Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Yes, It is Plagiarism...

...when you copy someone's original work.

I'm sure you all know about Kaavya Viswanathan and the copying of Megan McCafferty's books.

And since as of this post Kaavya has said that the borrowing was "unintentional and unconscious" but did exist; and the publisher has said that future editions will be revised, I feel safe saying that copying was done. As others have pointed out, over 40 instances of copying. Which means that it's not one mistake; it's over 40 mistakes.

I've read a few "I feel sorry for Kaavya" type things recently. And guess what? I don't.

Kaavya got paid $500,000. She is a sophomore at Harvard. She's grown up enough to get paid a half million dollars and to be at an Ivy League school; so she's old enough not to copy another's work.

Kaavya told Katie Couric that she is "profoundly sorry", per the Katie Couric interview? And "all she can do" is change the book?

Let's see.... perhaps the book should be taken off the market? Perhaps it shouldn't be highlighted on her publisher's website? Perhaps money should be paid to the person whose work was stolen? Perhaps Kaavya shouldn't be let off the hook with "I'm sorry but I didn't meant it"?

Is there also responsibility from her publishing house? Hell yes. McCafferty is well known; and I am very disappointed to think that those working at the publishing company are so unaware of these current books that no-one in-house picked up on this. When I checked the publisher's website, it was still promoting the book as if nothing had happened.

The victim here is Megan McCafferty, a hard working, talented writer who is at the heart of a scandal that she didn't create.

So, in my humble opinion, I'm sorry is not enough.

Edited to add: link to the 45 instances. It's a PDF file from Publisher's Marketplace. And my latest pet peeve? The defense that all teen lit sounds alike anyway, so how can someone copy something so generic?


christine M said...

I couldn't agree more.

Brian Farrey said...

I can't believe, after the 40+ incidents were chronicled, she still had the chutzpah to go on national TV and say, "Oops, it was all an accident." I would have bought one or two passages as an accident. 45???

I'm with you, Liz. Recall the book. Pulp them. That's what they did with Brad Vice. Pay McCafferty. Rip up Miss Thang's contract.

Seriously, who gets an agent and a half million dollars at age 17?!

Anonymous said...

I don't think we know the complete story yet. A full explanation (not that we'll ever get it) has to include the entire details about the kid's relationship with the book packager, 17th Street Productions, who shares the copyright. The same book packager who helped fill out (or whatever it was) the manuscript.

As far as the apologies go, I assume she is doing everything her legal counsel says she should.

I do agree with you that the book ought to be dumped.

Liz B said...

I just got back my state library conference so am still going thru all email & also the various reports on what happened. I am very intrigued by the situation with 17th Street/ Alloy.

Kaavya is responsible for her own actions; but as a teenager who was put in this position (lots of money for an book that wasn't even finished yet, plus the book packager aspect, plus a timeline for publication that may not have been realistic for a full time student) I think the other people involved -- the publisher and the packager -- have equal responsibility.

As a former lawyer, yes, I'm sure she is saying no more (and no less) than what has been OK'd by lawyers. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out -- and how much of the story we are told.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Liz! I agree. Why on earth would "I'm sorry" be enough? If you steal something from someone, and you get caught, you don't just say "Oh, I'm sorry" and then not give it back. It's completely ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Liz, yep, her publisher and the book packager have some explaining to do! I wonder if they'll ever fess up to anything. (Actually, no I don't. They won't.) By the end of the week, I'd be surprised if the book was not withdrawn from the market.

Chris Barton said...

Is there even a precedent for doing what Viswanathan has said she's going to do -- revise substantial portions of a work of fiction (no matter what the reason) after it's already been on the market with the same publisher?

Little Willow said...

The fact that her age keeps coming up bothers me to no end. As someone who is on the receiving end of other people's ageism and assumptions EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE, I abhor it when people attempt to use young age as a crutch. It should be more about first time author and less about X years old -- because if this was a first time author who was 23, 25, 27, could they say the same things?

Chris Barton said...

