Friday, January 11, 2008

Crediting Material You Take From Another Source?

You're supposed to do that?


OK, Sarcasm over.

The Cassie Edwards debate: the ladies at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books have a full report with up to date linkage on the situation first reported at their website (and now being covered by no less than The New York Times.)

The allegations: that Edwards lifts text, word for word, from reference books to use in her romance fiction. As an aside, Edwards writes historical fiction; Native Americans and Native American culture are main elements. Here is SB,TB's first post pointing out the similarities between Edwards books and the alleged source material.

I won't recap beyond that, except to say go and read the posts and the links.

Back? Good.

Here's the thing; I am coming down firmly that Edwards did a no-no. You don't quote and not attribute; and the rules are not different from fiction. Plenty of fiction, including historical fiction, including romance, do acknowledge source material.

Another interesting point; unlike the Kaavya situation, the publisher is standing behind its author.

But here is my question.

So you're resourcing The Past. And you use Book A. It describes Something You Want To Use. A Historical Fact.

How much do you rewrite? What is OK to cut and paste because its "a fact"?

OK, I'm off to ALA as soon as Carlie arrives. See you later, alligator!


Brian Farrey said...

I just don't think any verbatim copying is acceptable. OK, so if History Book X says "The collapse of the stock market contributed to the Great Depression" and then the time traveler in your hip sci-fi book says, "The collapse of the stock market contributed to the Great Depression," well, that's one thing.

It's when verbatim copying includes nuanes such as specific syntax, clear indications of style, or marked literary technique that copycat authors need to be drawn and quartered and subjected to much finger pointing and mocking.

Just saying.

tanita✿davis said...

This is a HUGE thing to me -- because my latest novel (in the process of having contract written - probably after ALA!) is historical fiction. I plan to list the two obscure books which sparked my interest in the real historical event. Is that enough. Should I note the pages where I fictionalized specific historical facts? I don't think that's necessary, but I may make some kind of reference.

I'm not thinkin' it's EVER okay to cut/paste. Your book is meant to have been written by you. And so.

heather (errantdreams) said...

My first thought when I see stuff like that is that the author probably took notes and then worked from her notes and didn't even realize how close she was coming to the original. That isn't meant as an excuse---it's still a big no-no---but at least it makes sense, and to me is more of a "don't do that again!" kind of offense than deliberate theft.

But yeah, it's really hard to judge exactly where the lines lie. In a sense everything we write owes something to someone else... how do we judge the point at which that needs to be acknowledged?

christine M said...

I agree with Brian - if you something well known or general. For example: On Dec 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

No matter how many times you re-word that, someone has probably used that wording. But if you quote "the quiet of the Sunday morning was broken by the whirr of the Fighter planes just coming into sight" - then you have problems.

heather (errantdreams) said...

Wow, okay, reading onward and seeing just HOW MUCH she seems to have copied, I really can't put that down to accident. That seems pretty deliberate. Ugh. That leaves a sour taste. The fact that her publisher defended it leaves me aghast.

Anonymous said...

I'm with TadMack: NEVER okay to simply cut and paste. Most of those Edwards passages cited are appalling in their ripping-offtitude.

I don't think a bibliography is a must for every historical novel. Many are retreading common territory, e.g., McCarthyism or the Civil War or the Underground Railroad. But I think as a courtesy and as a mark of credibility, novelists presenting more obscure pieces of history (or any area of research, really) as fact should list a few representative sources at the end of their work. As a reader I'm always interested to note that stuff, even if I never follow up.

Jen Robinson said...

I'm with TadMack, too. Well, I do copy and paste on my blog all the time (I just wrote a whole article with much copying and pasting), but that's in the context of journalism, not fiction. And I always always cite my source - I would never dream of copying and pasting anything without attributing it. This, I know in my core being, is just WRONG.

What scares me, though, is that a lot of people really don't get that it's wrong. I had a disturbing conversation with a 12-year-old girl over the holidays about whether or not it's ok to copy and paste things from the internet for her homework. She kind of thought it was ok, especially if she changed the words around a little, so it wasn't a direct quote, and she didn't seem to get that she still needed to attribute. She wasn't trying to do anything wrong - she genuinely didn't understand. And that scares me. As we talked about it, and she started to understand what I meant, she likened it to illegal downloads of MP3s. But I said that doing that with words, and claiming them as your own, was worse, because it's a double theft. You're stealing from the person who made the words, and then you're falsely representing yourself as having come up with those words.

Sorry to rant. I feel very strongly.

Anonymous said...

Um, not really addressing your question here, except to say there are facts (dates, places, etc.), descriptions, and interpretations, and those are three separate things. The first doesn't need attribution, IMO, but the other to do. And regardless, I always like to an author's note or something in historical fiction.

Okay, so what I'm really commenting about is the publisher's original stance. I don't mind so much that they're standing by Edwards for the moment, until they complete their investigation. What bothered me, and I think a lot of other readers, was their original "she didn't do anything wrong" comment. It was just so cavalier, and rather scary that a publisher could just not care about ethics. They did issue a new statment that was posted both at SBTB and DearAuthor, which makes me feel a bit better.


misskate said...

At one of the conferences I attended, there was a session on writing non-fiction for children. The husband and wife team gave this as a rule of thumb, "if a fact is in more than three sources, it's general knowledge" as in, the planet Mars is red.

They said that if the information they got from a book didn't fall under the general knowledge category, the work was cited in their bibiliography.

It's never okay to cut and paste. I work with 3-7 year olds and starting in the four year old class, we talk about sources. Where can you learn something? TV, parents, books, etc... By the time they hit class two (6-7year olds), they should know that it's important to be able to say where you learned something. It's a lot of fun! They are really proud to tell you that their brother told them... Or that they watched a video on-line and learned... Hopefully, the women at the library in the upper primary school continue on with this.