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A New Angle to CassieGate and Other Plagiarism Scandals
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Anne Marble



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 606

PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2008 3:08 pm    Post subject: A New Angle to CassieGate and Other Plagiarism Scandals Reply with quote

Someone on a writing forum posted this about something accompanying her latest contract:
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=111020

It was something she had never seen before -- an extra page involving an insurance policy that covers libel, invasion of privacy, lagiarism, copyright infringement, and unfair competition. The author is expected to sign on the dotted line. And yes, it's a direct result of recent plagiarism cases such as CassieGate and Kaavya Viswanathan as well as the James Frey memoir case and the libel suit romance author Rebecca Brandewyne brought against AuthorHouse (when they published her husband's nasty book, which made lots of allegations about Brandewyne).

I'd like to hear from some of the other writers on this board. Have any of you been asked to sign similar policies? Or have you heard of this happening to other writers? Do you think this sort of coverage is the wave of the future? If anything goes wrong, the policy has a deductible of $250,000 --- what kind of author has $250,000 lying around? Rolling Eyes Also, I know that contracts generally ask authors to confirm that the work is their own. But do contracts include anything else beyond that?

I'd also like to know what readers think of this. Do you think this sort of change will make a difference? Or are there better ways to defeat plagiarism, such as better education and awareness of what constitutes plagiarism?
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Lynda X



Joined: 05 Apr 2007
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PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2008 4:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

What! The deductible is two hundred and fifty THOUSAND dollars! Who pays this? The author or the publishing company?

I really do not believe that anyone plagiarizes out of ignorance these days, especially authors. Authors are generally educated people and if they've been around for a while, they've probably heard the scandals about plagiarism.

I do believe, though, that like any form of lying, it's done just because it's easier, not because the person didn't know. It's so easy for us to rationalize our behavior that I fear that the penalties have to be greater. Public disgrace seems not to be enough of a deterrent; how often have miscreants gone on to profit by talking or writing about why they did it, how it wasn't REALLY a crime, how they suffered because of it, what they have learned from it, etc.

So, I guess I'd have to say that given the embarrassment and the financial hit that publishers have taken from plagiarizing authors, it doesn't seem that an honor agreement testifying to the originality of the work is enough. Insurance policies are made for our litigious society.
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Anne Marble



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 606

PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2008 5:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lynda X wrote:
What! The deductible is two hundred and fifty THOUSAND dollars! Who pays this? The author or the publishing company?


They're supposed to "share" this. How much of the expense is shared probably depends on a lot of factors. :)

Lynda X wrote:
I really do not believe that anyone plagiarizes out of ignorance these days, especially authors. Authors are generally educated people and if they've been around for a while, they've probably heard the scandals about plagiarism.


Most of the cases I've seen are really obvious -- people taking whole chunks of a novel. Clearly, the authors knew what they were doing wrong and just couldn't be bothered to write a book. Rolling Eyes Some cases might be "gray area" cases, though. When the Cassie Edwards case broke out, even some authors didn't think it was plagiarism, even after seeing the examples. So maybe some sort of education is needed to conquer myths about plagiarism.

The other sorts of cases it covers get even murkier. Invasion of privacy sounds like something added because of some of the memoir debacles, but what about unfair competition? A lot of writers write similar books for more than one publisher. I wonder if this was created because of cases like Dara Joy, who wrote an SF romance for another publisher and tried to claim it was an SF novel and thus didn't count under her contract?

Lynda X wrote:
I do believe, though, that like any form of lying, it's done just because it's easier, not because the person didn't know. It's so easy for us to rationalize our behavior that I fear that the penalties have to be greater. Public disgrace seems not to be enough of a deterrent; how often have miscreants gone on to profit by talking or writing about why they did it, how it wasn't REALLY a crime, how they suffered because of it, what they have learned from it, etc.


And don't forget that they did it because they were depressed and there was a death in the family. Rolling Eyes I recently saw a link to an article about how James Frey (not a plagiarist, but his case was helped spur this) is now rebuilding his career despite being embarrassed by the whole Oprah confrontation, etc. So if he can do well, so can others.

