed a complaint with the RWA. The author in question was not a member of the RWA and never had been (which was one way she proved she hadn’t seen it in a contest, the second way she proved it was hers was that she’d actually submitted it to a another publisher long ago, before that other writer ever entered hers into a contest and still had the rejection letter to prove it, lol). Regardless, the RWA still contacted us (the publisher) and proceeded with the “case” even though the accused author wasn’t a member of the RWA.

    I’m not really sure what they would have done “to” us or the non-member author (since we don’t get any benefits from RWA at this point, there’s not really anything they can take away, and since the author wasn’t a member, same goes) had they found in favor of the woman who was sure her book had been plagiarized but I never thought much on it since we were never worried about that being the case.

    But so the long answer to your question is it seems yes, they will pursue it even if the accused author isn’t a member of the RWA. It’s just unclear how far or what they’d do.

    On a seperate note, early on in the beginning of our company, another editor got a submission that was a pretty blatant reflection of Naked in Death by JD Robb (sorry, Nora, seems you’re popular) and the editor sent it to me because in her query letter the author actually compared the book to JD Robb. The editor knew I was a fan and she thought I’d better be able to recognize similarities that she thought were there. While the wording was different, the story, the characters (with different names) and events that happened were often identical or so similar as to feel like you were reading the book as Nora might have written it…when she was in 3rd grade. When we rejected the book, the editor suggested the author might want to reconsider submitting this book elsewhere to avoid being accused of any plagiarism. The author in question seemed horrified in her reply, somehow saying she had no idea that writing a book similar could be considered as such. Can anyone really be that clueless? I don’t know.

  120. Alison Kent
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 10:15:20

    f you want to turn this post into a petition wherein authors add comments saying they find plagiarism deplorable, consider this my signature. But don't consider my (previous) silence as acceptance of plagiarism.


  121. Jules Jones
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 10:15:42

    Angela, after reading through the Cassandra Cla(i)re plagiarism train wreck at fandom_wank, I can very easily believe that someone could be that clueless.

  122. Christine Merrill
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 10:25:07

    For fiction writers, it only becomes an ethical issue if you are obviously not writing the whole story yourself.

    Unless you are obviously writing a retelling of an existing story which is in the public domain.

    This kind of falls into ‘finite number of plots’ area.

    I cannot rewrite Pride and Prejudice, word for word, and call it my own. It would be plagiarism, even if it wasn't a copyright violation.

    But I can borrow elements from it. I can take Mr. Darcy, and Lizzie, and make them do other things. Or I can take the plot, but change the characters, and set it in modern day. But I cannot call the woman Bridget Jones, and the man Darcy, and give her an obsession with her diary, and then tell everyone I just made it up. Someone already did it that way. If I want to tell that story, I still can, but I have to find a different way to do it.

    Writers borrow all the time. ‘When people ask ‘where do your ideas come from?' The ideas come from the collected knowledge of humankind, all the literature, all the news, and what we see when we look out the window.

    But the ideas are not supposed to come from page 47, paragraph 1-3 of an already written source.

  123. Laura Vivanco
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 10:29:55

    an unpublished author got an ARC of an upcoming release. 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” […] Eventually, she filed a complaint with the RWA.

    Thanks, Angela. So the RWA would take action in a case brought by an RWA member who says that their work has been plagiarised, even if the alleged plagiariser isn’t an RWA member.

    But what happens if the alleged plagiariser is a member of the RWA, but the person whose work’s allegedly been plagiarised isn’t an RWA member? For example, in the current case, can any RWA member bring a case against Cassie Edwards? It would seem not, because in that case “the Accused” would not have “committed acts that specifically affect the Complainant.” But would it be possible for any RWA member to bring the case to the RWA on the grounds that the alleged plagiarism affected the good name of the RWA? Cassie Edwards is on the RWA’s “honor roll.”

  124. Sarai
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 10:34:07

    As a writing trying to break into the business I couldn’t image cutting a pasting as an option. I am always worried that a phrase I read will sneak in but as Ilona pointed out as I polish and re-write I constantly change things as I go. Not to mention I would never purposely set out to copy someone else’s work. This to me is a horrible crime and Ms. Edwards should stop writing and the readers should stop supporting her. Plagiarism is wrong and people who support it are wrong for doing it.

  125. Jane
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 10:36:19

    Here’s yet another example of headdesking for me:

    Now, I haven’t read every last bit of the supposedly plagiarized pieces, but they all seem to be factual descriptions of actual Indian rituals, behaviors, beliefs, and so on. And changing the wording substantially, when describing actual real-world things, would tend to make one’s description diverge from that thing. The technical term for this is “getting it wrong.”

