State of the Plagiarism

Isn’t it enough that you people set out to destroy her career and almost caused her death?

In case you don’t know, which I know for a fact you have been told, Cassie Edwards suffered a massive stroke due to the stress you idiots put on her. 

I hope you can live with yourselves knowing what you did almost cost this woman her life.  You have deprived her grandchildren of their grandmother.  You have caused a lot of innocent people much heartache by your actions.

Everyone is blaming you and your cronies for what happened. Not just her fans, fan club members, etc.  I’m talking publishers, authors, editors, and more.  I hope almost killing someone was worth the 15 minutes of fame.

If you have any reason to think this is a lie, contact Carol Stacy at Romantic Times and I’m sure she’ll verify the information for you.

A lot of Cassie’s fans plan on being at the RT convention in Orlando just so they can attend your blogging seminar.  Instead of it being about the art of blogging maybe it should be about the art of how to destroy a person’s life.

A few weeks ago, when Sarah realized that January 2009 would mark a year since the plagiarism scandal that rocked the ferret world, as well as the romance world, she asked Jane to examine the issue and do a “State of Plagiarism” analysis, so to speak. After much back and forth dialogue, we’ve come to the following conclusions about the way the issue of plagiarism is treated by our community. This entry is posted on both Dear Author and on Smart Bitches as a summary of our conversation.


On the positive side: the issue is being discussed, in the romance community, and in the larger publishing world as well. Fans, authors, and even publishers are being educated as to what plagiarism is, what enforcement mechanisms there are, and why it’s important for the entirety of the literary community to not be complacent or unsupportive.  Even if some, or even much, of the discussion is about how horribly mean we were to speak up and speak in the manner that we did, it was dialogue about an important topic that we hadn’t had before. 

The Edwards scandal was important not because of who was involved, but because it led to the further education. There was a session at RWA and one at RT.  There were mentions in the newspapers and on blogs.  There was support for the victim of plagiarism in a way that there wasn’t ten years prior, making it easier for one who is plagiarised to come forward. Plagiarism became newsworthy, and the increased attention meant that victims of prior incidents had room to speak up and share their stories, the costs both financial and emotional they endured to protect their copyright.

Even the absence of discussion was noticeable.

But the negatives are related to the positives: the session at RWA was poorly attended, and there was a backlash to those who spoke out, not so much here at Smart Bitches or Dear Author, but against others who took a stand. With the revelation of plagiarism at the hand of Neale Donald Walsch, the same old themes are played out with a full orchestra.

Those who raise the issue and cry foul, whether it’s a blogger or the writer herself, take the blame. We’re told to hush up, keep quiet, and stop being mean.

It was one year ago this week that we broke the Cassie Edwards story.  This entry isn’t in the least about her. Instead, it’s about where the writing community stands in regard to plagiarism within the genre. Based on our analysis, we haven’t made much progress. Lip service is paid to the idea that its bad, but when the excrement hits the air circulating device, there’s navel gazing and thumb twiddling and fretting and calls for forgiveness, bygones, and stop being mean already.

Little has changed in attitude and practice. Plagiarism remains an issue tried in the court of public opinion, and the more famous or published the thief is, the more likely they are to be reassured and forgiven by their eager fanbase.  Plagiarism is not an issue that can always be validated in a court case; it’s a community issue. Do we, as a community, believe in the need for intellectual honesty and creativity?

Why is there not more of a reaction to sympathize with the person whose work, inspiration, and words were stolen from them? Why is there instead pressure for the victim to shut up about it and a general attitude that the whole mess should just disappear so people can get back to reading?

In our opinion, plagiarism isn’t taken seriously enough by some readers or by some writers. The defense of the plagiarist and the ease with which forgiveness is offered by readers is so stupid as to be mindboggling. What, because they cried and said they were sorry it should be over? Remorse is enough? To quote the wizened literary scholar Rhianna: “You’re only sorry you got caught.”

