View Full Version : Hypothetical Plagiarism Question

04-10-2010, 07:23 AM
** First let me start this off by stressing the "hypothetical" part of the title. As far as I know this is not happening and has not happened. **

With all of the discussions and questions I've seen on here about people who worry their ideas will be "stolen" by someone else - especially those who post tidbits on their blogs or websites - I wonder what would happen with a true case of plagiarism.

Assume someone had a book that they were posting to a blog, or something like fictionpress, where the story comes out a chapter at a time. The story doesn't get many hits, but is well written. Another writer takes the story almost word for word and gets it published with a new title, and maybe new character names. The book makes it to the shelves and is at least a moderate success.

The original would still be available online to be read; it would be dated for when the original was posted, so what would happen if the copy actually made it to print?

I assume the plagiarist would have to pay back the money advanced, but what about the book? Would the publisher try and get the original author to sign for it? Or would they cut their losses and kill the book all together?

(Okay, so I forgot this DID happen once with FFn. Some kid got someone else's Highlander fanfic published with new character names and it was recognized by a reader, but I still don't know what happened with the book.)

04-10-2010, 04:13 PM
The plagiarist would most probably be in breach of contract as there is usually a clause in the contract where the author certifies that the manuscript is their own work.
What would be publisher do? Mostly likely that would be determined by how well the book was selling; if it was only moderately then they might well bury it

04-10-2010, 07:53 PM
Would the stigma of the event prevent the original author from publishing other works with that publisher, though?

04-11-2010, 12:15 AM
Ok, if plagarism can be proven, and I'm assuming here that it can, then the theif is finacially liable. The original writer would have their lawyers issue a cease and desist order, and then the evidence would be considered.

If foun guilty the thief then the thief will have all copies pulled from shelves, they will most liekyl be dropped by publisher and agent, they will probably have to pay a considerabel amount in damages also.

04-11-2010, 12:18 AM
When it happened with Harlequin books several years ago, the plagarized books were pulled from the shelves and production. What the company did with them, I don't know.

When Janet Dailey admitted to plagarizing Nora Roberts (I think it was at least 5-10 books worth), those books were also pulled from the shelves and, to my knowledge, have not been reprinted now that she's returned to publishing.

Does that help?

04-11-2010, 12:28 AM
So I'm assuming that the original writer would have little to no hope of getting the stories published under his/her name. That's the question I'm trying to answer and I don't know what answer to give.

04-11-2010, 01:48 AM
So I'm assuming that the original writer would have little to no hope of getting the stories published under his/her name. That's the question I'm trying to answer and I don't know what answer to give.

it all depends. i don't know of anyone who's beenin that situation who hasn't already been published when the plagarism took place

04-11-2010, 02:14 AM
Plagiarism isn't easy to prove. It isn't enough to say you wrote something first, even showing a time-stamp if it was "published" on the Internet before a print edition came out under someone else's name.

Because really similar books are published all the time, there's a heavy burden of proof before a court declares that plagiarism has taken place. If it goes to court, it takes years.

If, on the other hand, a confronted plagiarist admits to what they've done immediately (good luck with that; plagiarists tend to have excuses and reasons out the ying yang, such as Dailey's excuse of an unnamed mental illness), and the publisher pulls the book, then the actual author might have a chance of publishing their work.

I'd guess the odds are against them, though, if only because of the sheer messiness of the situation and the fact that the work in question -- even the original -- would likely bear the taint of plagiarism.

Even today, there are readers who believe Nora plagiarized Janet rather than the other way around.

04-11-2010, 03:06 AM
In my case, the (ahem) case was settled quietly and out of court. It has no derogatory effect on my (the victim's) career at all. If it had been more public, the plagiarist would probably have an extremely difficult time getting future work; I've chosen to leave it to karma to sort that out. People in the biz do know what happened, and word does have a way of getting around. (shrugs)

04-11-2010, 03:10 AM
I don't think I've heard a peep out of Cassie Edwards since the...erm...ferret incident.

04-11-2010, 04:11 AM
Thanks for the answers. I'll go with "Maybe, maybe not. It all depends."

04-11-2010, 05:09 AM
Yes, it all depends.

About eight years ago there was a "new star" author in a niche subgenre whose first few books were considered quite good -- until a reader figured out (and posted on Amazon) that the books were plagiarised from a Very Big Name. All the books were pulled, the case went to court, and the publisher who unwittingly published the plagiarised material was in severe financial difficulties afterwards, but the outcome and the identity of the plagiarist were not made public. The plagiarist has, I'm told, gone on to publish in that niche subgenre under another pseudonym.

04-11-2010, 01:06 PM
there was the Kaavya Viswanathan last year where she was found guilty of plagarising megan mccaffery among others.

her books were pulled, contracts cancelled etc, and she was dropped by publisher and agent.

I would say that the theif in a plagarism case will have a very hard time getting published again.

04-11-2010, 02:09 PM
This is a bit off topic (although still related), but can I ask a (possibly stupid) question?
If a book has a very similar concept to another book, is that plagiarism, or just lack of originality?

04-11-2010, 02:51 PM
This is a bit off topic (although still related), but can I ask a (possibly stupid) question?
If a book has a very similar concept to another book, is that plagiarism, or just lack of originality?

You can't copyright ideas, only the execution of them -- that is, the words written down. So a 'similar concept' isn't plagiarism. And since there really aren't any new ideas, you can't even automatically call it lack of originality, either. :)

04-11-2010, 02:54 PM
I was curious about the authors mentioned and looked up Kaavya Viswantha's books wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_Opal_Mehta_Got_Kissed,_Got_Wild,_and_Got_a_Lif e).

At the bottom they do comparisons between her work and McCaffreys.

I think it might help with ideas of what plagarism looks like.

For example

McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings
Sloppy Firsts, 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 Opal Mehta
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 got on."

EDIT: in academia there are a number of programmes used in assessing thesis/essays that can detect plagarism. I wonder if there is something similarly available for fiction? So people can check (just in case - some very random occurance happens)

04-11-2010, 03:41 PM
Or for an even more egregious example, see my post on another thread about this topic:


04-11-2010, 03:49 PM
My husband teaches an online college course as a second job. When he gets papers, he likes to google any unusual phrases -- he doesn't even need a special program. He gets tons of plagiarizers that way. The first semester he taught he was *shocked* when he discovered plagiarism, but it's happened so much that he's just used to taking precautions now.

Most plagiarizers are lazy, so at least in college, they tend to use readily available online sources and just copy them verbatim. I think it would be harder to catch someone who copied, say, an out of print book, or a manuscript that wasn't searchable online. Harder, but not impossible. I can't imagine why you'd do it -- just think of going through all the joys of getting published but with that axe hanging over your head.

04-11-2010, 04:25 PM
It was part of my job as an teacher's assistant when I was in school to check for plagiarism. I was just supposed to pick a particular sentence that was a bit unusual and type it into a search engine. Actually caught one, too. And like Brooklyn says, the person was so lazy it was a word for word copy/paste from a website.

04-11-2010, 04:30 PM
Well the programme used for us, allowed us to upload our thesis up onto a website. It then gave you a % of plagarism etc. problem was it picked up on alot of common words/phrases too, and of course quotations (which had citations etc.) but I imagine if you had a very high % there would be an issue. BUT

As with search engines, no plagiarism can be detected unless the corpus contains the documents from which the suspect has copied. (Wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism_detection))