Lynda X wrote:
So, I guess I'd have to say that given the embarrassment and the financial hit that publishers have taken from plagiarizing authors, it doesn't seem that an honor agreement testifying to the originality of the work is enough. Insurance policies are made for our litigious society.


You'd think signing something in a contract would be enough. But then again, I watch People's Court all the time, and people still sue each other after signing contracts. Wink And publishing contracts are another animal entirely.
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LeeB.



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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Location: Seattle, WA

PostPosted: Tue Jul 29, 2008 10:31 pm    Post subject: Re: A New Angle to CassieGate and Other Plagiarism Scandals Reply with quote

Anne Marble wrote:
I'd also like to know what readers think of this. Do you think this sort of change will make a difference? Or are there better ways to defeat plagiarism, such as better education and awareness of what constitutes plagiarism?

As a reader, yep, I think this will make authors sit up and take notice not to plagiarize. But hopefully they will go over their contracts with a lawyer who can explain in simple terms what they are agreeing to by signing.

I don't blame publishers for adding the policy. I'm sure they were none too pleased to have to give refunds to thousands of people.
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2008 9:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

So far, I've been unable to determine exactly what is considered plagiarism in works of fiction--at least in romance fiction. When I consider books like Dodd's "In My Wildest Dreams" and its close relationship to the movie "Sabrina," or compare Kathleen Harrington's "Promise Me" to Anita Mills' "The Duke's Double," or read a book I think I've read before only to discover that it's a kind of re-do of another, I'm lost in a sea of puzzlement. Had I, when teaching, encountered such close resemblances in an essay, I would have flunked it without a qualm. Yet, as far as I know, no charges of plagiarism occurred in these cases. I can't recall. Did a lawsuit result from Edwards' actions?

And then, of course, I think of all the "imitations"--imitations which achieved high status on their own--written by writers of the past. I fall further into a morass then, because in today's cllimate those "imitations" would most likely be considered plagiarisms.

The arbitrary years of copyright laws don't always accord with the speed things move into common parlance, so in some ways, we all plagiarize from time to time when we pick up statements from literature and use them without attributing them, often without even realizing they should receive attribution. And what about jokes? We all plagiarize those, don't we, sometimes knowing who originated them, sometimes not.

In fiction, can words, the property of whomever speaks the language in which they're written, really "belong" to someone because they fall into a distinct syntax? Can an idea or thought, once it's moved into the public realm, really be considered the property of the originator?
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2008 9:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
So far, I've been unable to determine exactly what is considered plagiarism in works of fiction--at least in romance fiction. When I consider books like Dodd's "In My Wildest Dreams" and its close relationship to the movie "Sabrina," or compare Kathleen Harrington's "Promise Me" to Anita Mills' "The Duke's Double," or read a book I think I've read before only to discover that it's a kind of re-do of another, I'm lost in a sea of puzzlement. Had I, when teaching, encountered such close resemblances in an essay, I would have flunked it without a qualm. Yet, as far as I know, no charges of plagiarism occurred in these cases. I can't recall.


About Dodd basing In My Wildest Dreams on the movie Sabrina and My Favourite Bride on the movie The Sound of Music . . . I think it was clear to any readers familiar with her sources that she was paying tribute to them rather than trying to rip off the ideas as her original stories. I believe she has been open about it herself.

If I assigned my students an original story and they produced stories closely patterned after other famous works, well . . . my knee-jerk reaction would be the same as yours: to flunk them for it.

However, a particularly clever student might just be playing "intertext" games, referencing the Bronte sisters, for instance, in a Jane Eyre-style story. Such blatant acknowledgment of the source material means that the student isn't ripping anything off, but doing something creative with it. There's a difference between saying, "This is a plot I came up with all by myself," and saying, "I was inspired by Charlotte Bronte to think about what Jane Eyre would be like if she lived in our neighbourhood."

dick wrote:
The arbitrary years of copyright laws don't always accord with the speed things move into common parlance, so in some ways, we all plagiarize from time to time when we pick up statements from literature and use them without attributing them, often without even realizing they should receive attribution. And what about jokes? We all plagiarize those, don't we, sometimes knowing who originated them, sometimes not.