    Now, if a writer doesn’t do any research, that’s bad.

    And if a writer does research, and gets things wrong anyway, that’s even worse.

    But if you do research, and get things right, that’s bad, too. Apparently even a romance writer now should footnote her references.

    Does anyone else think this is insane?

    I think the SBs should hold a rewrite contest.

  126. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 11:33:36

    I’ve got a question~probably for Robin or Jane.

    you know slogans or phrases, things that you see on a bumper sticker, magnet, that sort of thing, are those sort of things something that’s protected by copyright? Does it depend on whether an ‘author’ claimed it was their original wording?

    How would something like that work, or are phrases just in general not considered protected?

  127. Tracy
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 14:11:12

    Nora Roberts said:

    I have to ask myself if it had happened now, with the internet, with blogs, with so many readers linked in, would the outcome have been the same.

    I do. I do think it would be different. People are more connected because of the internet. More people would know it happened. I am a voracious reader, but I had not heard of this until recently on the internet (in another discussion on plagiarism). I cringe when I see JD’s books on the shelves and wonder how she can still be publishing.

    I would hope that if it was discovered now the reactions would be different.

    Regarding what Jane quoted in comment #125

    No, it is NOT insane. If you cannot get the non-fiction research into your own words and you like the way it sounds better in it’s original version, then YES, you need to footnote it or in some other way acknowledge where you got the info. Why would that be insane??

  128. Ann Bruce
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 14:43:35

    I can't see why the industry _is_ so determinedly blind to the problem and its prevention, and I'm in danger of getting conspiracy-theory-ist trying to work it out.

    I don’t think the industry is blind. The problem is that it’s an industry and it’s out to make money. If these author’s names still sell books, and sell them well, publishers will keep contracting them.

    It would be ideal to have the reading public punish the offenders by stop buying their books, but the general reading public usually isn’t aware of these issues. Personally, I didn’t know about the Roberts/Dailey thing until last year (not that it mattered because I’ve never read or bought any books by Dailey, anyway).

    Frankly, the only organizations able to effectively punish plagiarists are publishers. They are the ones who can really hit plagiarists’ pocket books. And most times it’s not in their best financial interests to do so, so authors like Dailey continue to flourish.

  129. Ann Bruce
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 14:44:28

    Ugh! “These author’s names” should be “These authors’ names”

  130. Roslyn
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 15:07:12

    Good grief to post #125. I’m getting a headache from the headdesking. (Really like that phrase, promise not to steal it!) I had to do a lot of research about viruses for my latest manuscript. While researching it I probably read a dozen journal articles, and the WHO and CDC websites. In addition, over the past ten years or so I’ve probably read 30 or more books on the subject, as well as at least a dozen on the Black Death alone (Yes, I know plague is not a virus, but I needed to get a feel for how people respond to such a catastrophe). I’ve also talked to several people in the field. If I can’t, as a writer, incorporate the information I’ve read into my fiction work without plagiarizing or ‘getting it wrong’ then I have no goddamned business calling myself a writer.

  131. DS
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 16:53:17

    Quick statement, I don’t have time to source it, but short statements, catchphrases, bumper sticker slogans are not copyrightable but they can be trademarked.

  132. DS
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 16:54:36

    I didn’t mean to include “short statements– sheesh, if I would only read before hitting the post button.

  133. Robin
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 17:13:02

    Shiloh, my understanding is the same as DS’s (with the inclusion of short statements).

    There’s also something called merging in copyright law, where when a message and its expression merge such that there’s really only one way to say it, it’s not copyrightable. The test case concerned sweepstakes instructions, if that gives you a sense of context.

  134. K. Z. Snow
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 17:48:25

    YAY, Leslie, Christine, Meljean and others.

    Come on, let’s cut to the quick of this: When you pillory authors for not speaking out against plagiarism, it’s tantamount to saying, “You’re either with us or against us. And if you’re with us, you’ll post blogs condemning plagiarism. If you don’t post, you’re one of them.” Scary stuff indeed, and all too reminiscent of attitudes that prevailed in late 17th century and mid 20th century America.

    Ask Arthur Miller, ferdachrissakes.

  135. Robin
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 18:12:00

    I don't discuss how I use resources and the ethics of using them to prevent spoilers more than any other reason (and definitely not because I fear readers will think less of my work because I need to reference something). When the issue comes up, it's because I probably have a specific example in mind. I don't find that speaking in generalities really helps when it's a question of ethics, a “should I or shouldn't I make an acknowledgment for this?” because every source and every use of it is different, and often how it is used is critical.

    I would never expect an author to put their own work to the test on a public blog, Meljean, but I disagree with you about the value of general discussion. And I think there are enough famous cases out there that could serve as illustrative examples.