Until every reader and every writer refuses to tolerate plagiarism and the thieves that commit it, it will be a problem that continues to grow. But that intolerance needs to extend to every genre. When plagiarism hit romance, the response was, “Oh, but it’s only romance novels, and they’re all the same anyway.” With the spiritual writing community, the response is, “Oh, it’s just crazy religious people who think they talk to God, so whatever.” With fanfic, it’s “Oh, it’s just fanfic.”

Plagiarism should not be tolerated anywhere by anyone, and that includes romance, spiritual writing, literary fiction, academic publication, and fanfic. It shouldn’t be tolerated, it shouldn’t be excused, and it shouldn’t be something that is kept quiet. The lack of support for those who suffer from it is appalling: from insane court costs to accusations of being a whiner, the person who has been robbed is singled out as a troublemaker who ought to pipe down. From warnings of bad publicity to being called an outright liar, the victim is again a victim.

Yet again plagiarism shows up in the news this week, and yet again the same song is played. Everyone should be vocal in making a stand and making plagiarism unacceptable within our community. The song needs to change.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Nonny says:

    Uh. So, the woman did something wrong, unethical, and clearly illegal… and yet y’all are the “bad guys” for placing “undue stress” on “this poor woman”?

    Sorry. Just because you’re elderly does not give you the right to break the law. It also doesn’t get you free ticket sympathy, either.

  2. 2
    thirstygirl says:

    So not a classy thought but it did connect to today’s daily dinosaur comic for me –

  3. 3
    Emmy says:

    ….because Edwards’ stealing had nothing to do with her problems? It’s everybody else’s fault for pointing out her illegal actions? Huh.

    Also: is it too late to get a plane ticket and hotel room in Orlando? Sounds like it will be the place to be for the next RT convention.

    led79…your captcha is *skerry*

  4. 4
    Melissa says:

    I like how you got 15 minutes of fame by giving her a stroke. WAY TO GO!

    But the reference to you on Cassie’s wikipedia entry will live on, and on. (and on)

    And seriously, she broke a law, and her grandchildren probably still love her anyway, so leave off bringing kids into it for more sympathy points. Sheeesh. That’s like… like… faking a heart attack in a court room. And some of us know what that looked like, right? (I’d post a link but OMGWTFBBQ I don’t know how. Google it.)

    Isn’t anything happening to Edwards? Or did it fade away into the distance like some romance version of Watergate? (Which, eew, no good images came from that reference.)

  5. 5
    Leslee says:

    I agree with all the other comments! I do think part of the problem is how plagiarism is perceived in our society. People don’t see it as a crime and something bad because they don’t see writing as a commodity produced by a business (I dont’ mean that as disrespectful of the creative process). But if you look at it from a business stand point, the author is a company producing a product, the writing. Therefore when someone steals the product, it is wrong. Some people just see it as words and that they don’t count! I can’t stand it there are people out there that vilify the Smart Bitches and Dear Author for blowing the whistle when you should be applauded!

  6. 6
    Cat Marsters says:

    My grandmother suffered a massive stroke a few years ago.  And yet, she’d never written a romance novel or been accused of plagiarism!  I was so shocked to discover the link between plagiarism and strokes, because now I have to go out hunting the person who caused my nannan’s.

    But wait…my dog also suffered a stroke.  And a heart attack.  The vet said one caused the other but now I know the truth.  She was the world’s first romance-plagiarising dog.

  7. 7
    God says:

    I think its ridiculous how its all a hush-hush affair. I mean, in school, if you plagiarize your ass gets kicked out. And thats the way it should be. As a student, its beaten into you that this is the foregone conclusion to that situation. It should be the same way in real life, no? You plagiarize, it goes on your permanent record (i.e. your reputation as a professional writer) and you pay for it. And, please, if you have to use other people’s work anyway, then you sure as hell aren’t a professional anything.

    I think you guys are absolutely right to talk about this issue. Its important and is
    happening in every genre.

    word verification: those38…those 38 pages don’t count as plagiarism, right?

