Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Rose By Any Other Name...Still Stinks

There’s a brouhaha a-brewin’ in romance publishing this week.

I'm not a romance novel reader, although I did go through a brief period in college during which I scarfed them down like Pringles (sour cream and chives flavor, yum!) I am, however, a huge fan of the Smart Bitches, and thereupon hangs this blog post.

The Smart Bitches, Sarah and Candy, run the romance novel review website Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books. I adore them because, first, second, and third, they are profanely funny. (Their style of humor isn’t for everyone, but hey, I like it.) Fourth, they take reviewing seriously. A lot of book review websites hand out five-star write-ups like prizes at a beauty pageant for toddlers (make sure everyone has a shiny crown to take home!), which renders them pretty much useless. The SBs, though, call it like they read it, and if what they read is crapola, they’ll not only tell you so, but their snarky analysis will have you snorting coffee out your nose. Fifth, one of their regular features is offering up romance cover art for unabashed critique. Straight shooters? These gals could plug a squirrel’s eye at fifty yards, and make the squirrel think it’s funny, to boot.

So when the Smart Bitches discovered that Cassie Edwards, a romance author with over 100 published books, has apparently lifted lengthy passages from other books verbatim and used them in her own novels, they did what any honest, sharp-shootin’ gals who run a book review site would do.

They documented their findings. And then they called Cassie Edwards and her publishers on it.

Inevitably, this being the Internet, the SBs received angry comments from Cassie Edwards fans. The gist of these screeds was 1) verbatim copying isn't wrong, and 2) the SBs are evil for creating such skeezy drama.

Well OK, you think, those are fangirls. Sure they're going to defend a beloved author (although I'd like to see their reaction if some other writer had ripped off Cassie Edwards, instead of the other way around).

Today came the official response from Signet Books. You can read it here, but in short, it tells the SBs to take a hike. An excerpt:

"The copyright fair-use doctrine permits reasonable borrowing and paraphrasing another author’s words, especially for the purpose of creating something new and original. "

Hmm. My Oxford English dictionary defines “plagiarize” as to:

“take and use the thoughts, writings, inventions, etc. of another person as one’s own.”

Now, I'm no lawyer, but I've read my publishing contracts. They contain a standard clause that says the work I submit to my publisher must be original. I've sweated blood worrying that somewhere in my new book, I may have inadvertantly used a phrase or sentence from a research source. I've checked and cross-checked obsessively, and still I worry. I listed my most-used sources in the acknowledgements, both to give credit to these outstanding works and to give interested readers leads on more information.

So I'm pretty confident that--no matter what Signet claims--verbatim copying, Cassie Edwards-style, is not “reasonable borrowing and paraphrasing.” Students flunk classes for this. Other authors get called on the carpet, in public. It’s plagiarism, and it’s unethical.

Just sayin’, Signet. Smart Bitches, rock on.


Anonymous said...

I love the internet. There is so much creative and original on it, and it allows opinions and observations (Such as SB's)such wide dissemination. However, it also increases the potential for abuse (and ease of abuse for those so inclined). Overall, I'd give the www 4 stars.
Rock on.

Melissa Amateis said...

I am floored by this. I used to read (and write) romance all the time, but in the last year, my interests have changed.

But yes, this is plagiarism, no matter how you look at it. Plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

I am floored by this. I used to read (and write) romance all the time, but in the last year, my interests have changed. But yes, this is plagiarism, no matter how you look at it. Plain and simple. And Plagiarism is always wrong! Unless it's just a joke.