Thursday, February 21, 2008

Plagiarism: A Romantic One,

Couple of weeks ago I heard this story on NPR and it was so interesting and funny that I wanted to post it for Valentine’s Day, but then I forgot all about it. Well the story is like this: Three years ago Paul Tolme, freelance environmental journalist, wrote an article for Defenders of Wildlife magazine about endangered black-footed ferrets in South Dakota. In 2008, parts of Tolme's article were found in a romance book written by Cassie Edwards called Shadow Bear. This so far makes it a non-romantic plagiarism: Black-footed ferrets being a subject of conversation is not so romantic.

Before this copyright scandal broke out, Cassie Edwards was famous for her historical romance novels; today if you search her name on Google, her own site which comes up first in Google says: under construction. Her name in Wikipedia comes up second with a paragraph titled Plagiarism allegations. And the third on the search is Romance Novel Reviews - Smart Bitches, *an amusingly smart website that actually discovered this plagiarism. The discovery had an interesting process; apparently a reader got curious when she came across a section in the book where the author’s tone bizarrely becomes educational and instructive. This change of writing style got more evident because it happened at the peak of the story, where the two main characters were on the edge of a lovemaking scene. It was so different that the reader decided to search for sentences from that passage in Google; She found them in Tolme’s article. After this discovery, Smart Bitches decided to check other books by Edwards, and sadly, they found out about other cases of plagiarism by Cassie Edwards. You can find the whole package at smartbitchestrashybooks.

Couple of things interests me in this plagiarism story.

1- One may not know what plagiarism exactly is but we all know about copyrights and authorship rights at least because of many movies we have seen on video or DVD. Also it is really hard to go to any collage and still be unaware of the authorship rights. And in fact it is easier to use someone else’s writings, without it being called plagiarism mostly by including the sufficient acknowledgment rather than take the original piece and hide it. Now here, we don’t have a college student, we have a best-selling author whose job is to write, whose talent, perhaps, is to be creative and who should be aware of the rules of the game. To avoid being a hypocrite, I should admit that it is not easy to flawlessly follow the rules of copyright and to avoid false attribution. But I think one should at least show that he or she has tried to follow the rules.

2- On Talk of the Nation, January 21st, where I heard the story on NPR, an issue was raised that I think deserves more attention, and that has to do with two worlds being intertwined by this plagiarism: the worlds of two groups of readers- romance novel readers and nature-science readers. I like to know more about their feedbacks. Take a look at these comments left for Paul Tolme's article on Newsweek.

3- The other thing that was smart, besides the Smart Bitches, was Paul Tolme’s reaction to the whole thing. He used the publicity and the opportunity to once more bring up the issues concerning the black-footed ferrets. As far as I know there has been no legal action taken against Cassie Edwards, yet.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, September 2007
A small population of black-footed ferrets live in this area.
I took the photo in our trip across the country. I loved the area; limitless.

*Candy and Sarah describe their website in this words: Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, all of the romance, none of the bullshit. I like their style.


jeerjeerak said...

Seeing the word "Romantic" in your title, i read on and on and i was expecting this sentence to come along any minute: "and the two authors fell in love and lived happily ever after."!!!

Interesting story, Tameshk jan:)

Tameshk said...

Jeerjeerak Joonam

I am Sorry that my title deceived you and the story disappointed you.

Certainly, it would have been more interesting if the story had ended with your sentence. But I guess these romantic endings don't often happen in real life.