  8. 8
    snarkhunter says:

    I will say this about fanfic: the majority of people in the fic community—at least, the majority of the ones with a modicum of maturity—abhor plagiarism, and are not above public shaming. And we have long memories.

    For example, Cassandra Clare, who is now a published children’s author (and presumably an honest one), is STILL remembered in the Harry Potter communities for the plagiarism scandal she was at the center of—and that was in…2000? 2001? Something like that. Which, in fandom terms, is practically the early Mesozoic period.

  9. 9

    Cassandra Clare, who is now a published children’s author (and presumably an honest one), is STILL remembered in the Harry Potter communities for the plagiarism scandal she was at the center of

    And that’s had zero effect on her career, and is only of interest to fandom. Seriously. Bringing it up in pro circles will get you a huge yawn and a ‘so what?’

    People will deal with stuff only when you rub their noses in it, and they’ll hate you, not the villain, because *you’re* the one making them feel uncomfortable. Which is strictly true, but not fair.

  10. 10
    Michele says:

    I remember when the Nora Roberts/Janet Dailey scandal went down and there were cries then about poor Janet Dailey, which I thought were complete and utter bullshit. It still burns my butt that Dailey is still being published.

    In no way shape or form do I feel sorry for a plagarist. They are thieves who can’t seem to admit they were wrong and blame no one but themselves. Scum.

  11. 11
    Leah says:

    You know, stroke isn’t caused by stress, although it can be an exacerbating factor.  The most common causes are age, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, hereditary issues with the blood vessels, blood clots—that kind of thing.  Smoking can up your chances, and it also doesn’t help if you are heavy.  I don’t mean to be unkind, but chances are, Ms. Edward would have suffered her stroke whether or not the plagiarism controversy arose.  And if anyone out there has one of the above health concerns, it might be wise to visit your dr to learn how you can avoid a stroke yourself, because they’re very common as we get *ahem* older, and it’s easy to miss the warning signs (numbness, visual disturbances—there are plenty of good lists of these on the web).

    I’m sorry Ms. Edwards’ fans feel that they have to blame bloggers for her condition.  It’s ok to have affection for an author and still realize that s/he did something wrong.  They’d make better use of their energy if they focussed on stroke or heart disease prevention, not stuff like this.  I hope they rethink their actions at RT, and that security will be on hand to control things if they get out of hand.

  12. 12
    Silver James says:

    Wow. Has it been a year? I first discovered SBTB because of the Edward’s brouhaha. My how time flies and all that. I’d planned on going to RT but since my book won’t have been released, I decided the time and expense was better saved for later. I wish now I could be there.

    Plagiarism is stealing. How hard is that to understand? It is wrong ethically and legally. I’m sorry the woman had a stroke. According to the Mayo Clinic. risk factors for stroke don’t include being taken to task for plagiarism.

    Someone mentioned above that if a student plagiarized, they’d be suspended or expelled. The same is true in academic writing. Ph.D candidates face a review board that picks apart their dissertation, including checking all references and looking for plagiarism. Considering how anal publishing companies are about books/ebooks being pirated, you’d think they would take a tougher stand. *shrugs* I’m betting a new author would have been dropped cold and left to the “wolves” but a venerable soul like Edwards? “But…but…SHE makes money for us.”

  13. 13
    G says:

    Well, I have never purchased Janet Dailey’s books since the scandal and I buy Nora Roberts’ all the time, so the scandal produced a good result for me. Primarily because Roberts’ work is so good and I was reading Daily for the quality (which was not her own) that I thought I saw (and I was a young pup, then).

    I do care about plagiarism. I hope others do as well.

  14. 14
    snarkhunter says:

    And that’s had zero effect on her career, and is only of interest to fandom. Seriously. Bringing it up in pro circles will get you a huge yawn and a ‘so what?’

    Yes, very true. My point is, within the fic community at least, she’s done. Not that she cares, b/c it has had zero effect on her pro career (I mean, the handful of us who won’t buy her books hardly count as an effect).

