The always interesting and always passionate topic of plagiarism came up over at Smart Bitches Trashy Books a few days ago. Realizing it has been one year since SBTB revealed the massive levels of plagiarism conducted by romance author Cassie Edwards, Jane over at Dear Author and SB Sarah of SBTB discussed where the issue, and the industry, are one year later.
Post-author SB Sarah wisely asks:
“Do we, as a community, believe in the need for intellectual honesty and creativity?”
To that I give a “hell yeah!” At least on a personal level, as an observer of the world around me, if “we, as a community” do believe in “intellectual honesty and creativity”, then one would assume that plagiarism wouldn’t exist — and yet it does, in ever increasing frequency. Or so the media would have us believe.
The Penguin Group, publisher of James Frey, and former publisher of Cassie Edwards, Margaret B. Jones, and now Herman Rosenblat, has been beset with authors claiming false stories as true. Rosenblat is only the most recent to sell a false memoir for many years, only to have the truth uncovered amidst a storm of media attention.
It would be easy to rant against Penguin for being so gullible, but having worked in the trade publishing industry, (and in the interest of full disclosure, I worked at Penguin from 2003-2005), it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Decisions on purchases and author contracts have to be make in seconds, thus the publisher trusts that the author is giving them what they say they are: a non-fiction book with all works cited, a work of fiction that is wholly their own, a memoir based on the author’s real life, etc…
The accountability has always been with the creator. It is up to you, as the creator, to give credit when credit is due. President Obama said it best in his inaugural address: “it is time to set aside childish things … what is required of us now is a new era of responsibility…” We are the creators, the authors of our own existence and that which we create in it. We are the only people responsible for that life. The blame is not on the publishers for failing to catch plagiarism; the blame is not on the victim of plagiarism; the blame is not on the person who cries foul and reveals the injustice. The blame is squarely on the shoulders of the person who failed to responsible and accountable for their own work.
So what are the solutions? Here are some suggestions from a publisher-turned-librarian, and avid reader:
1) Personal Responsibility. Put on your Big Girl/Big Boy panties and own up to your creative process. If something inspires you – GREAT! Use it – just don’t forget to cite it. Here’s a handy little “cheat sheet” (haha!) on plagiarism, copyright and fair use.
2) Support the victims of plagiarism and punish the purportrators. This may be tough, since there will always be those who claim plagiarism in cases when there was none, and sometimes great minds can think alike.
3) Fiction writers could cite their sources. There have been some arguments that this is impossible for fiction, but I think listing inspirational sources would be great. I read a lot of historical fiction and historical romances and am always curious where the authors found the information on class rank, clothes, and household items: right down to when having an Aubusson carpet was a sign of class to when it went out of fashion. I think this level of research and historic detail would be fascinating and I would love to know what sources authors turned to and where they added their own creative flair.
What do you think? What would you suggest?