I think we can draw better distinctions than that. I have never taken credit for telling a joke I read in, say, Reader's Digest, and usually begin to relate it by saying, "Oh, have you heard the one about . . . ?"

Admittedly, I can think of times I've heard a funny line in a movie, filed it away for future reference, and brought it out as my own . . . Embarassed

Yet I think the case is still different from someone plagiarising another writer's novel or another student's essay. First is the scale: it's usually not just one or two borrowed lines, but the bulk of the writing. Then there is the intent: the plagiariser intends to benefit unfairly for work he hasn't done, earning royalties, accolades or even a grade that he does not deserve. It's different from stealing a witty one-liner for private use--unless, of course, one is a stand up comedian.

dick wrote:
In fiction, can words, the property of whomever speaks the language in which they're written, really "belong" to someone because they fall into a distinct syntax? Can an idea or thought, once it's moved into the public realm, really be considered the property of the originator?


Well, now that we've gotten this far, I have to admit that intellectual property rights are slippery territory for me, too. I'm no lawyer and can't split hairs to say where the law draws the line. However, I do trust my experience and common sense in the classroom, where I've encountered so many "cut and paste" essays that I could paper my house with them all!
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Anne Marble



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2008 10:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
So far, I've been unable to determine exactly what is considered plagiarism in works of fiction--at least in romance fiction. When I consider books like Dodd's "In My Wildest Dreams" and its close relationship to the movie "Sabrina," or compare Kathleen Harrington's "Promise Me" to Anita Mills' "The Duke's Double," or read a book I think I've read before only to discover that it's a kind of re-do of another, I'm lost in a sea of puzzlement. Had I, when teaching, encountered such close resemblances in an essay, I would have flunked it without a qualm. Yet, as far as I know, no charges of plagiarism occurred in these cases. I can't recall.


I am not a lawyer, but I'm pretty sure cases where the plots are verrry similar would be considered copyright infringment instead. Also, that seems more of a gray area as so many plots are already similar, and not just in romance. In the 1960s, someone sued the creator of The Fugitive TV series because of similarities between the TV show and a show or movie he had written. But he lost the case because both shows were already so similar to Les Miserables.

I also like seeing what different authors do with similar (even pretty much the same) plot. I've read other books that were similar to "The Duke's Double," and I like the way different elements are handled. Each book had enough differences that although it was the same story, it was at the same not the same story.

But sometimes a similar plot is a a tribute, and sometimes it's a rip-off. It's hard to tell which is which. I can think of a couple of cases where the courts decided it was a rip-off. One was a romance novel that was verrrry similar to Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love. IIRC it turned out that the author wrote her book with WML on her desk as a guide, and she said she didn't know she couldn't do that. Also, mystery author and Travis McGee fan Dmitri Gat was found guilty of copyright infringment for writing a book that was way too close to one of John D. McDonald's Travis McGee books. I'm pretty sure the words were different, but the plots were very similar, with names and places changed.

dick wrote:
Did a lawsuit result from Edwards' actions?


No, or at least not yet. But Signet did drop her. And I'm sure Signet's lawyers did get involved once it all broke out.

dick wrote:
And then, of course, I think of all the "imitations"--imitations which achieved high status on their own--written by writers of the past. I fall further into a morass then, because in today's cllimate those "imitations" would most likely be considered plagiarisms.


A book called The Little Book of Plagiarism (by Richard A. Posner) addresses those questions, including the historical perspective. I only glanced at it because I didn't feel like spending about $11 for 128 pages. Wink But he did address the way authors used to take whole plots from each other without any legal issues. On the other hand, he pointed out that they had smaller repertoires, so borrowing plots was essential. The important thing was what each author did with the plot.

dick wrote:
The arbitrary years of copyright laws don't always accord with the speed things move into common parlance, so in some ways, we all plagiarize from time to time when we pick up statements from literature and use them without attributing them, often without even realizing they should receive attribution. And what about jokes? We all plagiarize those, don't we, sometimes knowing who originated them, sometimes not.