    I just meant to say that the “amateur” communities are actually much more invested in plagiarism than the pro communities. And that’s … sad.

  15. 15
    snarkhunter says:

    Ph.D candidates face a review board that picks apart their dissertation, including checking all references and looking for plagiarism.

    Ha. Not at my university. I mean, I certainly didn’t plagiarize my dissertation, but I know for certain that my committee members didn’t have time to check the references—in fact, I bet most of them didn’t even look at my 20-page bibliography. And as for the review…the only review the university does is for formatting issues. That’s it.

    And as for students being suspended or expelled? Again, I say HA. The best we can do for a first offense, no matter how egregious, is fail them on the assignment and recommend them to the judicial board. We can’t even fail them for the class. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a student being expelled for plagiarism at the university level.

    The fact is almost no one takes plagiarism seriously.

  16. 16

    the “amateur” communities are actually much more invested in plagiarism than the pro communities.

    And yet how many in fandom had exactly the same reaction as Edwards’ fans did to her plagiarism? I remember reading post after post defending Clare and slamming those trying to expose her and other fandom frauds. The problem of creative theft remains a huge one for fandom, when the only prize is acclaim and attention.

    Fandom does talk about serious issues, including plagiarism, at much greater length and breadth than I’ve seen in romance blogs – partly the passion of youth, partly the participation of so many students and academics. But that just does not translate to the wider world at all.

  17. 17
    isidri says:

    My Lord. What a steaming pile of crap. First of all, show me the medical journal that says strokes are caused by stress. Secondly—yeah, suffering the fallout from your own incredibly poor choices is stressful, bow howdy. I’m sure it’s even more unpleasant when it’s splashed all over the internet. Perhaps the way to avoid that is to not behave unethically, rather than to count ona culture of silence to protect you, and to sic your half-wit fans on anyone who doesn’t think you’re a victimized saint.

    Oh, and having grandhcildren? Doesn’t make you a good person. It makes you a person who’s offspring have themselves reproduced.

  18. 18
    Ezri says:

    I do think that part of the reason that plagiarism is such a tough topic is that in some instances it can be a rather grey area.  If the author changes some of the pieces of a stolen set of writing he or she could claim that it was not identical to the original if the situation were ever noticed.  Morally it seems pretty clear cut because stealing isn’t right, and you always need to do your own work.  But plagiarism is very hard to define in other instances.  In university, I remember avoiding critical literature as much as possible because I was worried about coming to similar conclusions and inadvertently writing about someone else’s idea.  It is possible to independently come up with similar ideas –  Coleridge was approached one day after a lecture by a fellow who told him that had he not known that he had the first editions of Schiller (I’d have to check on the specific German philosopher to be positive- this is off the top of my head) to arrive in England hot off the presses, he would’ve been convinced that Coleridge had copied his ideas.  And later on Coleridge did get in trouble for plagiarism in any case.  But sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference unless you can clearly see the intent.  I’m not defending plagiarism by any means, but I think it’s one of those things that people find very subjective, like trying to define pornography- on the extreme end of the spectrum it’s easy to recognize, but in less extreme cases, it’s harder to pinpoint.

  19. 19
    Chris says:

    It’s very sad that she became ill but I don’t think that should excuse anyone from doing wrong. And one thing has nothing to do with the other.

    It’s unfortunate that after all the hullabaloo that it was just business as usual. That’s very disheartening. Whatever the genre is, it will never be taken seriously if we say “oh well, that’s just ****”. It’s still wrong.

  20. 20
    robinb says:

    I bet if people would have been plagiarizing Ms. Edwards, instead of the other way around, those “fans” would have been screaming bloody murder.  And now, a year later, it’s still al your fault that she had a stroke?  Come on.  Whose fault was it when she wrote book and book filled with other people’s words?  I assume that this is a basic tenet of growing up in the world: you don’t take something that doesn’t belong to you.  Simple.  Every day people read something, get an idea, write a novel about something they had to research.  Yet, they don’t plagiarize.  If Diana Gabaldon is writing her books from personal experience (I”m reading Outlander.  Yes, Again!) then more power to her, but I’m betting she isn’t.  Yet, she isn’t plagiarizing. 

