Sunday, December 10, 2006

Plagiarism

My friend Sphinx Ink has posted over on her blog about the case in which Janet Dailey admitted plagiarizing Nora Roberts in at least two of her novels, Notorious and Aspen Gold. What was most disturbing to me, I think, is that some readers seem to be critizing Nora Roberts for "making a big deal" out of it. Janet Dailey stole from Nora Roberts. This isn't a victimless crime. And it wasn't that she borrowed a "phrase" here and there. Whole passages were taken. In reading about the issue, it actually seems to me that Roberts has showed remarkable restraint.

As a teacher, I can tell you that plagiarism is a serious problem, and it is damaging to both the plagiarist and the plagiarized. It needs to be dealt with firmly, although too often it is not. I don't mean to say that Janet Dailey should be ostracized from the writing community. But 1) she should not earn money from plagiarized work, 2) any future work she does should be carefully inspected and rejected if evidence of plagiarism is found, and 3) Janet Dailey should apologize to both Nora Roberts and to her readers. (I believe she has done the last.)

I do want to note, however, that plagiarism is a serious claim and the mere fact that someone is "charged" with plagiarism does not mean that the charge should be accepted as true without further investigation. This happens to famous, money-making authors all the time by folks who want to make some cash or earn a little infamy.

Also, of course, plagiarism needs to be defined carefully when any charge is made. The plagiarism of general ideas is very difficult to determine. Charging Dan Brown with stealing the idea that Jesus had descendents is ridiculous. I've heard that story bandied about in many quarters, long before The Da Vinci Code or Holy Blood, Holy Grail. If one sentence or one phrase is borrowed then making the charge of plagiarism also seems ridiculous, or at least petty. Even if the so called plagiarist did borrow that sentence, it seems most likely that it was accidental rather than a pattern. But when phrase after phrase is borrowed, when whole paragraphs are lifted, that is not an accident and should be pointed out and criticized by everyone who finds it.

5 comments:

Sidney said...

The case about the Harvard student in whose work substantial portions of paraphrased material appeared also comes to mind.

What a mess things can become.

Stewart Sternberg said...

So what you're telling me in an indirect way is to quit ripping you off. God..all ya hadda do was ask.

Plagarism. I think the most appalling example of someone ripping off someone's intellectual property is how Hollywood pimps writers. One writer, who sent a script to Hollywood, saw his work on the screen almost scene for scene, with chunks of his dialogue, and no credit, no pay. The court actually ruled in his favor, but many writers have struggled to get their due. The courts have pretty much held to the idea that ideas can't be copyrighted, and so Hollywood has hidden behind that defense.

Ironic, don't you think, considering all those ads Hollywood had trying to make people feel guilty for downloading films.

cs harris said...

I read a quote from Dan Brown's publicist recently, to the effect that plagiarism is an "obsolete" concept. Her attitude seems to be a trend. Unfortunately, it is so difficult to get the courts to convict, that plagiarism may indeed become a "quaint" concept. What I find most incredible is how many people's anger is directed not at the plagiarist, but at the whistleblower.

Sidney said...

In the light of that Brown comment, the Vanity Fair article of a few months back on Brown, Lewis Purdue and that entanglement is interesting reading.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sometimes it seems to me that many folks just don't "get" that plagiarism is a problem. Our educational system is falling short there, as on quite a few other things.