It might depend on the format of the joke. On the copyediting mailing list, we're not allowed to forward jokes we got from other Internet sources, and we can't forward e-mails from other people to the list. This is in part because of copyright issues. If we get a funny joke, we have to tell people that if they want a copy, we will forward it off-list. But maybe they're more particular because they are the copyediting list, and they have to be very very careful to get it right. :D

dick wrote:
In fiction, can words, the property of whomever speaks the language in which they're written, really "belong" to someone because they fall into a distinct syntax? Can an idea or thought, once it's moved into the public realm, really be considered the property of the originator?


Ideas can't be copyrighted. One (unpublished) author did try to trademark the premise of his novel, but everyone thought that was really silly. Also, there are many cases where you can quote short passages and still be legal. You can also use phrases from other authors (for example, as a title) without asking for permission, unless you're using something trademarked. (So don't call your novel "Luke Skywalker Meets Freddy Krueger." Wink)
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dick



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2008 12:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

When I wrote that plagiarism (or even copyright infringement) in fiction is a puzzlement, I wasn't thinking of wholesale use of phrases or paragraphs as one finds in papers plagiarized by students, in which, I think, the rules are a bit different.

Still, plots are certainly as much a matter of copyright I would think as anything else, as the case of WML and the rip-off of McDonald suggest. It all depends on the interpretation of the original plotter or the original plotter's publisher, doesn't it? I've not been able to figure out which author wrote first--Harrington or Mills--but if one or the other had chosen to label the other's work copyright infringement, that author would, I think, have a good case.

I might think, as a teacher, that the student who does a re-hash of "Jane Eyre" quite clever, but I would think for a quite a while about whether it constituted plagiarism, especially in the classroom. If that student were to tell me it was a tribute, I'd take that demurrer with a grain of salt, I think, and, if the student, why not Dodd?

I'm not averse to reading the same story told by different authors, myself. Like the imitations of old, they sometimes enlighten or entertain because they ARE imitations.

My point is that, in fiction (and romance fiction, in particular) the matter of what is copyright infringement (or plagiarism) is hellishly amorphous.
In my thinking, publishers of fiction--and romance fiction in particular--would better treat the entire matter with benign neglect. Like Posner's explanation of the imitations of old, the repertoire of romance fiction is very limited.
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veasleyd1



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PostPosted: Wed Jul 30, 2008 4:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:

My point is that, in fiction (and romance fiction, in particular) the matter of what is copyright infringement (or plagiarism) is hellishly amorphous.
In my thinking, publishers of fiction--and romance fiction in particular--would better treat the entire matter with benign neglect.


There are, also, areas in which people have strong differences of opinion. I've written a story (not yet published) in which one of the significant secondary characters is the Jacobaean playwright Philip Massinger. Just for the joy of doing it, I set it up so that almost everything Massinger says comes from his own writings, right down to breakfast-time comment about how good the quince jelly is.

Now for the hyper-strict, "If everything in the work isn't your own words, then it's plagiariasm" school of thought, that's over the line. On the other hand, the usage is not only acknowledged in an end-note, but the words are put in the mouth of their author. I thought it was good fun. Others might not agree.
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Schola



Joined: 10 Jun 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 3:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

dick wrote:
I might think, as a teacher, that the student who does a re-hash of "Jane Eyre" quite clever, but I would think for a quite a while about whether it constituted plagiarism, especially in the classroom. If that student were to tell me it was a tribute, I'd take that demurrer with a grain of salt, I think, and, if the student, why not Dodd?


There are also many cases of movies adapting plots from Shakespeare to modern settings. For instance, She's the Man takes Twelfth Night and puts it in a university setting (if I remember correctly); and Ten Things I Hate about You does the same for The Taming of the Shrew and a high school setting.

We wouldn't call those "tributes" to Shakespeare, but we don't see them as rip offs, either. I'd say that Dodd's novels are "adaptations" of Sabrina and The Sound of Music in Victorian Romancelandia settings. They're not meant to be original; in fact, we can argue that one can truly enjoy them only when already familiar with the source material.

dick wrote:
I'm not averse to reading the same story told by different authors, myself. Like the imitations of old, they sometimes enlighten or entertain because they ARE imitations.