    I’m sorry that their reaction to a horrific event (Ms. Edwards’ stroke) is to come and shout you down at RT.  I wasn’t going to go this year, but this makes me sorely tempted.  I’m sure ya’ll can handle it, though.

  21. 21
    snarkhunter says:

    Actually, Coleridge was a plagiarizer. Flat-out, no excuses. He plagiarized from *everyone*, I swear.

  22. 22
    Sparky says:


    No, just no. You don’t get to do something highly immoral and unethical and then claim that the stress of being caught has ruined your health

    If your health is vulnerable to high levels of stress then maybe you should refrain from high risk behaviour – like ripping off other people’s work and violating copyright.

    And amen, people have to do something about this. Plagiarism is arrogant and fraudulent. The readers and the authors being ripped off both deserve better than that. And if someone is exposed as a plagiarist then it most certainly is NOT mean to spread the word far and wide and make sure it isn’t just brushed under the carpet and ignored

    If it weren’t for people like Dear Author and the Smart Bitches willingness to stand up and speak out against plagiarism and plagiarists who would? The publishers? (not likely!) The rabid fanpoodles yapping round the plagiarist’s feet?

    Plagiarism should not be tolerated, ever. But it will be tolerated and forgiven constantly – and it is tolerated and forgiven constantly – and we should, as a community, thank people like the Smart Bitches for taking the stand against this unnacceptable behaviour – even when the fanpoodles come yapping in at their ankles

  23. 23
    Ruth says:

    Everyone is blaming you and your cronies for what happened.

    Candy and Sarah, it was REALLY uncool of you to travel back in time and force Cassie Edwards to steal other authors’ work. You really ARE bitches.

    With no vested interest in the works of Cassie Edwards, one of the things I got out of last year’s debacle was a list of new authors to read and one in particular to avoid like the plague, based on their reactions to this situation developing here.

  24. 24

    Plagiarism is wrong, but a few things bothered me about this case.
    How come all the blame goes Edwards’ way? The author is set up to take the blame in the contract, and that’s what happened, but -
    the woman had been writing her books this way for years. If her editors didn’t notice, then they’re not doing a very good job of editing. They should have at least noticed the changes of style in the books, maybe even marked them as infodumps and asked her to revise.
    If they did know she was copying, they should have told her and advised her that it was illegal. If they had noticed, they should have informed the publisher, since plagiarism is illegal. Either way, they should have taken some of the blame, and they didn’t, they walked away.
    I think we should leave the woman alone. She isn’t writing any more, she’s lost all her contracts, and she needs some quiet. I don’t think that letter helps her any, and I don’t think anyone who knows her has ever blamed anyone for her stroke.
    Yes, I knew about the stroke shortly afterwards, but, like many other authors, I decided not to mention it anywhere publicly because the stroke effectively signalled the end of her writing career, and she needed some basic human compassion. And some peace and quiet.
    Maybe a bit of the quality of mercy.
    And there was a lot of schadenfreude involved here. People gloating over her downfall, and frankly, that sickened me. I’m not blaming the Bitches, or the Janes, who brought the matter forward, but some of the commenters were so vicious I didn’t want anything to do with that kind of nastiness.
    It’s in the nature of a case study, just as the Dailey/Roberts case is, but it’s over, done. I still think it’s wrong, but since I don’t know the details, who condoned it, who knew about it, what Edwards herself thought, it’s probably better not to hound her to the grave now.
    Maybe it might be more helpful to try to trace how it happened, how it went on so long without being noticed by industry professionals, and how to stop it happening again.

  25. 25
    Lorelie says:

    Chiming in to say “boo plagiarism,” which is really the most we can do.  Speak up.

