Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Fine, I Give Up!

So, I wasn’t going to venture into the fracas about Kaavya Viswanathan and the Novel that Ate New York Publishing. But as more and more allegations surfaced this week, I found some disturbing posts on some of the blogs I frequent across the Internet. Most bloggers are united in their disgust with Viswanathan for plagiarizing, with the industry for saddling a seventeen-year-old kid with the pressure that comes with a $500K deal and with the media for eating this up like a fresh pint of Chubby Hubby. I sympathize with all those concerns, and have ceased to be surprised at the new developments that come out of the case.

What concerns me, however, is the comments being made in response to some of the blog entries. More than one reader responded with weariness about the issue, and a few even wondered aloud whether there weren’t more important topics to tackle. Short answer: on a writing-centered blog? Nope.

Plagiarism is theft, plain and simple. Writers make their living by honing and selling their plots, characters and voices. For any plagiarizer to “lift” story elements, scenes or even just voice-related things like a nicely-turned phrase or character description is to infringe on that tiny spot one particular writer has carved for himself in the bookshelves of stores and readers. Forget the legal ramifications—which are serious enough on their own—morally, plagiarism is a slap in the f ace to every other writer on the planet. Readers should be insulted as well; a plagiarizer is hoping you will spend your money on a book that is merely a copy of one you may have liked before. Any instance of plagiarism, great or small, should be an affront to writers and readers alike.

Hopefully, the Viswanathan case, as well as the case of Raytheon CEO William Swanson (which would be big news if business books sold like women’s fiction), will serve as warning lights about the publishing industry. As writers, we need to be aware that intellectual theft is a threat. As readers, we should be as vigilant as the fans who blew the whistle on these and other cases and hold writers and publishers accountable for what they sell. Without help from all the parties that make the literary industry work, this kind of scandal will run rampant.


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