Thursday, April 28, 2011

Plagiarism or “What the heck were you thinking?”

In the shadow of a calling I found myself . . .

Staring at the world with innocent eyes.

Musical Moment
~ “Teamwork” Ludacris

Recently, a new book by a new “writer” named Christine Phoenix was discovered to be the plagiarized writings from established author JL Langley. This discovery set off a firestorm of response from writers and readers that turned into a weed among award winning roses.

Here’s a link to The Naughty Bits website where you can do a side by side comparison of Langley’s original book With Love and Phoenix’s story I Will Follow You. (Come to think of it, that title may have been the author’s inadvertent giveaway.)

The plagiarism is blatant. There are no subtleties of disguise. The names of some of the characters have changed and a few – very few – additional details have been added, but the obviousness of the literary thievery is unmistakable.

Given this newest, and not the only in recent years, revealed case of plagiarism, it makes you wonder why people are wasting time stealing peoples words and why they are not too concerned about being discovered.

Now, I understand the desire to be published, but you have to do the work, hard as it can be. Stealing someone else’s words and effort is not acceptable. I will never understand why people think they can get away with this. This is not the 1980s when the idea of a global internet was the pipe dream of some wonderful geek’s imagination. This is 2011 and in the midst of this millennium, anything you do can be discovered with a few strikes against the keyboard (much to the chagrin of criminals, boozed up college students and people in government). The old safety net of obscurity has been chewed through by the piranhas in the water waiting to get fat with information and, baby, you can and will be discovered if you choose to go the route of literary theft.

Readers are smart. Many have great memories. If we think we have read it before we are going to investigate and then we are going to talk and email and tweet and update Facebook and use whatever new inventions of communication that crop up. We will scream this injustice from the mountain tops until we are hoarse.

It is not fair to the original writer, it is insulting to readers and embarrassing to publishers who missed the bootlegged text. But what can we do when the wonderful world wide web is so large, vast and apparently, easily manipulated? How can we protect ourselves and our art from people willing to steal and claim ownership? Plagiarism has been around for ages and you would think people would be less inclined to do the lazy and steal because you can and will be discovered, but that apparently is not the case.

What I have difficulty grasping are the thoughts and feelings of the people who plagiarize. You can’t be proud of this act not even when you get a way with it, although I will concur there must be some sense of satisfaction if you are able to go undiscovered because of the “I got over on them” mentality some people have. Honestly, deep down, does it really feel that good?

Back in 2006, there was a young Harvard student named Kaavya Viswanathan who received a two book deal for $500,000. Not only did she receive this contract - a golden prize many writers would maim for - she also had a movie deal in the works until a reader recalled reading similar passages from a couple of Megan McCafferty’s books. Television and radio media went wild when they found out. The internet lit up like Christmas lights. There were many explanations for what happen to this young teen writer. Some say she “unwittingly” copied passages from previously read McCafferty novels. Others said it was cryptomnesia, as in “I forgot, so now I’m claiming it as my own” that caused this to occur. Personally, I think they used more polite terms for Viswanathan because of the Harvard connection, but it’s still good old fashioned plagiarism.

I will grant that if you read a lot of books, especially if you have a photographic memory, it may be difficult to recall whether you have “borrowed” passages from another source, but if you have an inkling of doubt, there are many ways and many search engines to check it out. Just in case. Cause no one likes eggs on their face. Especially in a public place.

So again I ask, if you are considering plagiarizing someone else’s work, “What the heck are you thinking?”


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