Monday, February 11, 2008

A cautionary tale for authors

I was surfing the web last night when I ended up at the New York Times website and an article written about the recent so-called plagiarism by a well-known romance author, Cassie Edwards. Apparently, someone had posted a blog about this in January when they had discovered upon feeding some of Ms. Edwards text from her novels into Google, she had blatantly lifted text from the works of three different novels. If you want to read on further about this, here are the links:

A Romance Novelist is Accused of Copying

First Article about issue at Smart Bitches Blog

The PDF Document at Smart Bitches Blog that indicates the plagiarism

When I read the above my eyes widened with surprise that a well-known author of Ms. Edwards standing in the romance community and of course, the writing world, would do such a thing.

She was questioned about this issue but apparently made out it was 'historical research' and she had no idea what she was doing was wrong. Now come on, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to realise that if you lift someone's work almost word for word that you need to attribute it to the source. At least that's what I was taught in college. We used quotes and references. And if someone researches they don't normally write word for word.

I had to carry out research for a recent historical romance I've written. I just read widely on the subject and wrote things in my own words. In any case, most of the topics I researched were written by professors and the like and their writing voices would have sounded totally out of place with my own. And I definitely didn't go taking my research from other similar works of fiction. The books I used were local history books.

So far, Ms. Edwards publishers and the Romance Writers of America [she used to be a member] aren't committing themselves to saying she actually plagiarised stuff. Yet a magazine journalist has even found his own words in one of her books when he wrote about Meer cats.

This is a cautionary tale for authors. Big Brother is out there, watching and waiting, and this time he has a name -- Google!


Edward Yates said...

Hey Lynette,

Yep, Google will get a phrase if it has been published. I use Google when I think a student's work might be plagiarised. Sometimes it is unknowing done if they are a first year student, but often it isn't.

I'm surprised when authors get pulled up on it though. One thing I've thought about is when you are doing research your memory might cough up a similar phrase to what you have read elsewhere. Particularly if you have a near photographic one. At the moment I'm referencing chapter 2 of thesis, and it is really painstaking work. I have a lot of respect for non-fiction authors or historical fiction authors that do a lot of research which is cited (listed) in their work.

Sounds a bit like she just got lazy with her paraphrasing... But the problem is once someone finds one thing that is plagiarised in someone's work, usually there is more...

Hope you are well.

Lynette said...

I've often worried in case I've unwittingly stored up someone else's turn of phrase in my mind and put it into my own work.

I remember around ten years back when I used to attend a writers' group in my town. Most of the group were very accomplished writers and I was just starting out.

I read out a poem to the class I'd written absolutely convinced I had accidentally taken a couple of the lines unwittingly from one of them. I even apologised before reading it in case I had.

In the end though, I hadn't. They were my own words. Maybe some of the group had influenced my writing in some way or maybe I had surprised myself that I was a better writer than I thought I was. Perhaps it was a confidence thing that I couldn't believe I had written that poem.

Who knows.

I had someone plagiarise one of my counselling articles around this time last year. It was taken without my permission, put in a newsletter of a big firm in Florida. There was even a paragraph added to it that was attributed to me.

I made a huge fuss about it and got some compensation paid to me. Next I wrote an article about it which got published at Writers Weekly and I got paid for that as well!

Talk about spinning straw into gold!

If it hadn't been for Google, I doubt I would have found this out.

Have a good day!


Edward Yates said...

That is a really good turnaround of events. I agree that is spinning straw into gold!

By the way I also recently came across this news article - you may have already seen it - basically a cautionary tale for budding writers turning their work over to Studios to turn into TV series or movies.,0,2357952.story?page=1

Edward Yates said...

Sorry it cut the end bit of that URL off.

You might have to cut it out to get it to work.

Hope you are good.


Lynette said...

Thanks for the link, Ed. Isn't it awful that things like that can happen, after the Cheetah Girls would not exist if it were not for that author.

It reminds me of the pop group Alabama 3 [often known as A3]. One of them is from my home town. Anyhow, I was looking up info on him one day as I love their music and came across a quote he had made about one of his songs. He wrote and sang the theme tune to the Sopranos.

He said something to the effect of "Someone got a swimming pool out of our song, but it sure as hell wasn't any of us!"

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