    I don’t buy plagiarists, and I don’t buy authors known to have taken a permissive stance when their buddies/acquaintances are caught, and even more than that I spread the news to reading aquaintances.  I attended the RWA plagiarism panel and I intend to continue attending such events whenever I’m able to make it to conferences.

    Speak up. Put the truth out there.  Explain (repeatedly if necessary) why it’s wrong.  The ripple effect will eventually take effect.

    The fact that you’re still receiving hate mail is both unsurprising and disturbing.  I hate to be a worry wart, but – stay safe at RT, mmkay?  Use the buddy system, etc.

  26. 26

    plagiarism is illegal

    No, it’s not. Plagiarism is *immoral.* Theft of copyright material might be illegal in some jurisdictions, but plagiarism is not.

    They should have at least noticed the changes of style in the books, maybe even marked them as infodumps and asked her to revise.

    Being a crappy editor is not the same as being a thief. It’s really not.

    It’s over, done.

    No, it’s not over. For one, so far as she’s concerned, her books are still being issued by a publisher, and the people whose intellectual property she stole, are still not being compensated.

    For another, the wider issue of plagiarism is being treated with the same inappropriate sympathy as you’re showing here. No one wants to hound anyone into an early grave. No one showed the slightest desire to, or did so. But full consequences of community disgust? Hell yes.

    The people who are still getting it in the neck are those who exposed it, while Edwards is being cooed over as the poor old woman. Other plagiarists are being supported and protected by their fans, their victims suffering villification and their reputations shredded. If you can’t see how very wrong that is, then it demonstrates just how profound the problem is and how far the industry has to go before it can say the problem is dealt with.

  27. 27
    JoanneL says:

    I think we should leave the woman alone. She isn’t writing any more, she’s lost all her contracts, and she needs some quiet.

    She may need some quiet but she’s not getting it from her publisher or maybe someone ‘borrowed’ her name and wrote the following and she/they are donating profits to the furry creatures?

      Savage Flames   Feb-2008
      Savage Abandon   Sep-2008
      Her Forbidden Pirate   Jan-2009
      Savage Sun   Apr-2009

  28. 28

    Lynne, I didn’t want to bring this up, but something you mentioned about the editors not noticing, hence they are, too, at fault got my whatever-the-hell-it-is up.

    “If her editors didn’t notice, then they’re not doing a very good job of editing. They should have at least noticed the changes of style in the books, maybe even marked them as infodumps and asked her to revise.
    If they did know she was copying, they should have told her and advised her that it was illegal. If they had noticed, they should have informed the publisher, since plagiarism is illegal. Either way, they should have taken some of the blame, and they didn’t, they walked away. “

    Really? Seriously? I was not aware that editors had to read other writers to make sure their writers are not plagiarizing those other writers. Gosh. Imagine all those extra books editors have to read.

    Kind of makes you feel sorry for them, eh?

  29. 29
    Nonny says:

    Lynne, she has hardly lost all her contracts. I’d highly suggest you check your facts there.

    I don’t think that her editors are necessarily to blame, because while the passages she stole were most certainly infodumps and should have been edited—her career began at a time where such was normal in most fiction. By the point that it became considered “bad writing”, she was already making her publishers good money. They don’t fuck with that.

    It’s not over. It’s still going on. And for all the Internet activism about the situation, there’s still plenty of people that think we’re making something out of nothing and that we should just “leave the poor old woman alone.” Sorry, no, not when she still has yet to admit she’s done anything wrong.

  30. 30
    Nonny says:

    Exactly, Fionn. It’s ludicrous to expect an editor to have read every bit of fiction and non-fiction out there and thus automatically be a plagiarism-catching machine. It’s not possible.

    Combine that with the fact that the style she was plagiarizing was normal for the time period in which she first started her career—yeah. I’m not surprised it took this long for her to get caught.

    Don’t blame the editor. Blame the person who did it in the first place and should have known it was wrong. And if she truly didn’t, she should have tried to make some sort of apology and reparation.

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