You know that we’re not about bashing other authors here. But the developing scandal over one novelist’s work and her extensive “borrowing” of large amounts of others’ texts does make one take notice.

In a nutshell: historical romance author Cassie Edwards has been accused of plagiarism.  She hasn’t plagiarized another novelist’s plot, prose, or dialogue.  She’s accused of lifting, verbatim, from non-fiction references and research. 

[Form your own opinion by viewing the evidence on the Smart Bitches site–Part 1 HERE, Part 2 HERE, Part 3 HERE, Part 4 HERE, and Part 5 HERE.]

As a blog about the craft and business of genre fiction, we can’t ignore this issue. And we definitely had to say something once Signet, Edwards’ publisher, came through with a response. This, from the Smart Bitches site:

Signet takes plagiarism seriously, and would act swiftly were there justification for such allegations against one of its authors. But in this case Ms. Edwards has done nothing wrong. 

The copyright fair-use doctrine permits reasonable borrowing and paraphrasing of another author’s words, especially for the purpose of creating something new and original. Also, anyone may use facts, ideas and theories developed by another author, as well as any material in the public domain. Ms. Edwards’s researched historical novels are precisely the kinds of original, creative works that this copyright policy promotes.

Although it may be common in academic circles to meticulously footnote every source and provide citations or bibliographies, even though not required by copyright law, such a practice is virtually unheard of for a popular novel aimed at the consumer market.

Fair use? Let’s refresh ourselves. What exactly is plagiarism? This from Dictionary.com:

pla·gia·rism /ˈpleɪdʒəˌrɪzəm, -dʒiəˌrɪz-/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[pley-juh-riz-uhm, -jee-uh-riz-]
–noun
1. the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work.
2. something used and represented in this manner. 

These are important things for all of us to consider. What are publishers saying to writers if they allow such large chunks of others’ works to be used, word for word, sentence for sentence, without credit? Isn’t Signet, in essence, attempting to change the very definition of plagiarism?

Jane at Dear Author wrote a compelling letter to both the CEO and President of Penguin-Putnam and has encouraged us to do the same. If after reading through the sources, you feel strongly about sending a letter as well, here are the email addresses you’ll need. These, taken from Gerard Jones’s comprehensive Anyone Who’s Anyone site:

David Shanks, CEO, Penguin-Putnam, Inc.
david.shanks

Susan Peterson Kennedy, President, Penguin-Putnam, Inc.
susan.kennedy

Oh, and look: the AP is aware of this now and offers a statement from the author in their article. Read it HERE.

Thoughts? Chime in.

-posted by WU Mamas, Therese and Kathleen

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Writer Unboxed began as a collaboration between aspiring novelists Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton in January, 2006. Since then the site has grown to include ~40 regular contributors--including bestselling authors and industry leaders--and frequent guests. You can follow Writer Unboxed on Twitter, or join our thriving Facebook community.