Thursday, May 11, 2006

Kaavya Viswanathan

I have been watching, reading, and thinking about Kaavya Viswanathan, the young Harvard student who wrote a book that had countless lines taken from other books. I first heard about Viswanathan's book, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life," on the Today show. Her book bore a striking similarity to two books by Megan McCafferty: "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Thoughts." I can't remember the exact numbers, but Katie Couric said that Harvard editors noted 19 similar passages, while McCafferty's publishers counted 61 similar or identical passages. Now it looks like her book has been permanently pulled by the book publisher.

I know what you are thinking – I was only watching the Today show because I wanted to watch Shakira sing and dance. Well, it was the show before the Shakira show, so there. Since then, though, I have heard others say that passages were lifted from other books as well (The Princess Diaries, by Meg Cabot, and Can You Keep a Secret?, by Sophie Kinsella, to name two books). And Forbes reports that she had a secret stash of material for other books that show similar patterns of unabashed borrowing.

Arun Krishnanactually defends Kaavva, saying that borrowing is okay. From his article (note that I am attributing words to the author, something Ms. Viswanathan failed to do),

Kaavya's crime was not that she copied; but that she didn't do it well.

She was young and enthusiastic. In the rush of youth, she didn't take that extra second, to rearrange this thought, move that comma, or insert that metaphor. Her only fault was that she was being overtly honest and -- possibly under the influence of her publishers -- unnecessarily rushed.

I wonder if Arun Krishnan would say that Bonnie and Clyde's only crime was that they were surrounded on Highway 154, between Gibsland and Sailes, Louisiana, and got riddled with bullets. Makes about as much sense.

Now, many of us in blogland are either published or want-to-be-published authors. And I read a lot in my spare time – because I enjoy it and because it makes me a better writer. But I don't read Dickens and think, hey, I like that line, let me steal it. Or think lines like, "The name is Bond, James Bond", while cool, would ever find its way into one of my stories unless I was mocking Ian Fleming. Little known fact: President Kennedy popularized Ian Fleming by listing his books on a list of his favorite books in a 1961 list.

I know an author who does not read anything because he is afraid he will unintentionally lift phrases and place them in his works. Going overboard? Yeah, I think it is. But if he had a book deal with Little, Brown, he would not have to give back the $500 K advance.

I don't know if the lifting was intentional or unintentional, but it appears that the phrases and lines are so similar that it looks bad. But she has a published book and I don't. Does it count if a published book gets recalled?


Heather said...

I'm first! Wooohooooo!!

It is plagiarism anyway you look at it, however..eventually every possible way to write a sentence will be taken so then what??lol

~Deb said...

Of course it counts…but it has to be definitely confirmed if it was indeed copied. I didn’t read the entire articles or seem the show----(I can’t believe I missed Shakira’s hips though!) But I will say that there are so many things, sayings, written literature that already has been said and done—that it is hard ‘not to repeat’. Even song lyrics and certain melodies have been played over and over and created over and over---not knowing that the same existed. But, if the topic relates to a certain matter, and the same exact sentence is spewed out word-for-word, then I think it’s safe to say that it was indeed stolen.

I will say---that even if you are a 'published author', it doesn't mean that you're selling big time. There are authors who were published by big time companies who haven't sold a copy--while some self-published authors made it big time.

Check out Stephanie Klein's blog. ....She started blogging and a publisher saw her work and decided to make it a book. From there, she has been on numerous TV shows, released a book, and now is writing a script for her own show on NBC. She started blogging back in 2004. Never before has she been 'this big' before. Amazing, huh?

Debbie said...

I work in publishing as an editor (and also worked in Intellectual Properties and Copyright for four years) and deal with stuff all of the time. It's okay to lift things as long as you give credit to where you lifted it. It can be credited in a footnote or a reference. I've read hundreds of books, both fiction and non-fiction, that have footnotes and such. Even in blogland, all of those photographs that you see out there belong to someone and if any of us were asked by the original copyright owner to take them down, we'd have to by law (unless we were given written permission to reproduce those photographs).

To say that writers are afraid to read because of accidently using someone else's concept is silly to me. I think that the best writer's are voracious readers. All artist's steal from each other, especially writers. That's why it's impossible to copyright an idea. But, I know in my experience, when the "new" work is so closely mirroring the "original" work that one can't really tell the difference between the stories (save for the names of the characters and places) then copyright has been breached.

I'm so sorry I've gone on and on, but I'm dealing with this very issue today and I'm on my soapbox.

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

If you're published and it gets pulled for something like that, I don't think it counts. Doesn't look good on your reference list anyway, know what I mean.

"Well, I did get published once but they pulled it because of some silly plagerisim thing!"