    For fiction writers, it only becomes an ethical issue if you are obviously not writing the whole story yourself. And if you are copying parts of your book from an encyclopedia, or someone else's romance novel, you are not writing that entire book by yourself. You are padding out your ideas with someone else's work. And you are a plagiarist.

    In academic writing, you don't have a legitimate chance to claim coincidence as the source of the problem, if two projects are similar. In fiction you do. But there is no way to coincidentally steal a couple of pages of someone else's work, or to usurp their original writing voice and use it as your own.

    But in academic you can have similar projects published, especially because certain times in the evolution of scholarship tend to produce a certain synchronicity in what scholars pursue and produce. And clearly we see this in popular fiction, too. I mean, there’s a discussion right now on AAR about the plagiarism issue and the old Linda Howard – Christina Dodd book controversy.

    What I’m getting from all the discussions going on hither and yon right now is that despite the statements of “this is what plagiarism is/isn’t in fiction” really there is no commonly articulated standard (what, how much, how frequently, what form, etc.). At least that’s what’s coming across to me in the various comments and assertions. And believe me, I understand the fine art of line drawing (i.e. why is what Viswanathan did different than what Edwards did; why is what Ian McEwan did different from what Christina Dodd did, etc.), but it appears as if the lines haven’t been clearly drawn here. Like, why were the lit fic types less concerned about what McEwan did than the Romance folks were? And why are the academics here seemingly more frustrated about the CE situation than some of the Romance folks?

    One of my first responses to the Signet/Penguin statement is that it appears to be operating from an undefined definition, because IMO their statement attempts to brush the plagiarism issue under the copyright issue (whether they’re correct about either is another issue, IMO), and the very fact that they think that statement is okay — even from a PR standpoint — makes me feel like we’ve entered the third dimension, lol.

    How authors can stand such a range of sentiments I cannot imagine, since it seems to me that this issue is very much in every authors’ interest (unlike, say, the critical attention to Romance issue, which I can see being more controversial to authors). As a reader, I can tell you that it’s making me nervous about how many of the books I’ve read have been put together, as to what standard the author is employing when using secondary sources or even other fictional works (not talking about Sandra’s book here, though, just want to make that clear). Certain aspects of this situation have made me really disillusioned about the genre right now, and I hate that feeling.

  136. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 19:04:47

    ~Certain aspects of this situation have made me really disillusioned about the genre right now, and I hate that feeling.~

    I was with you up to there.

    Why ‘the genre’? Do you think this would have played out differently if the copying had been done by a popular mystery writer, or s/f writer? If so, why?

    Personally, I think it would have run exactly the same road.

    It’s NOT Romance. It’s an industry problem. A big, fat one.

    And I can’t stand such a range of sentiment–you got that one. The publisher’s response on this give me a headache, and violently disappoints me.

  137. Michelle
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 19:05:00

    If you just look at some of the other blogs it is clear that there are several people, some of them even authors who claim CE did nothing wrong. I think that is why others are getting so frustrated. Its back to pity the victimizer and condemn the messenger/victim.

    (I do think there are some petty people that are using this just to take some swipes at SBTB and DA and don’t really care one way or the other)

  138. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 19:05:13

    Gives me a headache. Damn it.

  139. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 19:05:34

    Shiloh, my understanding is the same as DS's (with the inclusion of short statements).

    Okay, so here’s another question… man, I’m asking a lot of these today. Earlier I emailed a lady who’s in my local RWA chapter, a lawyer, and asked her if there were set standards on how long a body had to be missing before a person could be declared legally dead. Research, honest!

    Anyway, question is this…

    A few years ago, I was in a store and saw a magnet, it read,
    You. Me. Whipped Cream. Handcuffs. Any questions?

    The minute I read that magnet, an idea for a book, pretty much fully formed, title and all, leaped into my head~ titled Whipped Cream and Handcuffs. Went home, thinking about the idea. Checked online to see if that was a quote from a movie or something and couldn’t find any direct source. I don’t recall what did come up from the search and now I wonder if that is something I should document somewhere.

    However, I didn’t reference where I’d seen the magnet and I used one reading the same thing in my book.

    I vaguely remember asking if I needed to include seeing the phrase on a magnet, although I don’t recall the exact answer. I’d assume ‘no’ since it is got published without any thing.

    Now, since I basically got the idea from a magnet and used an identical magnet in the story, where does this place me? Hopefully not some place I shouldn’t be.

  140. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 19:11:39

    When you pillory authors for not speaking out against plagiarism,

    I feel the need to point out, I can’t really say I feel pilloried over this. What I’m picking up is frustration on the sides of readers and authors.

