Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

The Debate Continues
January 11, 2008, 4:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The story is in the AP and therefore in USA Today, the New York Times, and various local newspapers from Oklahoma City, OK, to Morris County, NJ.

Hi there, newspaper readers. Hayadoin?

My point is, this isn’t a blog story anymore, and it’s not just a concern for the romance community, either. It’s a national story about what is and what isn’t plagiarism. Candy, myself, Jane at Dear Author, Nora Roberts and other readers say it is. Signet Publishing and Cassie Edwards say it is not.

Some of the comments I’ve seen on our site and in my inbox sent to me personally ask in irate tones how dare we, why didn’t we pursue it privately, and how can we BE so MEAN!?

Accusations as to Candy’s and my morality notwithstanding, this isn’t really about Cassie Edwards so much as it is a debate of ethics. The entries we’ve posted as to the passages that match her novels speak for themselves. This became about plagiarism and the ethical debate surrounding fair use the minute Signet said she’d “done nothing wrong.” I personally, as a reader, consumer, and writer, think there is something very wrong when sections of dialogue in a fictional novel match a previously published source identically and without attribution, particularly when the novel in question is published by a bestselling, nationally recognized author and thus she and her publisher presumably profit from the contents therein.

In my opinion, the debate here isn’t about reputation and HOW we should handle information on this site. The question for me at this point is HOW the romance writing community, including writers, readers and publishers, responds to plagiarism, and so far, I’m deeply amazed and cheering on the readers who say, “That is NOT right and I’m writing to Signet, and Penguin/Putnam to say so.”

As a wise friend of mine, RB, just said: “In the modern age, everyone’s a writer.” All our blogs and journals and published and digitally published works all constitute writing. A good writer cites their sources, acknowledges them, and in my opinion does not drop identical passages without attribution to the original writer.

Moreover, for every hate email I have in my inbox, I have readers who grabbed an Edwards novel and did their own research by not only searching online but taking a trek to the library to consult additional sources.

(Want to move on to other Smart Bitch topics? I’ve got a Friday video today that will make you snort liquid up your nose. I recommend you put down the beverage before you watch it. It’s like whoa, merde, and mon dieu.)


Official Response from Signet
January 11, 2008, 2:38 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

…and, well, read it yourself.

Signet takes plagiarism seriously, and would act swiftly were there justification for such allegations against one of its authors. But in this case Ms. Edwards has done nothing wrong.

The copyright fair-use doctrine permits reasonable borrowing and paraphrasing of another author’s words, especially for the purpose of creating something new and original. Also, anyone may use facts, ideas and theories developed by another author, as well as any material in the public domain. Ms. Edwards’s researched historical novels are precisely the kinds of original, creative works that this copyright policy promotes.

Although it may be common in academic circles to meticulously footnote every source and provide citations or bibliographies, even though not required by copyright law, such a practice is virtually unheard of for a popular novel aimed at the consumer market.

All credit due to Jane of Dear Author for ferreting out (black-footed or otherwise) the appropriate Signet representative to write to and forwarding the statement to us when she got a response.

Candy says: Here’s a refresher on what constitutes plagiarism and what constitutes copyright infringement. Here it is again in brief:

Plagiarism and copyright infringement sometimes intersect, but not always. The most famous cases we’ve seen–Janet Dailey’s plagiarism of Nora Roberts’ work, for example–do. But it’s entirely possible to plagiarize without infringing on a copyright; all that’s required is copying huge chunks of a work without attribution and passing it off as your own original efforts. If the work has passed into the public domain, or if it isn’t copyrighted, there’s no copyright infringement. It’s also possible to infringe on somebody’s copyright without plagiarizing–if somebody making a movie decides to use a piece of copyrighted music without clearing the rights with the publisher first but acknowledge the musician in the credits, they’ve infringed on a copyright but they haven’t plagiarized.

In short: plagiarism is an ethical issue. It’s concerned with what’s right and what’s not. Copyright infringement is a legal action, and is a way for somebody whose works have been infringed to say “Bitch where my money?” It’s concerned with what’s legal and what’s not.

And that’s all I’m going to say for now.

Sarah says: I’m not qualified or even interested in the legality of the situation, or whether something is within fair-use doctrines. Not a lawyer. Not even in law school.

But I do want to make it explicitly clear that on terms of ethical use, I disagree with Signet and the idea that she’s done nothing wrong.

I’m certainly not a copyright lawyer, and questions of law are not my point. My issue is the ethics of it. Further, I think the ethics of the question are much more important than the legalities. There are a lot of things that can get you failed in English class or fired from a newspaper that are not against the law.

And the idea that she’s done nothing wrong from an ethical stance? Horsepucky. She’s done plenty wrong in my book.

I don’t buy Janet Dailey’s books past or present for that reason. I don’t check them out of the library or read them used. It’s an ethical distinction on my part: as a consumer, I can vote with my wallet. As a reader I can vote with my choices. As a blogger, I can write my opinion. In my opinion, Cassie Edwards’ use of at least 6 documented sources verbatim without attribution or acknowledgment is ethically wrong. It would have been so simple and appropriate to place an acknowledgment at the back of her book. “For more information about the Lakota Indians, I heartily recommend….”

So, let me ask you your opinion, if you haven’t already stated it. From an ethical standpoint, where do you draw the line? Are the usage of passages in Edwards’ books acceptable from an ethical standpoint or not? If you’re a reader or a writer, what do you think?