I read a lot too...and am constantly thinking.."Damn! I was going to use that plot!" or "Damn! I was going to use those names!!!"

Like I actually have something in the works. Yeah....suuuuure I do! ;)

Rob said...

So, what are you saying, Leesa -- that I can't go into your archives, reproduce all the erotic stories you have written, put them into a book called something like: "The Slut Diaries, an Anthology" and get it published under my psuedonym, Savannah Lee?

Damnit! Now what am I gonna do? That was my back-up retirement plan!!! ;-)

Christian said...

I read constantly, but my writing too often looks like the very early Dick and Jane elementary readers.
Which brings me to the screenwriter of Forrest Gump (filmed in your hometown);
just where do you think he got that phrase "Run Forrest, Run"
"See Forrest Run? Forrest can run fast"

jackt said...

Interesting point you make here.

I have been watching, reading, and thinking about [this also]. I first heard about Viswanathan's book []on the Today show. It looks like her book has been permanently pulled by the book publisher[, which is probably what I'd do if i were in their shoes.]


Leesa said...

heather: completely agree.

~deb: amazing!

fresh: book publisher? let my people call your people, daaa-ling.

stacey: thanks for the advice. I guess if you killed your boss, you might not want to put that job on the resume' either.

rob: please do that; please steal my stories, and after you make piles of money, I will simply sue your butt. That is my retirement plan.

christian: Scott Foresman (Dick and Jane author) actually is credited in the Forest Gump movie. Actually Grady Little needs to credit Tom Hanks in Forest Gump for his speaking style.

jackt: yeah, that's where I heard about it first.

Grant said...

Being published and then pulled would likely end most people's writing careers, unless she manages to capitalize on the negative publicity. I hope not, because I have no pity for blatant plagiarizers.

On the other hand, I have been frequently accused of copying from others because the critic read or saw something similar, in most cases something as vague as "You're writing a war story? I saw one of those last week." It's difficult to avoid comparison, but I don't worry about it as long as I know I haven't stolen from the other writers.

And like Stephen King says, "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time or the tools to write." I think that applies to all those (and there are many) who refuse to read because they're afraid it will negatively affect their writing.

Rob said...

With any luck, by the time you find out that I ripped you off, Leesa, I'll be living in some tropical paradise somewhere that doesn't have an extradition treaty with the U.S.! But I'll send you a postcard! ;-)

As for the Forrest Gump voice, I read somewhere that it was actually Tom Hanks' brother, Jim, who came up with the voice and mannerisms for the character -- from a role he had played some years earlier! I think that all he got out of it was a cameo appearance in the movie as a double for Tom in some of the scenes where "Forrest" was running. (That was probably the minimum Tom had to do to keep his brother from "suing his butt" off!) lol

Girl Next Door said...

I dont' read anything in the genre I write. If I ever do get published I dont' want someone to say, "Hey, she stole that." If they did I would have them dead to rights.


Leesa said...

grant: I think you are the foremost expert on Stephen King, but I concur with you. Were I Harvard, I would kick her out of school for showing lack of honor. Actually, writing (letters, blogs, etc) and reading (lots of different literature) helps me.

rob: I have friends who could find you, take your stuff, and, er, I need to stop writing now.

GND: as far as reading goes, I agree with Grant that writers need to read. But honestly, only reading outside of your genre is okay and should be encouraged. Personally, I think you write very well.

Mark said...

What amazes me are two things:
1. Big advance to a previously unpublished author
2. It took that long

Third thing that doesn't amaze me -- she was from Harvard, which has a hallowed tradition of churning out people that are prone to ignoring what others have written and think that they have done something new and important.

In this day of electronic access and everyuthing at our fingertips, I think perhaps the best writers might be those that hole up in a cabin somewhere and do their thing. On a typewriter -- or at least on a computer NOT hooked up into the ineternet.

FortuneCookee said...

If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything. -Mark Twain

Also, check: Robert's Rules of Writing Rule #14

I linked you, okay?

Ian Lidster said...

To me it counts if a published book is recalled. It's all about honesty, and literary fraud abounds, unfortunately, and it makes it unpleasant for the rest of us -- like you, like me -- who try to get our literary efforts appeciated, and hopefully bought, but also knowing that the words and prhases are our own. I make no excuses for fraudsters. At the beginning of his rehab book, 'Dry', Augusten Burroughs offers a disclaimer in which he states that some of the events or characters are not exactly as depicted in the book. That sort of thing is all it takes. I share your thoughts on this, Leesa.

High Desert Diva said...

I don't think it counts. She merely pieced together a literary collage. I'm glad the book was pulled.

nosthegametoo said...