    I see frustration a perceived lack of ‘silence’~I say perceived because I do feel it’s something writers discuss among themselves, in crit groups, writing chapters, etc, places where readers really don’t see them.

    I get the desire to educate readers and, as I said before, while it’s a lovely idea, I still believe there are readers who won’t care and readers who are totally unaware of such things, and probably happy to remain that way. We can’t change that.

    But I’d also like to point out that I see this post as outrage on behalf of authors in general, those who don’t try to pass off works as their own. It’s an attempt to help.

    Did some of the comments I read rub me the wrong way? Yeah, some. I don’t feel that silence equates approval and it grated some thinking that unless I make some public service announcement, it means I don’t have a problem with.

    However, as I’ve already said, I get the general impression that Jane (and others) is outraged on behalf of authors, outraged over something that’s obviously wrong and there seems to be little to no consequence.

  141. Nora Roberts
    Jan 09, 2008 @ 19:13:19

    ~Its back to pity the victimizer and condemn the messenger/victim.~

    Let me, again, make this personal. When I was facing the Dailey business, my publisher, my agent–both smart woman who cared about me, and are extremely principled–advised me I might want to keep it quiet. Handle it on the lowdown.

    Because, and this is pretty much a direct quote as I remember it: “It will be–Yes, I’m guilty, but I’m not responsible. I had problems. Feel sorry for me.” And I was warned I would take a great deal of heat, a lot of criticism while the plagiarist evoked considerable sympathy and pity. The question was, did I want to face that?

    In the end, the answer was yes, I did. In the end, they were exactly right. Very often in these cases, the victim is fried and the offender given head pats. The ones who expose the offense are slapped back as mean or vindictive. And the issue itself is lost.

    Copying work not your own and calling it your own is wrong. Period, end of story. And those who do so diminish the rest of us.

  142. Robin
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 00:04:54

    It's an industry problem. A big, fat one.

    I know you’re right about this. But right now, my disappointment and frustration are very localized, because right now it’s the Romance community that’s dealing with this. That’s not to say that any other part of the industry is exempted from the same issues and problems, only that right now some of what I’m reading as I travel around the net is making that localized discomfort acute. And it’s so weird to me that Romance folks talk about how terrible it is to be disrespected, but I’ve read multiple times something akin to “well, it’s only research, of course you can use it like that in fiction — why the big deal?”

    Authors have said that comments in this thread have hit them wrong, and I feel the same way, too. And part of my frustration is a sense of helplessness. I don’t feel comfortable boycotting authors who write for Signet or Dorchester, I already don’t read Cassie Edwards, and so the traditional “vote with your wallet” logic doesn’t work for me here, either. I’m not even so wound up about Cassie Edwards; to me, this example is merely emblematic of, as you say, a big, fat bundle of issues. In a couple of days, when my funk starts to pass, I’ll write a reasonable, logical letter to Penguin. I’m a little bit cheered that the AP picked up on this story and actually did some background research in its report. And I don’t believe that authors are routinely plagiarizing secondary sources for their books. Part of me just needs time to adjust to the idea that something I thought was baseline obvious — that much non-fiction research is itself original, creative work and as susceptible to plagiarism as original fiction — isn’t maybe so baseline obvious (I mean, check out that Diana Gabaldon comment). And what, if anything, does that mean for the subgenre I love to read?

    I’m also sort of sadly amused at the idea that questioning the SBs motives in posting what they did is for some folks a legitimate contravening factor in judging the veracity and integrity of what they posted, when to me what they posted is raw data. Are they any more neutral about anything than those criticizing them?

    And once the Edwards flap is over, is this issue just going to go back into the corner to hide among the dust motes?

    Sure, it’s an industry-wide problem, but I’m feeling the effects locally right now, and I’m tired of trying to figure out the most reasoned way to respond when my head feels like it’s going to explode. I’ll get over it, but right now I’m feeling especially cranky, lol.

  143. Robin
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 02:24:51

    Are they any more neutral about anything than those criticizing them?

    that should be ‘are they any LESS neutral. . .’

    I think, anyway. My brain seems to have gone.


    god that Signet statement depressed me.

  144. Seressia Glass: Blog Me » Blog Archive » Romance novelist accused of lifting work - Yahoo! News
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 02:33:20

    […] Another large romance reader site, Dear Author (which has a couple of law-savvy folks running it) posted an involved definition of what constitutes plagiarism (which can be different from copyright […]

  145. Tessa
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 08:01:17

    Is there a legal sense of the word plagiarism?

