Elizabeth: Haven’t I Read That Before?

Image courtesy of http://www.keble.ox.ac.uk

It was a busy day in Romancelandia today and not in a good way.  If you spent any time on social media recently you’ve probably seen the stories by now.  A Brazilian romance author who had a book entered in this year’s RWA RITA contest, appears to have engaged in some very blatant plagiarism.  I got wind of the story by way of Courtney Milan’s blog at lunchtime and by the end of the day, the list of authors whose work was thought to have been plagiarized read like a Who’s Who of Romance – Courtney Milan Tessa Dare, Bella Andre, Loretta Chase, Victoria Alexander, Nora Roberts – just to name a few.

It was disheartening to read posts from the various authors who were impacted, describing how it felt to see bits and pieces of the stories they’d put their whole heart and soul into writing, being passed off as the work of someone else.

The author, when confronted with the accusations, gave the equivalent of a “the dog ate my homework” excuse, saying “the ghostwriter did it.”  That didn’t fly with anyone, including the understandably outraged ghostwriting community.

It’s a horrible situation, but I did see some positives today.

  • First off, RWA responded quickly, not only removing the author’s entry from the RITA contest, but also re-assigning all of the novels she was slated to judge. Additionally, RWA has an ethics claim process, which is in progress.  Ironically, Courtney Milan is the RWA Ethics Committee chair – what are the odds?  She has recused herself completely from the process.
  • Some (if not all) of the books identified as potentially containing plagiarism were apparently removed from Amazon.  Most online booksellers appear to have processes to initiate the take-down of items that violate copyright, including Amazon’s quite clear – “Do you believe that this item violates a copyright? Click here” link.
  • Fans were livid on behalf of their favorite authors and pitched in to locate additional potentially plagiarized text, posting example after example on Twitter.
  • There was humor, in the midst of the dismay, like Tessa Dare’s tweet, “Well, this is embarrassing. I am 95% sure this was lifted from my books, but I don’t know where or in which one. Geez.”  Fortunately, her fans quickly came to the rescue.
  • Fans also took to Goodreads to highlight the potential plagiarism with notes like, “This story has been plagiarized from The Duchess War by Courtney Milan.” and “No thanks– I’ve already read The Duchess War“.
  • A bright spot in whole mess has been an uptick in interest in books by the impacted authors.  Probably not quite they way they would have liked to attract new readers but still, something positive.

This whole incident is a reminder that an author’s work isn’t done once a story is finished and published.  Pirated copies of books, appearing on random sites have been a problem for years – probably since soon after the first eBook was published.  Plagiarism too has been around for ages as well – probably shortly after the first high-school term paper was assigned.

So, along with writing, marketing, publishing, and keeping an eye out for pirated copies of their books, it appears that today’s authors need to keep an eye out for their own words staring back at them from the pages of someone else’s latest book.  While this is undoubtedly the exception, not the rule, it is still unacceptable.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ve got a copy of The Duchess War in my TBR pile.  I find I’m suddenly in the mood to read it.

12 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Haven’t I Read That Before?

  1. This is good to know, and unfortunately not surprising. My partner teaches at college and says half the assignments handed in are plagiarized. Cut and paste from wiki and other places… It starts early. Sigh.

    • Sadly, I know that is true. The internet is a wonderful thing, but it has made it much easier to cut-and-paste the work of others than it was back in the look-things-up-in-physical-books-in-the-library days. Of course personal ethics play a role too.

  2. What worries me is that many writers who AREN’T published yet may have their works plagiarized, because they give them to beta readers, enter them in contests, etc. It isn’t enough that published authors keep track of their work…unpublished authors need to, as well.

      • Well, now it seems that some of the ghost writers have outreached Courtney Milan and told her that they were given a bunch of scenes that needed to be “pulled together“ and made into a decent book. The plot thickens, and it looks like the plagiarizer is throwing the ghostwriters under the bus.

  3. Remember the case a long time ago when Janet Daily plagiarized Nora Roberts? There was a big stink, in part I think because Janet Daily countersued, or claimed, anyway, that Nora had plagiarized her. So there in the courtroom were people reading long passes of Nora’s books, the idea of which I really enjoyed. My point, however, is that a reader detected that plagiarism, too. You’d think plagiarizing people would know by now—romance readers read a lot. They’ll find you out, eventually.

    I wonder if the Fivrr ghostwriter was to write transitions, or something? It’s hard to imagine how randomly copied passages pasted together could be nominated for a RITA without some kind of connecting verbiage.

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