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a dose of reality

I’ve been in Maui for a week of fun, nature and relaxation. I have no desire to plunge back into stress.

But meanwhile, there’s a new scandal about plagiarism. Since it’s an important topic, I feel the need to weigh in with a tiny rant.

Copyright Infringement = illegal. It’s stealing. It takes money out of the starving artist’s pocket. (And even if the artist isn’t starving, or even if the artist is recently deceased and left a family behind, they are entitled to make a living from those precious, creative words. Right? Who dares take that from them? Our entire culture is based on allowing artists to make a living, lest art go by the wayside or underground.) In that sense, it is unethical too, of course, as is any theft offense.

How is Copyright Infringement different from plagiarism? The big difference, besides being illegal, is that it doesn’t necessarily involve plagiarism at all. If someone makes fifty photocopies of IDENTITY CRISIS and sells them on eBay as “Kate Donovan’s IDENTITY CRISIS” – giving me full credit for having written the words – that person is still infringing my copyright because I am the only person who can give permission for reprints of my words. I gave that permission to my publisher, no one else.

Plagiarism = unethical. It’s passing someone else’s words off as your own by failure to attribute (if paraphrased) or failure to use quote marks and attribute, if using someone else’s wording. It’s stealing, obviously, but it’s also akin to impersonation. Theft based on false pretenses. Pretending that you wrote those words, when another author really did. It’s despicable.

Plagiarizing copyrighted material = the perfect storm of illegal and unethical.

And then there’s FRAUD (cue music is you’re over 47). This is where the reader comes in. You buy a book, or read a work, and you think you know what you’re getting. You read a phrase and it resonates with you, and for that moment, you are so grateful to the author, but – um, someone else wrote it. Yikes. And meanwhile, thanks to the lack of attribution, you can’t go out to the bookstore and find more of that resonating material. You have been ripped off. Hoodwinked.

All of these behaviors are unethical, immoral, despicable. But what is the remedy? In some cases, a lawsuit. In others, re-education, or if egregious, shunning, I suppose.

An author/publisher can sue for copyright infringement. For plagiarism, the plagiarist’s publisher could sue the plagiarist based on contract. And I think a reader who paid money for the work could sue for fraud, but it’s outside my area of practice, so I can’t say for sure.

It’s interesting that so many authors are worried about accidental plagiarism. I say, relax. If you don’t use someone else words, you’re okay. If you do – well, a little worrying is a good idea. Find out what the parameters are. There are times when it’s okay – especially when it’s an allusion to a well-known source, e.g. “to be or not to be” – but if you’re unsure, go ahead and ask an editor or agent. And if it’s a lot of words, chances are, you’re wrong.

Edited to add: I just read an opinion piece suggesting that “old-school” writing permits fiction writers to rip off nonfiction writers, especially if the work is out of copyright. Ugh. My reaction is just the opposite. The taboo against plagiarism was drilled into me as a child by everyone --- teachers, parents, and frankly, my own instincts – and I was educated in the 60’s and 70’s. Pretty old-school, right?

If I thought any age group might be more likely to think copyright-infringement is okay, it would be the people who got caught up in the music wars, and have some passionate (mis)conceptions about public ownership of art. But new-school, old-school, or even ancient-school – I think everyone with a conscience knows that misrepresenting someone else’s art as your own is wrong, wrong, wrong. Right to the core. Or at least, I hope that’s true.




( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 22nd, 2008 04:43 pm (UTC)
DH and I read the excerpts and tables that were at Smart Bitches and Newsweek.com and his reaction was, "It [the writing] just reinforces non-romance readers' stereotypes about the genre."

MY reaction to this particular work was, "OH MY GOD HOW THE HELL DID THIS GET PAST AN EDITOR! IT IS SOOO BAD!" It's frustrating to have bad books out there when I KNOW that MANY people with talent, skill and drive have written things that are NOT getting published and books like this take up someone else's shelf room. See, IMHO with no publishing and no writing background (dontcha love it when people without the necessary experience have strong opinions), if the editor had done his/her job, they would have made the author fix (read DELETE) those horrid passages and then there wouldn't have been plagiarism . . . at least of the passages that we bothered to read.

And of course, everything you said about the plagiarism being wrong, illegal, unethical gets an, "Of course" from us.

Jan. 23rd, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
Re: Ahhh
I'm not sure an editor can spot plagiarism unless the editor has actually read the original, plagiarized work. Sure, an author's "voice" might seem to change, and that's a clue, but especially if the questionable material is an info dump, the editor might just think the author isn't very good at description. If it's a new author, the editor might offer some criticism based on inconsistent tone, but I can't imagine they'd say (or even think), "This paragraph sounds off. Did you steal it from someone?"

I guess I wouldn't feel comfortable putting the responsibility on the editor. It's on the author. If an editor happens to catch it, fine, but it can't be part of their job, because their job is already tough enough -- they can't be the police too.