    Although plagiarism is rarely illegal, there is most definitely a legal defintion. Simply put, plagiarism is the act of using another person’s written ideas or concepts in your own work without acknowledging the source. Any legal dictionary will have include a basic defintion along those lines.

    Plagiarism can be the legal basis for a copyright infringement case, but not all copyright infringement involves plagiarism, and not all plagiarism infringes copyright. People who confuse the two are either ignorant, or in the case of the Signet, desperately scrambling for arguments to excuse their author’s shoddy conduct.

    I think the question then becomes, for authors, how much padding is too much? Does it have to be 40 instances like the Opal Mehta story? Can it be 16 instances? What constitutes an instance? Is the ethical matter going to come down to what is “legal” v. “not legal” i.e., if it is not copyright infringement, it is not an ethical violation?

    I would think the question for authors would be, how can I write a decent book without having to use ‘padding’ from other people’s work? Lifting a passage from someone else’s work is plagiarism regardless of how many times an author does it. As Angela James mentioned, there will be some overly sensitive authors out there, but it’s rare for someone to allege plagiarism on just the basis of plot or character similarities.

    What Cassie Edwards has done is wrong, but probably legal. No doubt she will continue to unleash a torrent of truly awful books interspliced with pilfered encyclopeida-like text.

  146. Nora Roberts
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 08:40:41

    Forgot to thank my MD BFF Angela for looking out for me and Robb. We owe you a drink.

  147. Meljean Brook
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 16:53:37

    Hey, another long post :-)

    But I'd also like to point out that I see this post as outrage on behalf of authors in general, those who don't try to pass off works as their own. It's an attempt to help.

    Did some of the comments I read rub me the wrong way? Yeah, some. I don't feel that silence equates approval and it grated some thinking that unless I make some public service announcement, it means I don't have a problem with.

    However, as I've already said, I get the general impression that Jane (and others) is outraged on behalf of authors, outraged over something that's obviously wrong and there seems to be little to no consequence.

    This is the first time I’ve come back to this thread, and sometimes I wonder why I just don’t let Shiloh say everything and just nod :-) I know that a PSA wasn’t what was being asked for, nor do I think bloggers should be quiet or that this is being discussed too much. My frustration stemmed from a tone I perceived in the comments — which, in turn, was probably a tone that stemmed from the commentors’ own frustration (plural, by the way — which I very obviously conflated).


    I would never expect an author to put their own work to the test on a public blog, Meljean, but I disagree with you about the value of general discussion. And I think there are enough famous cases out there that could serve as illustrative examples.

    Oh, I don’t argue with that at all — that general discussion is valuable and that famous cases can be illustrative. I was just approaching it from a very individual, specific way. What I’m saying is that when an author is faced with a situation where he/she must decide whether the use is problematic, the general discussion won’t give them an answer. What it does is let the author know that there’s a question in the first place (which is good). But when you get into the nuances and practical application, when it’s not an issue of Plagiarism = Bad and it’s not about lifting from sources, but genuine confusion, those examples (and the discussion around them, which probably has an argument between the participants) can increase the confusion … hence the author going to other (more knowledgeable) people to ask.

    I’m not saying, in any way, that those general discussions — even if they only further confuse the issue for an author — are wrong or worthless. In fact, they’re necessary, because there should be awareness that there are more nuances to plagiarism than “word for word = bad” and the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement. But when nuances come into play, I do think the discussion takes place at a higher level than most authors can participate in, in any meaningful or constructive way (for the most part, we can just talk about our gut instincts: the horror of being plagiarized and someone stealing our work, the anger and frustration.) But very often, those additions are simply, “it pisses me off” and its variants.

    And even when the discussion centers on a concrete example, the language and wide-ranging knowledge to discuss it in-depth simply aren’t there. Like, I’ve seen you write amazing posts that discuss issues of IR and copyright, which bring in examples from cases and discussions, and I’ll follow along, trying to get as much out of it as I can — but my response wouldn’t be much more than a “I agree with that” or “That seems wrong” And (I’m really only talking for myself, but I do have the (maybe naive) hope that most authors have a layman understanding of copyright and plagiarism) I wouldn’t feel at all qualified to bring that back to my blog and discuss it, because a) without the right language and background, I might flub it and b) because if I’ve seen it somewhere else, the most I might do is link the original discussion (but even then I might not, because I just assume that everyone who reads my blog probably reads the blogs that you’re commenting on).

    And because I’ve seen, over and over again, when a person who is not well versed in law or IP theory gives their interpretation, there are going to be errors (which someone more knowledgeable will usually correct, which is great — but the fear then, is, how many people saw the incorrect information, and how many saw the correction? On a blog post, that’s probably going to be a scary ratio). So there is the fear of spreading incorrect information (which maybe any author who says that copying out-of-copyright material isn’t plagiarism should have considered.) But there is also a real sense of gratitude when someone who is well-versed in the topic talks about it and tries to put it in layman terms (as I’ve seen on many of Jane’s legal-oriented posts). And authors, for the most part, are laymen when it comes to these topics.

