Monday, January 21, 2008

Extinction, sex, and plagiarism

This has to be the weirdest instance of plagiarism that I've ever heard of.

I spotted this headline on NPR: "Ferret Article Allegedly Plagiarized in Romance Lit." Who wouldn't click?

Anyway, evidently the work of nature writer Paul Tolme has been spotted in the latest book by Cassie Edwards, a long-time writer of Native American romance. This was discovered by Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, a blog that reviews, well, trashy books.

The NPR story focuses on the plagiarism of Tolme's work, which he says is inserted nearly word-for-word as dialogue after the hero and heroine have *ahem* made love for the first time. The reviewers at SBWLTB (there's no way I'm typing the full blog title every time) noticed that the dialogue seemed rather stiff and scientific, which led them to discover the plagiarized source: an article Tolme wrote about black-footed ferrets.

Although the NPR story doesn't go into it, SBWLTB says that they perused four Cassie Edwards novels, finding lifted passages in all of them. The Wikipedia page on Cassie Edwards reads:

Her publisher, Signet, initially stated that they believed the passages were used under fair use and would not be considered copyright infringement. Two days later, however, Signet announced that they would be reviewing all of Edwards' books that they published to determine whether plagiarism had occurred. In an interview, Edwards said that she did not know she was supposed to credit sources, and her husband stated that Edwards gained ideas from her reference works but did not "lift passages".

Tolme says in the NPR interview, "Cut-and-paste plagiarism is pretty rampant, from what I hear, in colleges and high schools these days. It's a phenomenon of the Internet age." The problem with that analysis is that Cassie Edwards isn't some green college student, as in other recent plagiarism cases. Edwards has been writing romance novels since 1982; in other words, she ought to know better, at least in my opinion. Yet "she did not know she was supposed to credit sources"? How the #&$! does any writer get away with not knowing that?!

I actually read quite a few of her books when I first discovered the genre, back in middle school. (And yes, for the record, they definitely qualify as trashy books.) Now I'm regretting every one that I ever bought (at the tender age of 13), and wondering how much stolen content I feasted my eyes on.

Tolme is taking the entire thing graciously, to say the least. He claims he's not even angry, and seems more intent in using this opportunity to spread the word about the black-footed ferret's plight. (And he's not kidding — several minutes of that interview are filled with him discussing ferrets.)

I don't disagree with Tolme's motives. Educating the public about endangered species is important. However, so is integrity in writers.


Lori said...

A lesson for everyone (and every ferret). It sickens me to think that ANY writer would stoop to that, much less a published author. Somehow, it smashes that pedestal that we've reserved for the published crowd. It cheapens the entire industry, and sends the message to young writers that the only way to get published is to be unethical.

Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

Ignorance is not a defense. I'm sorry, but even when I was in high school I knew I had to give credit if I so much as parapharased another's ideas. How could someone possibly not know that it's wrong (illegal) to steal someone else's writing word for word? Come on!

Katharine Swan said...

Lori and Kathy,

What is so appalling to me is not only that this published author was plagiarizing, and not only that she claims she didn't know it was illegal, but that she was writing for more than 25 years!!!

She has more than 100 books on the market... Who knows how many more of those contain plagiarism?

Oh, and Kathy, I agree... Kids are taught to paraphrase and rewrite -- and credit sources -- in school, so how exactly is she claiming that she grew up not knowing this fundamental fact of life?

The entire thing just makes me so angry. And to think it took 26 years for someone to finally catch her at it!


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