I'm not so sympathetic to this kind of plagarism. There is really no defense.

Good post, that book originally caught my eye.

mal said...

maybe she is published, and maybe she is getting a lot of attention, but do you think she will get another book deal? Is Milli Vanilli still working?

Monica said...

Soooo...I can read her book as my summer pool fluff book and it's just like reading all the good stuff fron all those other books?

I'm totally in...with 4 kids I have to use my time wisely.
(I am kidding---jeesh)

Rob said...

So Leesa, when do we get to hear your acceptance speech for WINNING the best "free" (Child Free, that is) blogger award from Christie (chnnature blog) -- by a LANDSLIDE, as Christie pointed out?! I see you have (quietly) affixed your "Winner's Button" (that's not "code" for anything) to the right hand margin of your home page -- but I think your faithful readers would like to get your reaction to winning this honor!

I guess I wasn't the only one who told Christie about your (ahem) "skills" -- and the used panties I had purchased from you! ;-)

Congratulations! We're proud of you!!

cherish said...

Stealing is stealing and cheating is cheating no matter how you dress it up.

My daughter cheers competitively (I know totally off subject) but they go against teams that are definitely out of their level. But the other coaches puts the girls in a lower level so they are guaranteed to win. This is cheating no matter how you look at it when I a level 5 team lowers their team to level 3 and competes against a geniuine level 3 team they will win everytime. I just wonder what they are teaching their girls. Win no matter the cost. Write a great book no matter who you copy. I do not know but I sure know it STINKS!!!

Georgiapeach said...

I think some one is going to discover you too Leesa.

I am so embarrassed for her. Oh well, she will get another book deal out of this fiasco and make

JD said...

if you get a do over, it doesn't count. so she's not a published author. and i like the bonnie and clyde analogy, mind if i use it? just kidding.

you have a great way with words. when i read your blog, it's effortless. your sentences and ideas flow, i like that. some bloggers write so poorly, each sentence has mental speed bumps in it, causing me to have to re-read the sentences over and over again until they finally make sense.

oh yeah, and your profile pic is hot, but you already knew that. ;)

Monica said...

Oh! jd! Youve been to my blog!

Yeah....Leesa's a hottie....unless she's really some teenage boy pretending to be a hot sultry southern woman that he snaped a picture of on his cellphone while she sat at a Savannah cafe sipping iced tea.....

LisaBinDaCity said...

They can call it whatever they want, it's still CHEATING.

Nuff said.

SJ said...

I haven't read any of the books mentioned (thankfully?)from what I hear its not just a couple of unintentional passages. I dont know about her but I can't unintentionally copy 61 freaking passages. However again its not like she killed someone there are copied books and movies all over the place.

"N" Search of Ecstasy said...

LOL @ you watching the Today Show to see Shakira. I haven’t been keeping up with the news lately so I had not heard about this. Interesting!

Nunzia said...

i agree with Deb

JD said...

Monica, no, sorry, hadn't been to your blog until just now to figure out what your comment was in reference to.

Leesa writes too much like a woman to be anything but. not falling for that one, lol.

Party Girl said...

plagiarism is bad.
Bad, bad, bad.

I can't help but think of all the time and effort that was put into stealing all the passages. I mean seriously, just write something original.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

This is a bad thing all around for writers and the literary world. It will make it harder for young writers to get a nod from anyone in the field. Sad.

Leesa said...

Mark: yeah, where do I get that type of advance? Gees.

Fortune: yes, thanks for linking to me.

Ian: I have heard that no one has a unique thought. I find that sort of sad. But regardless, most people don't steal entire passages.

HDD: maybe she should have been listed as editor instead of author.

Nosthegametoo: Thanks, sweetie. I would not have known about the book if it was not on the Today show.

Monica: How original. You can think of her as compiling several different books. Wonderful, wonderful thought!

Rob: Thanks. I will post more about it later.

Cherish: I was thinking about competitiveness this morning when someone nearly ran me off the road. Good thoughts.

GP: Yeah, poor little rich girl!

JD: thanks. Like the mental speed bumps image. Guess I will steal that, too!

Monica: you just reminded me of something; I need to write it down (about cel phones). Thanks for that! Perhaps I am some Indian phone service representative, getting ready to steal lines from books and I am using this as a front.

Lisa: Completely agree.

SJ: those are actually not the types of books I am drawn to, either.

N search: Yeah, sometimes I am pathetic!

Nunzie: I normally agree with ~deb as well!

PG: completely agree.

Dr. ~deb: I always thought it was hard to get published, and here this college chick gets $500 K for a 2 book deal. Please sign me up. I will quit my day job, really I would.