Saturday, April 29, 2006

Boston Globe on plagiarism by Viswanathan

The Globe article begins:

Hovering over the controversy around Kaavya Viswanathan's plagiarism-riddled novel is the $500,000 question: How could a publisher risk all that money on a 17-year-old who had only a bare concept and had never written a book?

The answer just might be found on the copyright page of "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life." There it says: "Copyright 2006 by Alloy Entertainment and Kaavya Viswanathan."

The article notes:

Viswanathan received much attention for her novel even before the allegations of plagiarism arose, not only because of her age but because of the unusually large advance she got -- reported to be $500,000 for two books -- and because of the relationship with Alloy. In addition, the high-powered William Morris talent and literary agency represented both the author and the book packager in the deal with Little, Brown. Normally a literary agent represents the author, period. But in this case the Morris agency also represented Alloy, which it has worked with on other "teen-lit" books." "We represent both parties, because their interests are aligned," Jennifer Rudolph Walsh, a fiction agent with the Morris agency, said in a telephone interview. "It's collaborative. We represent the project."

One notes some relevance to the New York Times op-ed by Michael Crichton on March 19, which included text:

I wanted to end this essay by telling a story about how current rulings hurt us, but the patent for "ending an essay with an anecdote" is owned. So I thought to end with a quotation from a famous person, but that strategy is patented, too. I then decided to end abruptly, but "abrupt ending for dramatic effect" is also patented. Finally, I decided to pay the "end with summary" patent fee, since it was the least expensive.

In the real world, as opposed to Crichton's imaginary one, authors such as Viswanathan or Laurence Tribe borrow freely from previously-written works, and there is little if any penalty. In the case of Viswanathan, plagiarism was caught not by sophisticated anti-plagiarism software, frequently advertised on the internet, or by the copyright "police," but rather by customers (ie, book buyers) who noticed the similarities.


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