This week’s big story is Cassie Edwards, a romance writer who’s been accused of plagiarism. She’s allegedly lifted whole paragraphs out of various articles on nature, anthropology, and apparently a 1930s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Her publisher seems to be standing by her for the moment, but the Romance Writers of America looks pretty uneasy about the whole situation.
The best bit, I think, is that the whole story was brought to light in a fairly accidental way by some folks over at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books. It started in this post, and then there was this one, this one, and later this one. Now, the story has been picked up by the New York Times.
Apart from the obvious ethical considerations about plagiarism, and the irritation at how much money this woman has made off her novels, I’m actually more tempted to wax lyrical about the media involved. The original post on smartbitchestrashybooks.com went up on January 7, and the New York Times article is dated January 12. A whole five days between the first inklings of a story, and coverage in an internationally distributed newspaper. And now I’m blogging about it, here in Oz.
Of course, it could have been picked up just because a NYT staffer happened to be reading the blog on her lunch break, but I choose to see it as online communication at it’s finest.
There’s also something to be said here for accountability. With so much information so accessible all the time, it’s that much harder to get away with this sort of thing. Even ten years ago, Smartbitches probably couldn’t have Googled whole passages of Edwards’ books to see if they matched anything, and might not have made the effort to look further. Ethical enforcement like this is an interesting and perhaps unexpected benefit of online material. Yes, it makes plagiarism easier, but it makes it much, much easier to catch, too.