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12 January 2008 @ 08:32 am
History Repeats Itself—Literally  
I have been following the Cassie Edwards brouhaha with interest via GalleyCat and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. Edwards is a writer of nearly 100 historical novels who has allegedly lifted descriptive passages from earlier works by others to reuse in her own books with little change and no attribution. Edwards has stated that that she didn't know she was supposed to credit such sources, telling the Associated Press that "When you write historical romances, you're not asked to do that."

The last time this sort of thing came up in the romance field was when Janet Dailey plagiarized the work of Nora Roberts. In that case, Dailey eventually apologized, blaming it on "a psychological problem that I never even suspected I had ... I have already begun treatment for the disorder and have been assured that, with treatment, this behavior can be prevented in the future."

Plagiarism has happened in SF, fantasy, and horror as well. A few decades ago, Elsevier-Nelson was scammed by a plagiarist who copied out an entire Gardner Fox novel word for word and got it published by them under his own name. A university student submitted stories I'd originally published by Jeffrey Carver and Resa Nelson in Science Fiction Age as her own, and was found out—though as far as I know those were never submitted for publication, just to pass a class. Then there was the Craig Strete/Ron Montana contretemps, which seems to have been more an issue of an attempted collaboration gone bad than an actual plagiarism, and the time two sisters plagiarized Dean Koontz (though in that instance I'm leaving out their names because I don't believe that in the end that the sisters were found equally culpable).

I can't remember any other cases. And I can't recall any exactly like the Edwards situation, in which passages from earlier stories were incorporated without attribution in a new tale, and then professionally published. Any reason why we don't hear more of this? I'd like to think that it's because SF editors have been better gatekeepers over the years, and have spotted and winnowed out the plagiarisms before they ever got published. But surely it can't be as simple as that. Anyone have any other theories?

Meanwhile, remember the words of Paul Gauguin, who wrote, "Art is either plagiarism or revolution."

Choose wisely.
karen_w_newtonkaren_w_newton on January 12th, 2008 07:22 pm (UTC)
Interesting. Maybe science fiction is enough of a virtual small town that plagiarism is spotted early on.

When I used to belong to the Online Writing Workshop some people asked me if I was worried that someone would steal my chapters. But it always seemed to me that a plagiarist would never steal something that was unpublished. Cheaters go for the sure thing.

Edited at 2008-01-12 07:22 pm (UTC)
ellen datlowellen_datlow on January 12th, 2008 09:24 pm (UTC)
A woman plagiarized a story by Chet Williamson that I had originally published in Blood is Not Enough.
scottedelmanscottedelman on January 12th, 2008 09:33 pm (UTC)
And did you only find this out after she got it published? Or was she found out in the slush pile by an eagle-eyed editor?
ellen datlowellen_datlow on January 12th, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC)
She was stupid enough to submit it to ME! I found it.
scottedelmanscottedelman on January 12th, 2008 10:09 pm (UTC)
HAH! I'd love to have read that rejection letter! Did she ever respond to it?
ellen datlowellen_datlow on January 12th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)
Oh yes. I contacted Chet and he send her a nasty letter threatening her with a lawsuit if she didn't withdraw the mss from circulation. She denied having read the story but the paragraph comparison between her story and his was damning.
ellen datlowellen_datlow on January 12th, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC)
I have a file on the incident. She regularly attends at least one convention and seems to have some writing credits, but none recently.
scottedelmanscottedelman on January 12th, 2008 10:30 pm (UTC)
ellen datlowellen_datlow on January 12th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
I saw that but if you actually go to the 2008 guest list it doesn't say who will be there. That's actually an old list.
scottedelmanscottedelman on January 12th, 2008 10:26 pm (UTC)
A Google search of "Chet Williamson plagiarism" turns up the whole sorry story in a back issue of Ansible.
(Anonymous) on January 12th, 2008 10:51 pm (UTC)
Wow! I guess the small town is Peyton Place.
~twilight~_twilight_ on January 12th, 2008 11:14 pm (UTC)
Whole passages is flat-out plagiarism. A sentence here and there could be unintentional, and due to there only being so many ways to phrase historical events like, "The battle of blank began in month of year, and pitted general blank against general blanketyblank."

