Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Plagiarize... let no one else's work evade your eyes...

Lest I fall into the trap, let me attribute the title of this post where it belongs: it's a line from a song by Tom Lehrer.

Here's the story: a hot new author, only 19 years old and a Harvard sophomore, is in hot water.

Update 2: Young Author Admits Borrowing Passages

A Harvard University sophomore with a highly publicized first novel acknowledged Monday that she had borrowed material, accidentally, from another author's work and promised to change her book for future editions.

Kaavya Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," published in March by Little, Brown and Company, was the first of a two-book deal reportedly worth six figures. But on Sunday, the Harvard Crimson cited seven passages in Viswanathan's book that closely resemble the style and language of the novels of Megan McCafferty.

"When I was in high school, I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, 'Sloppy Firsts' and 'Second Helpings,' which spoke to me in a way few other books did. Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel ... and passages in these books," Viswanathan, 19, said in a statement issued by her publisher.

"While the central stories of my book and hers are completely different, I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious. My publisher and I plan to revise my novel for future printings to eliminate any inappropriate similarities.

"I sincerely apologize to Megan McCafferty and to any who feel they have been misled by these unintentional errors on my part."

The book had a first printing of 100,000 copies.

Viswanathan, who was 17 when she signed her contract with Little, Brown, is the youngest author signed by the publisher in decades. DreamWorks has already acquired the movie rights to her first book.


dairy diva said...

That is awful that she is tainted now. I hope they fix it and her books still sell.
But I am now curious to how similar the copied parts are to Megan MacCafferty's works. Are the paragraphs similar or are they just words or is her writing style similar.
I just wonder that if her writing is similar then is that still plagiarism. I mean don't they tell us to read our favorite authors and mimick how they write. So is that plagiarism or not. Is it only plagiarizing when you copy exact words? Or are you plagiarizing when you try to mimick the writing style of your favorite authors?

Nancy Williams said...

Here's a comparison of the disputed paragraphs:

Times Online, April 25, 2006

Harvard author and novel she remember too well: extracts
The author Kaavya Viswanathan says that she accidentally borrowed sections from Sloppy Firsts, a book by Megan McCafferty, for her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. Below are the examples of similar passages in the two books

McCafferty’s novel, page 7: "Bridget is my age and lives across the street. For the first twelve years of my life, these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend. But that was before Bridget’s braces came off and her boyfriend Burke got on, before Hope and I met in our seventh grade Honors classes."

Viswanathan’s novel, page 14: "Priscilla was my age and lived two blocks away. For the first fifteen years of my life, those were the only qualifications I needed in a best friend. We had bonded over our mutual fascination with the abacus in a playgroup for gifted kids. But that was before freshman year, when Priscilla’s glasses came off, and the first in a long string of boyfriends came on."

McCafferty, page 6: "Sabrina was the brainy Angel. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or smart."

Viswanathan, page 39: "Moneypenny was the brainy female character. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: smart or pretty."

McCafferty, page 23: "Though I used to see him sometimes at Hope’s house, Marcus and I had never, ever acknowledged each other’s existence before. So I froze, not knowing whether I should (a) laugh (b) say something (c) ignore him and keep on walking."

Viswanathan, page 49: "Though I had been to school with him for the last three years, Sean Whalen and I had never acknowledged each other’s existence before. I froze, unsure of (a) what he was talking about and (b) what I was supposed to do about it."

McCafferty, page 68: "Tanning was the closest that Sara came to having a hobby, other than gossiping, that is. Even the webbing between her fingers was the color of coffee without cream. Even for someone with her Italian heritage and dark coloring, it was unnatural and alienlike."

Viswanathan, page 48: "It was obvious that next to casual hookups, tanning was her extracurricular activity of choice. Every visible inch of skin matched the color and texture of her Louis Vuitton backpack. Even combined with her dark hair and Italian heritage, she looked deep-fried."

tyandnan said...

It looks from the posted material that she had a little more involvement with McCafferty's novels than she admits. Some of the passages are identical in context, just in different words. I was just warned in one of my classes that this is indeed plagarism. I'm glad that they have decided to change the content of those passages in Viswanathan's book, but it does tarnish her reputation as far as I'm concerned. That's sad to say, but that's how it is. If she plagarized somebody's work, even inadvertantly, what's to say that the rest of her writing won't have the same problems? I think that plagarism is as damaging as blatantly lying in the media. Stephen Glass lost his prestiege, and I believe that this author will suffer for this act, weather intended or not, for a few years to come. Everybody is going to be reading her books looking for plagarism. I wouldn't want that on my head. I'm surprised, however, that such plagarism was found so far along in the game. Aren't editors and publishers supposed to take careful consideration of such things? I know when I worked as a poetry judge we had to label anything that was suspicious so that others could look into it. I hope that major publishing companies do the same.

Moulton said...

The NY Times has a front page link to a story saying that the publisher has now withdrawn the book.

Fence Sitter said...

I always wonder how stuff like this happens. As a writer myself, I understand how writing styles can develop from other places. I have taken in a lot of other people's works, some that I really like and some that I only moderatly enjoy. But the combination of several styles eventually turned into my very own unique voice, something unlike anyone elses. I wonder if something like that could have happened in this situation if she would have waited a little longer and clearly developed a unique style. She isn't that old. Her book would still be just as impressive a few years from now, at least I think so.
Plagarism is taken so serviously these days, everything is looked at very meticulously. You have to be careful and if you're not, this kind of thing is bound to happen.

bekah said...

In my media law class, I learned that the infringement of copyright comes with not what is said, but how it is expressed. The passages say the same thing as well as use almost the exact same language. I don't think there's any way possible that the author didn't know she was using someone else's work. In my opinion, there's no way those passages could be so similar without the author's direct knowledge of using the source. I can see why she pulled the book. Does anyone know if McCafferty filed a suit for copyright infringement?