Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Breaking News: Plagiarism, Still Bad

I like the Smart Bitches blog a lot, but I am getting a little tired of statements like: "But the reaction never changes. Within the community of writers, some bring up the issue as a matter of educational opportunity; others wish we’d stop talking about it already ... the lack of an effective reaction to the plagiarism itself is frustrating."

I am happy to talk about plagiarism, but how about discussing something to do about it other than go to talks where it will be explained to us in words of two syllables or less (it's stealing words; it's bad; really, really bad.)

Plagiarism happens. Various people catch plagiarists. Plagiarists suffer the consequences of their actions. We all support that (with the usual marginal exceptions). Many of us write letters of protest, boycott books, spread the word. Seriously, here we are with our pitchforks, loading rabid ferrets into the trebuchet.

Talking about it is fine but how about talking about doing something about it instead of talking about how people are sick of just talking about it. Yes, people will still do it. People will still be caught doing it. It will still be bad. They will still get in trouble. Like sands through the hourglass, some undergraduates and some authors will continue to plagiarise--because you can't cure stupid.

What is this reaction we are all meant to be having? For full participation a few clues might be in order. Or is it an error to take independent action rather than mobilise as an orange-jumpsuited minion (and go listen to people's talks).

See also:
So, what shall we do about plagiarism?


Humans. Cats. Boat. said...

"loading rabid ferrets into the trebuchet"

That's the funniest thing I've heard in months. Man, that was good.

Mrs Giggles talks about this, too, on her blog. And I can’t help but wonder as well: what else can be done? I’m not talking about “showing support”. I don’t think victims of plagiarism want or care about people speaking out. I imagine what they do care about is concrete steps. Penalties, I guess. When someone steals from us, we want them to be punished (because going after them with a staple gun is illegal...alas). I can’t speak for them, of course, and can only imagine the horror of seeing one’s written words, one’s expressed thoughts, spoken by another. Stolen and taken as theirs. The fuckers.

Still, I’m not sure panels at conventions are the answer (although SB Sarah and Nora Roberts in one room would be something I’d love to experience!). Sensitization is one thing, but plagiarism is *stealing*, and the people who matter know it’s wrong. Just like a lock is meant to stop an honest person, panels about plagiarism would only matter to those who’d never steal someone’s words. Those who would, they don’t care about what anyone else says.

Hey, look at me go, posting a comment that’s more than two sentences long! Okay, back to lurking now.

Treva Harte said...

I did go to the talk they recently gave. And yes, I think nice, stiff penalties would impress on people that this is actually a problem. If people want to get behind that and organize to get more penalties imposed, that might be useful.

veinglory said...

So what agency has the authority to impose penalties, and could be reasonably expected to do so? You can sue for copyright infringement but increasing the penalties might actually make it harder rather then easier (high penalties=more lawyers for everyone).

Higher penalties might have symbolic power but I am not sure I am convinced by the the 'deterant' power of them given how few of these cases actually go to court?

As an alternative suggestion paublishers could sign up to a zero tolerance agreement. So instead of doing what many of them currently do (smalla nd large press) and just pulling or ammending the specific books, if plagiarism is demonstrated the agree to drop the author?

Treva Harte said...

I would imagine there is a no plagiarism (or some variant thereof) clause in any contract between a publisher and author. Perhaps pushing for a uniform penalty in contracts might be useful since what the publisher is can do about it probably varies. Of course no publisher wants to be liable for the author in this situation or, perhaps, be too unusual in how that publisher handles it.

Anonymous said...

I guess the guilty could always be required to embroider a big "P" on all their clothing, but the irony factor might raise a few eyebrows.

Anonymous said...

More precisely, a big scarlet "P"..

K. Z. Snow said...

Capo, this is the age of iron-on transfers.

I agree on the need for solutions rather than "support." The only way individual authors can support a stand against plagiarism is by not practicing it. Self-righteously indignant blab sans meaningful action is pointless...and, yes, tiresome.

kirsten saell said...

I would imagine there is a no plagiarism (or some variant thereof) clause in any contract between a publisher and author."4. Warranty: A. The Author represents and warrants to the Publisher that: (i) the Work is not in the public domain; (ii) the
Author is the sole proprietor of the Work and has full power, free of any rights of any nature whatsoever in any one
that might interfere therewith, to enter into this Agreement and to grant the rights hereby conveyed to the Publisher;
(iii) the Work has not heretofore been published in whole or in part; (iv) the Work does not, and if published will
not, infringe upon any proprietary right at common law, or any statutory copyright, or trademark right, or any other
right whatsoever;

Item iv would apply to plagiarized material that infringes copyright, and item iii could certainly be construed to apply to lengthy passages grabbed from works in the public domain, couldn't it? If not, I imagine the wording could be altered to even more specifically fit the bill.

The problem is that the only legal repercussions for the author rely on the publisher actually wanting to do something about it.

If it's a newb writer like Viswanathan, and they can get the advance back and recoup their losses, yeah, they'll do it--and have. They're not about to throw good money after bad publishing a first book with all that embarrassing press.

But if it's a bestselling author with dozens of titles earning for the publisher, they're not going to drop them so easily. Pressure has to be put on the publishers before they'll put pressure on the Janet Daileys and Cassie Edwardses.