    I’m not trying to be apologetic or make excuses for why the discussion isn’t taking place in a wide-spread, everyday way — but I see your frustration, and the “why not” being asked, and this is the answer (for me, anyway).

    And not that we really do think on a level that’s as simple as plagiarism = unethical, but for many of us, that’s all we bring to the discussion table. Fanfic may be fought about and the shades of grey darkened and paled forever in legal terms, but most authors can’t take part in the discussion beyond quoting pieces of copyright law and the Fair Use Act in whatever way that supports their position on fanfic. Because that’s what it comes down to for those authors: the gut decision of whether its ethical or unethical, and then they find legal language that supports them. Fanfic = bad or fanfic = good. (Same with selling ARCs, I think. Discussion is more prevalent with those two topics, not just because ARCs are always on e-Bay, and it’s not often that we see someone plagiarizing, but because there IS another side to argue against. Plagiarism = bad is a given (to most of us.)) And it’s STILL confusing, because half of them are quoting the same passage out of Fair Use, but just interpreting it differently.

    So when authors need advice on a specific piece of information, the general discussion doesn’t always help us make a decision about practical application — and that’s really what I was getting at in my comment above about general discussion. I do think it’s valuable, especially as a tool of education.

    And helpless frustration? That’s where that comes in, too. (Again, speaking only for myself) I think that people have to be proactive in their education, driven by curiosity, a willingness to learn, and if you set information in front of someone who didn’t care before they learned it, they’re probably not going to think it’s a big deal afterwards. If you're an aspiring writer intending to publish, and you don't know that you can't lift, or you can't just rewrite a Robb story and sell it, there's something terribly skewed in the way they've educated themselves about creative writing and ownership of that. And although some writers, when it's pointed out, might have that light bulb go off (because they'll approach it with a willingness to be educated, or to consider ethics) I suspect that many others would just shrug or point the finger back the other way. I mean, the last flareup about plagiarism … that was from someone who STILL doesn't understand what was wrong, and her part in it. And there may have been other factors involved (such as a capacity to understand it) but her “agent” didn't understand it, either, although it was pointed out again and again why it was wrong. So, again, I'm back to “if they don't care now, they won't care afterward”. That’s maybe the cynic in me, I don’t know.

    But — to get back to the point of discussion as a tool of education — I also don’t feel comfortable or qualified as an educator. I imagine many authors do not — and not just on their blogs, but at their RWA chapters — to do more than say, “These are the basics of plagiarism, and plagiarism = bad.” (Or on their blogs, plagiarism = bad and a link … and a PSA is an overstatement, of course, but that’s what it feels like, because there won’t be any discussion in the comments beyond, ‘thanks’ and ‘I agree it’s bad.’ And if there is more discussion than that, hopefully one of those experts will show up.) The statement itself is valuable, but again — there’s the frustration of knowing it’s really not going very far, and preaching to a choir, or to people who will just shrug and move on.

    For authors to have a real discussion, it might be better to bring in someone from outside who knows the language and can catch anyone slipping into misunderstandings (instead of having those misunderstandings reinforced). And I would be honestly surprised if, in a couple of months, that isn’t exactly what RWA chapters are doing: having a discussion, trying to educate. And I’d be surprised if people aren’t writing articles for RWR, or asking that it be addressed. (I have, btw, sent that in as a suggestion. I’m just not qualified to write it.)

    As for silences on the Avon (or similar) boards and blogs — the problem I see there is actually the culture of “don’t say anything bad”. And because it is difficult to talk about plagiarism in purely general ways. Even if it starts out general, never naming anyone but, say, bringing up the question of Fair Use and research, asking the question of “if an author does this, is it wrong?” — some mod is going to swoop in an say, “we don’t talk about bad things here” (especially if there’s a lot of disagreement). And even if the discussion got that far, eventually it would turn to consequences — and even if names were never mentioned, even if no one said, “You couldn’t pay me to read a J. Dailey book now,” but just talked in terms of punishment (like boycotting an author or writing letters), that mod will swoop in. I don’t agree with that policy of all things happy-smile, but I guess they have a right to enforce it — and that’s also why I spend more time on forums like this than that.

    Part of me just needs time to adjust to the idea that something I thought was baseline obvious -‘ that much non-fiction research is itself original, creative work and as susceptible to plagiarism as original fiction -‘ isn't maybe so baseline obvious (I mean, check out that Diana Gabaldon comment).