John Crowleycrowleycrow on January 13th, 2008 02:08 am (UTC)
Science fiction plagiarism works the other way: earlier authors plagiarize the sentences and plots of later authors. In my own case, I wrote a story about aliens invading earth, and when I went to look, I found that hundreds of earlier authors had copied details and whole notions directly from it.

I don't quite understand your first post -- did Cassie copy form HER OWN early works, or those of others? If the latter, they would by definition have to be earlier, no? Or do you mean "Earlier instances of boilerplate description findable in any HR but in this case too exactly like them"?
scottedelmanscottedelman on January 13th, 2008 02:42 am (UTC)
Sorry that I was unclear—she was using the words of others, with minor tweaks. Specific examples can be found here.
RealThogrealthog on January 14th, 2008 12:40 am (UTC)
I read comparative passages on a different site (can't now remember why) that was eager to convict Edwards and, yes, though it was obvious where she'd been rootling around for her research, I thought she was less guilty than she's being painted. Much of her "sin" is obviously bad note-taking -- working with an out-of-copyright source, she's been less careful than she should have been about some of the wording.

When researching my book Corrupted Science (2007 -- Rush Out 'n' Buy, dammit!) I came across a case where a historian of science in one area had certainly plagiarized a historian of science in another: whole strings of paragraphs were identical except for the rare change one of the authors' copyeditors had made -- rare because, obviously, the plagiarized material had already been copyedited. I wondered if I should report this to the authorities, as it were, but decided it'd be pissy to do so: they were both good books in their different ways, and probably the plagiarizing author wasn't getting rich from his. Again, I think it was a matter of bad note-taking -- in this case by one of the 2nd author's assistants.

A year or two I did discover that a book I'd commissioned and published back in the 1970s, The Last of the Tasmanians by David Davies, had been largely plagiarized from a 19th-century book. Um, at the time, how could we have known?
scottedelmanscottedelman on January 14th, 2008 01:10 am (UTC)
working with an out-of-copyright source

Actually, not all of her sources were out of copyright. She evidently took passages from The Fatal Shore and other in-copyright sources.
RealThogrealthog on January 14th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
"Actually, not all of her sources were out of copyright. She evidently took passages from The Fatal Shore and other in-copyright sources."

Yeah, but, whatever. She wasn't ripping off the latest Nora Roberts bestsellers or suchlike: she was working from stuff that was mostly (a) old and (b) supposedly nonfiction.
scottedelmanscottedelman on January 15th, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
Update: Cassie Edwards Also Relied Upon Pulitzer-Winning Fiction
Shalanna: mu-cowshalanna on January 30th, 2008 10:57 am (UTC)
Yesterday's news, now forgotten
The distressing part of all this is that no one seems to care much any more--mostly lately I've seen people saying that the "Smart B*es" should get a life and shouldn't be cataloguing the parallel passages, and that they must be jealous, and so forth. The only time I've seen a house actually cancel a book because of plagiarism was that sad deal a year or so ago with the young girl who'd copied from three books by the same author . . . and that author managed to raise a stink. Nora Roberts mentioned her own problem and said, "I made a fuss, and see where it got me." (Dailey, her plagiarist, is still being published and still has fans.) Does it depend on how the books that have the stolen material in them are selling . . . is that how people decide which plagiarism is important and which is to be ignored? *gallows laugh*

I don't see plagiarism being taken too seriously by readers. Maybe this is because they think we just crank this stuff out. I invite scoffers to turn the crank and see if what comes out is anything but sausage. . . . *GRIN*
scottedelmanscottedelman on January 30th, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC)
Re: Yesterday's news, now forgotten
Not everyone forgets. I know a horror writer who was shunned by her peers for years because of it. I also know someone who buys Janet Dailey books whenever she sees them at garage sales and (skip ahead, ye who consider all books sacred) destroys them, so that no one else will read them again. And another person who has gone to local libraries to fill out forms requesting that Carrie Edwards books be removed from circulation.

The ones who really don't care, from what I've been told by those more knowledgeable in the romance field, are the readers of Cassie Edwards, because they supposedly already show they have no taste just by being willing to read her!