That plagiarism case

I’ve been avoiding commenting here on the Kaavya Viswanathan plagiarism case, but since I find myself repeatedly commenting elsewhere instead, here are my thoughts:

– Viswanathan’s book was handled through a book packager, 17th Street Productions. I’m hearing a lot of bitterness about the size of Viswanathan’s advance, but keep in mind that it was for two books and she (probably) split it with a book packager. When you figure those things in, the advance becomes high, but hardly obscene.

– Notice that no one has been pressing the packager for comment, complaining that they were paid too much money, or asking where their editorial oversight is. Even though the money didn’t all flow to the author, everyone’s happy to let the blame do so.

– Before wondering how any writer could stolen someone else’s words, at least read some excerpts from Viswanathan’s novel. (More excerpts here.) These are not quite simple instances of cut-and-pasting. The number of places Viswanathan’s material echoes McCafferty’s gives me pause; but any one of these excerpts, without all the others, really could have been subconscious. And directly importing and rewriting all those passages would have been more work than just coming up with something new. The work clearly was plagiarized; it could have been plagiarized on purpose; but none of us public lookers-on has enough information to know this.

– I’m finding the amount of glee many people, including many writers, are taking in watching Viswanathan’s fall pretty uncomfortable. It’s enough that the matter was brought to Megan McCafferty’s attention and that her publisher and Viswanathan’s publisher have come to an agreement and the plagiarized material is being pulled. As far as I can tell, McCafferty has been a class act throughout. If she can manage that, surely those reporting on the case (whether formal media or those just blogging it) could do the same.

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