    Heh. I’m adjusting to this, too. That, and trying to wrap my head around Signet’s response. And why anyone vilifies someone for exposing a plagiarist, or why anyone blames the victim. I see it, but I’m just left with “whuh?” Some things are just beyond my comprehension, I think.

  148. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 19:48:37

    This is the first time I've come back to this thread, and sometimes I wonder why I just don't let Shiloh say everything and just nod :-)

    Because as cute as you are, you don’t wanna be a bobblehead?


  149. Official Response from Signet « Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
    Jan 10, 2008 @ 21:38:39

    […] says: Here's a refresher on what constitutes plagiarism and what constitutes copyright infringement. Here it is again in […]

  150. Patricia Briggs
    Jan 11, 2008 @ 00:34:25

    You know, I always wonder why everyone doesn’t know about Dailey thing. I can’t tell you how many times I explain the whole story at conventions. Now, they are SF conventions — but please. Janet Dailey was a big name at the time — and I can’t imagine that any living writer sells as many books as Nora (they are terrific). Even other authors at the conventions usually haven’t heard about it.

    As with Dailye, the Edwards excuse just doesn’t fly. How can you possibly justify stealing another writer’s work? — In a drug filled haze or psychological breakdown my aching butt. Please. Copyrighted or not the material CE used was still not hers. And I expect that the black footed ferret stuff is still under copyright. How can professional authors (and publishers)not know the difference between copyright infringment and plagerism? Some of them are doubless covering themselves — but I’m hearing stuff from writers that sends cold chills down my spine. It’s all right to copy works in the public domain — please. I wonder what CE or JD would say if someone stole their scenes/chapters? There are a lot of catty things I could say right now to expand that last sentence of mine, but I’ll refrain.

    And I have to admit I am dumbfounded to see that Dailey is still being published.

  151. Robin
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 17:51:06

    Meljean, Thanks so much for taking the time to post again and explain your perspective on the issue of public discussion. While I think authors have a lot to bring to the table on these issues, you have helped me understand some of the reasons beyond ‘it’s not a big deal’ or ‘why attack poor Cassie Edwards’ that this topic doesn’t generate more discussion. All I seemed to be hearing were various versions of those two IMO non-reasons and it fueled my monumental frustration at the reverberating silence. Again, I apologize to any author who feels that I was blaming them for being silent. I still don’t like the silence, but at least I understand some of it better now.

  152. Shiloh Walker
    Jan 12, 2008 @ 18:15:15

    Again, I apologize to any author who feels that I was blaming them for being silent. I still don't like the silence, but at least I understand some of it better now.

    Robin, there are a lot of things that happen ‘behind the scenes’ so to speak that authors just don’t discuss in public. Every author probably has their own set of rules, but I’d say a lot of the ‘silence’ stems from an attempt to remain professional.

    We’ve seen how many people have commented that Ce is being ‘attacked’ over this, when what most people have done is condemn the act. While in some cases, dismay and disappointment are certainly warranted ( and yes, I feel this is one of them) there have been other issues when one author said something negative, no matter how politely and diplomatically she was, things got ugly.

    Too often, when authors criticize, it comes back on us as either issues of jealousy, issues of lack of professionalism, among others. I’ve seen authors lambasted just because they didn’t like a book somebody else did…even if their comments were a vague… it didn’t work for me

    While the distinction in this case is clear, IMO, there are probably a lot of authors who’ve remained silent simply because it seemed the most professional approach.

    I wouldn’t think any author would want to think about somebody using their work, but sometimes speaking out publicly on something, simply have an opinion, have can far reaching consequences for the author. There have been a number of times when I’ve remained silent, even when I had strong opinions, but when I weighed professionalism against the urge to speak, professionalism won out.

    This wasn’t the case for me this time, but it might have been for others.

  153. Serenanna
    Jan 15, 2008 @ 20:20:21

    I’ve skimmed the discussion so far, and mostly because a few people did bring up the issue of fanfiction. To me, while it may be potential infringement (it hasn’t been legally decided, and until a rich media company/author and a rich or funded fan duke it out in court, it never will be), it isn’t the same as plagiarism to me. You can’t copyright an idea and defend it 100% of the time.

    Case in point, Harry Potter was the name of a character in an obscure fantasy movie called Troll before he was made by JK Rowlings, and the makers of that film haven’t gone after her even if the character share the same name in arguably the same genre. If the Tolkien company was really interested in protecting their copyright, they could have sued TOR, the makers of DnD, into the ground for using the concepts of Elven, Dwarven, Orc, and Halfing races. Because of that, those races are now ubiquitous in high fantasy.

