When Copying is the WRONG thing to do

In an earlier post I talked about closely studying another writer's work and learning by emulating. The dark side of that advice is you must be scrupulous about not copying someone else's work. Particularly for those of you working in historical fiction, or with topics that require a lot of research, you must be vigilant about not incorporating someone else's work into your own. A well turned phrase here, a pithy description there and pretty soon, you've on the hot seat with your publisher trying to explain why you didn't know this wasn't your work.

This was brought to mind today by a news story on Media Bistro. Here's their lead
Brad Vice's short story collection, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, earned a fairly complimentary review in last Sunday's SF Chronicle. It may well be the last review the book will get, as the University of Georgia Press has announced that it is withdrawing the collection from bookstores.

Here's the link to
the story on Galley Cat

There are computer programs now that search for plagiarism. It's not all that hard to be discovered. "I didn't know" and "I didn't intend" cut no ice with a publisher. His book is toast.

Don't get jammed up in the toaster, Snarklings.


Anonymous said...

I used to teach English, and I told my students not to bother plagiarizing because I WOULD catch them. They thought I had some mysterious computer program into which I plugged all their papers. In truth, each student's voice was so easy to recognize, that I could tell when they inserted others' work. A quick trip to Google told me all. They were always so amazed. Obviously, plagiarizing in books is rarely that easy or that obvious, but I hope these kids learned early on that plagiarizing doesn't pay off.

Maya Reynolds said...

Remember the huge scandal back in 1997 when romance writer Janet Dailey admitted that she had plagiarized whole passages from fellow writer, Nora Roberts? If memory serves, they had an out-of-court settlement and Roberts donated her cash award to charity.

It was the readers who spotted the hijacked material and called Dailey on it.

Bernita said...

That is so true, Miss Snark.
Writers read a lot.
Writers with historical elements in their novels research a lot.
Writers have the tendency to latch onto a telling description with the ferocity of a lamprey eel on a plump salmon.
One of the many little demons that gibber just behind our right ear is the fear that we may have inadvertently and unconsciously imitated or lifted something from a source.
First, keep good research notes - especially if you've done some research online.
Second, go over your ms with this in mind.
As a last resort, you can always google suspect phrases and paragraphs.

Rhonda Helms said...

Teachers and professors have access to a website called something like, "turnitin.com", where they can find out if a paper is plagiarized or not.

And yes, it's often easy to tell by writing style - when you see THAT many student papers, you can learn what to expect from most students of that level, as well as learn their individual writing styles.

UGH - plagiarism is terrible. Don't do eet!

Kitty said...

Joe Klein lied about writing Primary Colors until a Vassar professor used a computer and proved that Klein was Anonymous.

Rachel Vincent said...

Accidentally plagiarizing something is one of my secret fears. Nothing big, of course. I’d know if I were taking entire passages, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. But an individual phrase that I’ve read over and over can sometimes feel like something I would write. That’s why I no longer read for fun while I’m working on a manuscript. At all. When I’m done, I’ll dive into pleasure reads for days on end. But to be safe, I don’t read while I’m writing.

Bernita said...

Exactly, Rachel,and that's not always enough.
Our family, besides having a turn for original phrase, sometimes rips a good line from some favourite writer and use it over and over as a kind of secret family language.
And you find yourself looking at a sentence you've put in a character's mouth and wonder if " a fine flow of foetid imagery" is one of theirs or from someone like Rex Stout...

Anonymous said...

Maya, ever read Aspen Gold? It's the only Janet Daily I ever read, and I chose it because of the setting. The plagiarism was so obvious, and I don't think it was all from Nora Roberts. If you find an old copy somewhere, take a look. The voice/tone changes were horrible. You'd have regular prose, dialogue, etc. and then, suddenly, entire pages of description that sounded like they came from a brochure on Colorado. Very jarring.

K said...

I feel bad for the guy. I think it's obvious he didn't do it intentionally, though that doesn't make UGA wrong for withdrawing the book from stores.

Or maybe I just sympathize with this guy because he went to my alma mater. Roll Tide!