Maybe you noticed a communication from RWA last week regarding their stand on plagiarism, a subject in the news again thanks to allegations made by Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books against best selling historical writer Cassie Edwards, published by Signet, among others. Edwards writes mainly books about native Americans.
From what I've read, Edwards has admitted she used passages from non-fiction books but didn't know she was supposed to give credit to them. On e-news. Nora Roberts, who is also published by Penguin and was also a herself a victim of plagiarism several years ago when Janet Dailey stole from her, said, "By my definition, copying another's work and passing it as your own equals plagiarism. As a writer, a reader and a victim of plagiarism, I feel very strongly on this issue. I'm not a lawyer, but I can't see it as fair use, or fair anything when one writer takes another's work."
I went to the Smart Bitches web site and read what they had to say: http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/ Then I went to the Publisher's Weekly website: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6518522.html and read what they had to say, and then I read Signet, who at first defended what Edwards did as interpreting information and making it her own, and later said it would examine the allegations more thoroughly.
Here is what I learned, and please keep in mind I haven't had the time to do a really close investigation. At the Smart Bitches website, they gave passages between reference books and Edward's books and they were stunningly close. I urge you to read a bit of it yourself, it's in a down-loadable column on the right side of the page. I'll quote one example at the end of this blog. Sorry I don't know how to give a decent link. Signet also gave an example, but theirs was much less profound (surprise, surprise). And Publisher Weekly threw in their two cents.
I am not going to offer much comment about this case specifically as I am not well informed enough to do so, but the whole thing has definitely got me to thinking about the subject of plagiarism. Every author of fiction at one time or another is going to do research and how you present that research in your own book can be difficult.
For instance, you want to describe a southern plantation and yet you've never been to the south and haven't seen Gone With the Wind -- ever. So you go to the library and you choose a half dozen books on southern plantations and you look at pictures and read descriptions and some author says something about a "winding", "sweeping", "spiraling" staircase or a "light swept", "ghostly", "palatial" landing…well take it a little further and have them describe in a sentence or two the entire staircase in damn near lyrical prose. The book is called, "Southern Mansions" and was published in 1936, for instance, and you say to yourself, that's a dandy description and there you go, you are knee deep in choices. How much do you change? How much must you change? How do you change it? If you use it, well, can you use it? Can you just thank the auhtor of that book in the front of your book? Do you contact a publisher that may no longer be around?
I am now going to give you an example copied from the download at Smart Bitches. It's not the most telling, actually, but it's interesting. They did all the work, this is available on their web site, and I hope it's okay with them if I use it:
He rode from the village, a sadness grabbing at his heart. After a while he saw several buffalo wandering through a field of sunflowers, lolling their heads as they walked. Loving the sunflowers so much, some of the animals had uprooted the plants and had wound them about their necks, letting sprays dangle from their horns. p. 10-11
The reference book:
And strange it is, but the buffalo loved the simple and odorless sunflower just as did the Lakota. These great beasts wandered through the sunflower fields, wallowing their heads among them. Sometimes they uprooted the plants and wound them about their necks, letting sprays dangle from their left horns. Id., p.49 http://books.google.com/books?id=-Ajg7FRiISIC&printsec=frontcover#PPA49,M1
So, fellow bloggers, what do you think of this? How do you handle these issues?