    Some authors though do sue the fans making these fanworks or at least scare them into taking stories down anything using their characters and world, (See: Anne Rice, Laurell K Hamilton) which only drives the fans back underground or into other fandoms. What no one has addressed so far, aside from the costs of taking legal action against fanworks, is the perception it then puts into the fandom against the author. LKH demanding to delete all the Anita Blake stories there not only soured my dwindling opinion of us, but probably everyone else that bothered to write in that fandom.

    Also, none of the true fans ever contend that their work isn’t based off of someone else’s concept, since that is the very definition of fanfiction and transformative works in the first place. Most of them are happy not making a dime off their works, but just wish that their hobby, you know, be hobby without the general public going like everyone is here, and thinking, “OMG, isn’t that copyright infringement? plagiarism?”

    On the flip side as well, every true fan I know is down right mean when it comes to ridding the community of plagiarists. One of my good friends has had one fic of hers in particular copy-pasted word for word twice by male fans and posted up, and the offending fics only got taken down by concerted efforts from other readers to report it and comment on the offense. These girls don’t pull their punches either and neither did I.

    For what happened to Mm. Leto, I can only assume this happened before Web 2.0 and LJ groups like stop_plagiarism or on That site is notorious for being slow to remove anything unless legal papers are waved in front of them. It’s also one of the most hated even among fans for all it’s content restrictions and policy of looking the other way on somethings they claim to not allow as well as rampant amounts of under-aged fans posting ‘like OMG Best Fic Ever!!1!11!!1!’.

    To me, plagiarism is the actual lifting of words and passing it off as your own, like Edwards has done, not writing a story based off of someone else’s story and taking it in directions the originator didn’t think about. Not all fanfics stick strictly to the original, or even to the characters or world. I once read what’s called an alternate universe story that set the cast of Sailor Moon, a popular girl’s anime, in a modern hospital romance. The only things similar were the character names, and a few in-jokes to the series. I saw an Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter fic once that took the idea of the world (real vampires living as legal citizens), recast it, set it in Philly, and all in an original adventure.

    So, ok, I think I lost my point in here a little, but I think my point is that before you all damn all fan-writers as unoriginal, or as plagiarists and criminals at worst, at least consider a point at where the literal theft of words stops and the ephemeral theft of ideas begin, and which is more punishable when there’s profit involved and not involved?

  154. » Plagiarism and Punishment
    Jan 16, 2008 @ 11:52:36

    […] Then, go to Dear Author. […]

  155. Seressia Glass: Blog Me » Blog Archive » Whatever
    Jan 20, 2008 @ 19:25:37

    […] admit I’m not qualified to define or determine. (You can check out Teach Me Tonight or Dear Author for that.) But I do know copying somebody else’s work for my benefit is wrong. I learned that […]

  156. Lisa Hendrix
    Mar 16, 2008 @ 11:33:07

    Just bumped into this very interesting and cogent discussion while looking for something else. I’m late to the party, but did want to address the quote you took from my comments on AARList2. What Jane posted was incomplete and taken somewhat out of context. Here is the entire post, including a snip of the original question asked.

    <<For that matter, what if public domain text was stolen? It’s still
    <<plagiarism — do you contact her current publisher and hope they do

    No, it’s not. Public domain text is no longer the property of
    anyone, thus cannot be “stolen,” ie, it’s not plagiarism in the legal
    sense of the word.

    It is bad form, though, especially for a novelist, who is, after
    all, supposed to be creating something.

    As for “stealing” story lines — my thought is, if it’s good enough
    for Shakespeare, it’s probably good enough for the rest of us. Just
    so long as the author does the real work, which is the actual telling
    of the story. That’s where the real art is — in the choice of
    words, the rhythm, the poetry. That’s why Shakespeare’s Romeo and
    Juliet is what it is, and why all the hundreds of other versions are
    what they are, both good and bad.


    Jane did make a good point in that I was confounding plagiarism and copyright infringement, however. Not very precise of me, considering I make my living with words. There is a good discussion of plagiarism in various contexts (academic, journalistic, Internet, etc.) at Wikipedia.

  157. Jessica Snyder
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 22:44:10

    Wow thats amazing

  158. Stephanie Dray
    Feb 25, 2012 @ 17:35:35

    @Julie Leto:
    “Plagiarism CANNOT be done accidentally.”

    If someone were applying a reasonable standard for judging plagiarism, this might be correct. But there are some people who consider a turn of phrase found in someone else’s work to fall afoul of ethical standards. If that is the standard, not only can you plagiarize accidentally, but most of us probably do. Part of the evolution of language involves absorbing Ideas and words of others into the common lexicon without attribution.

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