This page highlights some incidents of plagiarism in poetry,
novels and other literature over the past three hundred
It covers -
issues, consequences and responses to plagiarism.
As that discussion indicated, plagiarism - or accusations
that it has occurred - is not restricted to undergraduates,
the humanities or sciences.
From the perspective of reputation management such accusations
are of interest because they can serve to set the dogs
on the hunt, with an author's work being examined and
in some instances found to embody recurrent acts of plagiarism.
Self-conscious 'Literature' is founded on aspirations
of originality and quality. It is thus uncommon to encounter
instances of substantial plagiarism in major works. In
recent years appropriation has indeed been shrugged off
as a witty pastiche, homage or deconstruction of archaic
notions such as 'the author'.
It appears, however, to be more common in works that have
been produced on an industrial or conveyor belt basis,
for example in thrillers (especially where the writing
is subcontracted to ghosts)
Ana Rosa Quintana's Sabor a Hiel supposedly featured
chunks of Ángeles Mastretta, Danielle Steel and
Colleen McCullough. Rhoda Broughton (1840-1920) reportedly
lifted a chunk of George Eliot's The Mill On The Floss.
The book version of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian
Gray borrowed from J-K Huysmans' A Rebours.
A s Michèle Mendelssohn notes in Henry James,
Oscar Wilde and Aesthetic Culture (Edinburgh: Edinburgh
Uni Press 2007) Wilde had told Max Beerbohm "Of course
I plagiarise. It is the privilege of the appreciative
The Famous Plagiarists site notes
claims that TS Eliot borrowed from the otherwise unknown
Madison Cawein (1865-1914); past critics have noted Eliot's
acknowledgement of sources such as The Golden Bough.
Germany novelist Frank Schätzing was accused in 2005
of lifting chunks of his bestseller Der Schwarm
- promoted as a "gripping ecological thriller"
- from text by marine biologist Thomas Orthmann on the
scientific website www.ozeane.de. Orthmann demanded €15,000
in compensation from Schätzing. Wolfgang Koepmann
had more brazenly republished Jakob Littmann's scarifying
Holocaust memoir under his own name as a novel.
Edwina MacDonald claimed that Alfred Hitchcock's 1940
Rebecca relied heavily on her Blind Windows,
rather than Daphne Du Maurier's 1938 Rebecca.
The court found in favour of Hitchcock, noting that the
"second wife plot" was common and evident in
works such as Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre
(later discussed in Patsy Stoneman's Brontë Transformations
(London: Harvester 1996)).
Bestseller Lynda La Plante was accused in 2008 of appropriating
text from Olga Lengyel's 1947 memoir Five Chimneys
for her 1993 novel Entwined.
Notoriously difficult author Laura Riding accused sometime
partner Robert Graves of plagiarism, claiming that he
had "sucked, bled, squeezed, plucked, picked, grabbed,
dipped, sliced, carved, lifted the body of my work"
after the relationship broke down in 1939.
In 2005 critics argued that elements of The Bear Bryant
Funeral Train (Athens: Uni of Georgia Press 2005)
by Brad Vice had been lifted from Carl Carmer's 1934 Stars
Fell on Alabama and from Jim Dent's The Junction
Boys (New York: St Martins Press 2000).
Vice has a doctorate and is professor of English Lit,
so observers were apparently underwhelmed by his comment
that the plagiarism was attributable to "ignorance
concerning the principles of fair use". Carmer's
publisher commented "This seems a flagrant case,
intentional and indefensible, with the feeble efforts
to alter the original all the more blatant evidence of
unacknowledged borrowing"; Vice's publisher recalled
and pulped the offending volume.
In 2006 Dan Brown's pulp The Da Vinci Code was
denounced by Michael Baigent & Richard Leigh as plagiarising
their The Holy Blood & the Holy Grail. The
authors sued Brown, claiming that he "plagiarised"
the "whole jigsaw puzzle" of their research.
The claim provoked the response that
you copyright an idea? Previously copyright has applied
just to how the idea is used. This is why we are confident.
If the claimants win, it's the end of John Grisham,
Tom Clancy, Robert Harris, Helen Fielding - and Shakespeare.
not that Dan Brown has lifted certain ideas, because
a number of people have done that before. It's rather
that he's lifted the whole architecture - the whole
jigsaw puzzle - and hung it on to the peg of a fictional
Rickett of the Bookseller sniffed
a sense they're admitting their work has elements of
fiction to it. If it was pure history, how could they
copyright history? When historians discover something
they can't copyright it.
Justice Peter Smith later ruled that Brown did not infringe
Baigent and Leigh's copyright
Brown has not infringed copyright. None of this amounts
to copying The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.
... Even if the central themes were copied they are
too general or of too low a level of abstraction to
be capable of protection by copyright law. Accordingly
there is no copyright infringement either by textual
copying or non-textual copying of a substantial part
of HBHG by means of copying the central themes.
judge ordered that they should pay 85% of Random House's
costs (est £1.3m) and their own costs of £800,000.
UK novelist Ian McEwan, accused of plagiarising from the
autobiography of romance novelist Lucilla Andrews in his
novel Atonement, was defended by figures such as Margaret
Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro, Thomas Pynchon and John Updike.
Thomas Keneally sniffed that
If it is sufficient to point to a simultaneity of events
to prove plagiarism, then we are all plagiarists, and
Shakespeare is in big trouble from Petrarch, and Tolstoy
stole the material for War & Peace. Fiction
depends on a certain value-added quality created on
top of the raw material, and that McEwan has added value
beyond the original will, I believe, be richly demonstrated.
... If not, God help us all.
Nineteen year old novelist Kaavya Viswanathan, whose How
Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life (Boston:
Little Brown 2006) earned her a US$500,000 two-book contract
and DreamWorks film deal, was accused in 2006 of lifting
text from Megan McCafferty's 2001 novel Sloppy Firsts
and other works by McCafferty and Sophie Kinsella.
She explained that her copying was "unintentional
and unconscious", a defence dismissed by her publisher
who commented that "based on the scope and character
of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was
a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional
act" and that she was guilty of "nothing less
than an act of literary identity theft". Little Brown
recalled copies from bookshops, with Opal Mehta
thereupon jumping from 64 to 10 in the Amazon.com best
seller list overnight.
In 1997 US author Janet Dailey, responsible for some 93
bodice rippers (with sales of a mere 200 million copies),
confessed that she had appropriated the work of rival
Nora Roberts. She explained
recently learned that my essentially random and non-pervasive
acts of copying are attributable to a psychological
problem that I never even suspected I had. I have already
begun treatment for the disorder and have been assured
that, with treatment, this behavior can be prevented
in the future.
role in plagiarism of Meyer Levin's dramatisation of Anne
Frank's diary is discussed in Ralph Melnick's The
Stolen Legacy of Anne Frank: Meyer Levin, Lillian Hellman
and the Staging of the Diary (New Haven: Yale Uni
Ailing author Ian Fleming (1908-1964) - 'sex, sadism and
snobbery' - based his Thunderball on a screenplay
that he had written with Kevin McClory (1926-2006) and
Jack Whittingham (1910-1972). Crucially, he did not allude
to their involvement. McClory failed to gain an injunction
prohibiting publication of the novel but then sued over
"plagiarism and false attribution", eventually
gaining £35,000 plus £17,000 court costs.
Subsequent editions of the novel indicated that it was
"based on the screen treatment by Kevin McClory,
Jack Whittingham, and Ian Fleming". The incident
is explored in Robert Sellers' The Battle for Bond
(Sheffield: Tomahawk Press 2007).
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