April 01, 2016

Ferreting out the plagiarists

Here is another unfortunate instance of plagiarism of work by Irish author Eilis O’Hanlon.

Unfortunately this is nothing new in book publishing world. Some cases are well-known, others slip under the radar. And it seems if the guilty party is someone high profile, the mud doesn’t stick as it might and they often bounce back as if they did nothing wrong.

One example was in the 1990s when two superstar romance writers faced off on the issue. Janet Dailey was forced to admit she had knocked off work by Nora Roberts and then blamed it on a “psychological disorder” she was suffering at the time and settled out of court for an unknown amount. Dailey went on to write many more novels before she died, her reputation not quite in tatters.

To be perfectly honest, given the same-y-ness of romantic dialogue in general, I wouldn’t necessarily spot outright plagiarism in the examples from that case.

How apt is this title -and is that a cactus, a finger, or ...?

Yup, Nora had hers ...

With billions of words in print and thousands of genre novels being published every year, it is inevitable some books will seem similar to others. Even the late, great Colleen McCullough got caught up in a plagiarism row in accusations her novel The Ladies of Missalonghi was very much like The Blue Castle by the famous Anne of Green Gables author, L M Montgomery, but that didnt stop her stellar career. 

Nora Roberts was also influential in exposing the equally prolific Cassie Edwards, known for way too many books with the now politically incorrect Savage in the title and hunky bare-chested Indians Native Americans on the covers. Yet reading the Edwards exposure and given the similarity of bare-chested novels as a whole, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me. 

Find the ferrets!

Sure Edwards ought to have credited her sources but when she took her ferret quotes from a book long out of copyright or no living individual was hurt or financially disadvantaged by her other actions, then attacking her can seem a tad spiteful. I wonder at the motivations (and stamina!) of anyone who is determined to plod through a complete Savage series or other execrable bare-chesters with the sole intent of hunting for plagiarised passages. What ultimate satisfaction do they get out of it, apart from showing off? It seems a little sad that the debacle appears to have pulled the curtain down on Edwards’ career. Her books may not be my own personal choice, but she had her audience and made a lot of people happy who enjoyed her brand of escapist reading.

For every case of discovered plagiarism, there are probably numerous instances going on right now where plots and story-lines have been lifted from the work of other writers. If you’re truly ruthless and have no morals about going down the plagiarism route, don’t be silly and ape the well-known author. Get yourself off to some charity shop, garage sale or market stall and scrounge up tatty old adventure yarns, crime or romance novels. If you are skillful enough, you can then rework and update them. The chances are that only a handful of people in the world would recognise the original especially if the author is long dead and their books are no longer in stores or libraries. You also want to be sure the book hasn’t been scanned for Google Books or is any of the other internet archives, then you should be fairly safe. Just try not to get too successful, as that will shorten the odds on you getting sprung!

A couple of other recent cases:

Kenyon vs Clare

McGraw vs Harner

I had better do the right thing and not copy and paste a cartoon this time, so here is a link to a bunch of cartoons on the topic.

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