Good point, little willow -- I don't recall Stephen Ambrose's age being an issue when questions of his authorship arose, or James Frey's age coming up during his recent excitement.

So, is her age coming up because folks think it might explain her plagiarism, or because they're ga-ga over someone so young getting such a big book contract?

Liz B said...

Susan, It's hard to know what happened; unless this gets turned into her next book, a tell all memoir about the publishing industry and the media who eagerly says 'look at the young writer ain't she cool?'.

Chris, from Brian's comment it seems that the way to go is just get rid of the book. I assume (however wrong it is to assume!) that in cases of nonfiction plagiarism a note and proper footnotes/ citations can be done. But this is fiction; frankly, I'm puzzled that part of the "solution" is a note to Megan McCafferty in future editions. I say, show me the money. (er, I mean show Megan the money.)

LW, I think the media is age obsessed, with younger=better and that Kaavya's age is part of the reason she got the $$ and the publicity. And no doubt part of the reason the media is now making a frenzy a shark infested feeding frenzy. And it bugs no end that the comments I've read in the blogosphere and on listserves is "she's so young & cute & Katie is so mean that of course it's not her fault." (Personally, I thought Katie could have been mean but was not.) If the argument is she's young so could not have done any better, the logical conclusion is that this is true of any young writer; so should there ever be a young writer offered that type of money? And whatever one thinks of Paolini's influences, or of Atwater-Rhodes writing style, both are young and neither have done this. (Both were younger that KV, IIRC, at time of intial publication.) So age is not an excuse. I do think that the crucial factor was not so much Kaavya's age as inexperience, which can be true of any age. I cannot believe that someone who did not have a book finished got a contract worth so much money. Anyone can have a great two sentence book description; the hard job is turning that into a book. (And can I blame KV for taking that much money when offered? No.) If publishing companies are willing to pay based on two sentences, they need to call me.

Right now, while I am quite firm that MMcC is the victim here, the others involved in this need to take some responsibility.

Liz B said...

Oh, one more thing, regarding not KV's age but the audience of MMcC's books. My instinct (so no basis in fact!) is that since the audience of Megan's books is "young", there may have been a belief that "borrowing" may not have counted. Because not "real" books. Whose belief -- KV, editor, packager? I'm not sure (but man, wouldn't you love to see the various drafts and editorial comments for KV's book! Um, just me? Call me geek.)

FWIW, from the NYT article today ( ) people are looking at Alloy.

Liz B said...

Oh, one more thing about age : the reporters over at the Harvard Crimson are awesome for breaking this story and the continued coverage of it. And showing by example that age -- not a factor for quality & original work & all that jazz.

Liz B

Anonymous said...

Yes, a round of applause for a college newspaper! Why weren't others asking the same questions?

Anonymous said...


All fine and dandy for the journalism side. All hail Harvard Crimson. But who is considering the aesthetics? Charges of plagiarism could easily have been registered against, say, James Joyce or T.S. Eliot. They freely lifted from authors whom they admired and to whom they wished to pay homage, mimic or mock. I do not wish to defend Viswanathan, nor do I wish to suggest her fiction is art (or that it should be considered in the same league as artists). But one must wonder about the notion of plagiarism as applicable in fiction. Are we to undertake a hunt to see who has been stealing from whom. And if we do, do we let writers of stature off the hook, targetting those without reputation? She was not writing an academic essay, a piece of news, or a non-fiction novel. She was writing fiction. She cheated, but is it cheating at all?

Liz B said...

Plagiarism is plagiarism, regardless of whether the source material is fiction, nonfiction, poetry, a play, etc.

As for Kaavya wanting to pay homage, mimic, or mock; if that were true, she would be saying it now (and should have also been clear about her purpose before now.)

Camille said...

I've been listening to authors this week talk about the help and support they get from their editors and in some cases the differences they have about a writer's work.

I am wondering, who was the editor on this book and do they still have a job?

Chris said...

Author Jennifer Weiner blurbed both books and comment at Snarkspot:

Michele said...

I see the book's now been pulled. Story at Reuters (which I've made into a TinyURL !):