Meanwhile, our contracts with the publishers have specific provisions where we warrant that all the material is ours. So ultimately, it's on us.

And as far as spotting bad writing in general, apart from plagiarism, that's a loaded issue. Part of an editor's job is to acquire manuscripts that will make money for the publisher -- or put more nicely, books for which there's a huge market of hungry readers. So if there are lots of readers, and it makes money, who's to say it's bad writing? Apparently, it's fabulous!

But I agree with you that there are some good books out there that should be published. It seems so unfair!

It's so great that you and your husband feel passionate about this issue -- yay you!

p.s. Stay away from the stingrays.

Jan. 23rd, 2008 02:05 am (UTC)
I didn't state it clearly
I didn't mean that the editor should have caught the plagiarism. I meant that the writing was so bad that the editor never should have let it see the light of day and then none of us would have known . . .

Okay, I guess (I've been told) this woman has written loads of books so if that's correct then we can assume that "they" know she's going to sell and she wouldn't be the first author who doesn't improve with time. Some do, some don't, some are consistent but don't grow but since they give their fans what they want (I stop being one of their fans b/c I get bored), and everyone's happy (fans, author, publisher).

But the snippets that we read were so bad . . . and maybe the book as a whole is fine and it's not fair but the crux of that part of the matter (granted it's not as important as the plagiarism part) is that who knows how many non-romance and anti-romance readers read it and said, "See?! Romance books are just bad!" When in reality, the bad ones really are unusual.

So, the plagiarism thing I wasn't really commenting on b/c it's wrong and you and others have already stated that so well. I guess you could make a really good argument that the writing isn't bad (and maybe the work as a whole isn't THAT bad) but the thought that a better book by an unknown didn't get published b/c they knew this one would sell regardless and her fans would stay loyal, well, that's just one of the yukky things about the business.

Penn, glad she has no desire to write

PS -- no opportunity to ignore your advice on staying away from the stingrays (sadly) :)
Jan. 23rd, 2008 02:19 am (UTC)
Re: I didn't state it clearly
Well I totally agree with you that this episode "confirms" for outsiders that all romance novels are ridiculously bad. Of all the examples to put before the public -- ugh.

As far as the writing being good or bad -- well, it's a style of writing that I don't like. At all. Which is why I don't want other people to assume it's typical of all romance novels, e.g. mine.

hey, not to change the subject, but am I the only person having trouble naviagating the new eharlequin? Plus, they got rid of the Athena thread -- waaaahhhh! So I haven't been visiting there any more, except to pop by YOUR blog a couple of times. You always have something interesting (or funny) to say.

Jan. 23rd, 2008 01:52 pm (UTC)
New eHQ Site
No, you are not the only one having a hard time. They still have some bugs to work out. I hadn't noticed the AF thread was gone but I'm sure if you ask nicely, they'll consider putting it back.

If you go there and look at the "tags" off to the right, you should see "The Quiet Canadians" -- click on it and look for KatherineT's helpful blogs on navigating around over there. And I'm part of "DFWPlus" (but we're not showing up, so you'd have to put us in search). My friends Kelley and Deb are part of "The D2K Paranormal Junkies", Sadhbh is still part of "The Dream Team" and my friends Sandi and Cady are part of "TBR--The Born Readers". So you can find us!

But yeah, several people are complaining at the site and others are complaining in private . . .

Jan. 23rd, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)
Re: New eHQ Site
Thanks, Penn.

I'm not really complaining at all. I know it's just a matter of learning the ropes. I just had my old routine down so well -- I'd visit the AF thread, then your blog and then Sadhbh's, and then if I had time I'd check on four or five Bombshell-loving bloggers to see what they were recommending lately. I liked having the book reviews mixed in with the essays but that has changed, right?

Anyway, the AF thread was very quiet, so they may have decided it wasn't worth putting back up. I always thought it's placement was wrong anyway, since many bombshell readers weren't really series readers otherwise. I figure eHarlequin knows what they're doing. I'm the one who needs to come up to speed.

Thanks for the cheat sheet! I've already visited yuo and Sadhbh, but I didn't know where Cady was. Now I do!

Jan. 23rd, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
Re: New eHQ Site
Phaedrus (sp?) is a guy who's just read his first SRS so we've been pointing him at his wife's complete collection of Bombshells -- you might mark him as someone to watch or easier still, we have a drop-down menu when we do book reviews of all the lines incl. discontinued ones, so you should be able to search for "Silhouette Bombshell" and find any reviews . . .

Jan. 23rd, 2008 03:15 pm (UTC)
Re: New eHQ Site
Thanks, I'll check him out! Hmmm, did that sound wrong? I'll check out what he's reading. Wouldn't it be fun if he converted to Bombshell? I've got quite a few guys who write/wrote to me about the SPIN books, so it can happen.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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