My point is that, in fiction (and romance fiction, in particular) the matter of what is copyright infringement (or plagiarism) is hellishly amorphous.
In my thinking, publishers of fiction--and romance fiction in particular--would better treat the entire matter with benign neglect. Like Posner's explanation of the imitations of old, the repertoire of romance fiction is very limited.


After I logged out last night, Dick, I thought the same thing. Given the very rigid conventions of Romance, it is as difficult to prove outright plagiarism as it is to prove, say, that Person A ripped off the chocolate chip cookie recipe of Person B. I mean, how many different ways to bake chocolate chip cookies can there be before we come across two batches that are nearly identical?
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HeatherB



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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 8:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
There are also many cases of movies adapting plots from Shakespeare to modern settings. For instance, She's the Man takes Twelfth Night and puts it in a university setting (if I remember correctly); and Ten Things I Hate about You does the same for The Taming of the Shrew and a high school setting.


Another very clever (IMHO) example of this is O Brother, Where Art Thou? an interpretation of Homer's The Odyssey (one of my favorite movies with George Clooney as a bonus). Human struggles remain the same and incorporating similar ideas into plots is going to happen. It is certainly a more difficult situation when it involves ideas and determining where the fine line falls than when actual parts of text are used without giving proper credit. It makes me happy that I'm not a copyright attorney. Wink
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dick



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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree, schola, on the matter of plagiarism when doing take-offs on other authors' plots when it occurs in the classroom. If the student writer were to use the exact organization of a non-fiction work, would you not think, uh oh, I'd better think about this?

And I continue to think that Dodd's novels could easily be considered copyright infringement regardless. Using a plot by Shakespeare, who probably never had a copyright to infringe, is considerably different from utilizing a plot of an author contemporaneous with oneself as Dodd did. Even had Shakespear had one, it would have expired long ago.
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dick



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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 9:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

veasleyD1: An intriguing idea. I don't see how anyone could think it plagiarism when you cite the source, though.
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Maggie AAR
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 9:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This sounds grossly unfair to me. How can any author come up with that kind of money? I grant you that some cases of plagiarism (like the one involving Whitney, My Love or the Nora Roberts/Janet Dailey case) seem more clear cut than others but sometimes they just don't seem clear cut at all to me. In the case of Kaavya Viswanathan I originally thought she should be expelled for what she had done or rather based on what people were saying she had done. But when I actually saw the passages in question I was surprised at the hoopla. Less than 1% of the book was in question, the passages that were in question weren't exact copies of what she was accused of "stealing" and the words copied certainly weren't plot pivotal.

When looking at the Edwards issue I found the same thing. With the exception of the buffalo and sunflower passage, the information incorporated into her work was less than 1% of the book, it was not plot pivotal and all could have been corrected by a simple foot note. This did not seem like plagiarism to me so much as lack of knowledge regarding properly crediting resource materials. I really do believe Edward's didn't know better.

I wonder how many authors could stand to have their work under a microscope? Would there truly not be a previous book that included at least some of their verbage in similar circumstances? How often have we all read about the hero "staring intensely" or the heroine "flouncing angrily"? At what point do words cease to be simply buzz words for a particular genre and become eligible for a law suit?

I am not an expert but from what I have heard the plagiarism laws in this country far exceed that of any other. This just seems an unnecessary added burden to those wanting to create an original work. How many authors are going to see that and decide that combined with the low pay, it just isn't worth publishing?

maggie b.
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Diana



Joined: 23 Mar 2007
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 31, 2008 6:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Schola wrote:
I'd say that Dodd's novels are "adaptations" of Sabrina and The Sound of Music in Victorian Romancelandia settings. They're not meant to be original; in fact, we can argue that one can truly enjoy them only when already familiar with the source material.


IIRC, Dodd did not start using words like "tribute" or "homage" nor did she mention Sabrina or The Sound of Music until reviewers pointed out the eerie similarities.

Then there's her Lost in Your Arms which bore uncanny resemblance in plot and detail to Linda Howard's 1988 category White Lies. Having read both Dodd's and Howard's books, it was my belief at the time that Dodd ripped off Howard. I never understood why Dodd got a free pass when any author of lesser status or one not backed up by a major publisher would have been flogged to death by alert bloggers. Here's what the AAR review had to say about it: http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=3436
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