Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Another Copyright Issue

Patty on the OryCon listserv shared the link to this new controversy. A popular romance writer has been including passages from other works, most non-fiction and part of her research, in her books.

There is an excellent article in Newsweek by one of the authors used in the romance book. And the ladies at the Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books blog, who made the discovery, have a whole running series on their blog. They have posted a response by one of the researchers of the article quoted, which is a different take on the controversy, very classy and upbeat. Kudos to him and the author of the article. But the publisher response to the controversy is still a bit disturbing to me. And here's why.

One of the first discussions we have in a college English class is on plagiarism. And the main point of that discussion is if it isn't your words and your thoughts, quote and cite. The idea of not having to cite source material in a historical novel is ludicrous to me. Not that I'd expect footnotes, but at least a nod toward the source material that served research material is polite to those authors and gives them their due credit. But lifting whole passages from source material--that, to me, and by the very definition we used in college (and that would get you an immediate expulsion from the class and placed on probation) is plagiarism.

Maybe I'm too sensitive about it. It has been drilled into my head by seven years of repetition in each class at the beginning of a semester and then repeating it myself when I was teaching. And now, as a writer focusing more and more on historical stories, I have learned how to integrate research into my prose in my own words and language.

What this author has done is a bad forming of paraphrasing, and under the definition I've worked with on plagiarism, paraphrasing without citing source material is still plagiarism. Paraphrasing, just like quoted passages, must be acknowledged. It isn't the author's original idea. It is another author's. Serving as inspiration is one thing. Serving as parts of a new text is something else entirely.

I guess I'll always flinch when it comes to the concept of plagiarism. Too many years held under a severe punishment if it ever happened. And to me, it's a question of ethics. I want my stories to be all my words, not another author's. As for citing my resources, gladly, happily, and enthusiastically. I love to share my inspiration and the brilliance of others. One of my favorite things about writing historical fiction is the chance to read non-fiction sources and share them with others.

BTW, just got an awesome book on Victorian home life called Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders. I love researching!

PS, Kami, you've read one of the author's books. Does Savage Moon ring any bells?

UPDATE: Looks like the publisher is taking this more seriously than they first acknowledged. But what I find even more amazing is the amount of discussion this is generating between blogs with readers and writers. And I love how the black-footed ferret is getting some well-deserved help because of it all. I didn't realize you could adopt a wild ferret. Guess what TC is getting for St. Valentine's Day.


Kami said...

I started to reply, but now I totally have to blog about this. Good-ness, what was she thinking?

I guess she wasn't.

Carissa said...

Yeah, I was moved to blog, too, obviously. Moving over to your blog to read more . . .