I received a couple letters, yesterday, from The Romance Writers of America (RWA) that led me to find out about quite a furor and a half going on over at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books, a very popular website of readers and writers of various Romance genre books. The Bitches have led many of their readers (including the wildly popular and successful Nora Roberts, herself a victim of plagiarism) to agree there really seems to be something to the allegations of abundant plagiarism in various works of Cassie Edwards, a writer of so-called "noble savage" type Romance books, whose 100th book will be published soon. She has written for Signet, Penguin and Dorchester, among others, and while the first response from one of the book publishers indicated the imprint felt Ms. Edwards "had done nothing wrong," a later statement by the same corporate entity indicated the publisher will be looking into the allegations.
(Update: Today, January 12, 2008, a day after I wrote the bulk of this blogpost, The New York Times covered the story in its Arts Section.)
When you go to the Smart Bitches web site, you'll see a listing on the right-hand side of the current blogpost called "Looking For the Cassie Edwards Articles?" I suggest you read the articles in order as it makes for a fascinating read. As well, it's a truly impromptu version of what crowd sourcing can do.
The Smart Bitches have done a rather masterful job of tracking down a large number of passages from Ms. Edwards' books, and in a PDF file worthy of academic research standards, the passages in Ms. Edwards' books are placed side-by-side with original source material, much of it out of copyright, which reveals, as The Bitches put it, "an eerie" similarity. They put it mildly at that point; later in their blog, it's clear that passages in the Edwards' books were lifted almost word-for-word from the original source material.
I suggest everyone who writes take a look at the PDF file, and report back to me! It's an amazing document.
Comment of my own: I don't need to know if something is copyright infringement, a legal designation, to know that it's plagiarism, an issue of theft, and thus ethics; however, if you read through all the comments over at the Bitches' site, you'll see a few people have allowed as how plagiarism might happen once or twice, by accident, but not a lot of times. I'm not sure I buy this. I know as a researcher, I read tons of material, and then I sit down to write a story using the information I have read, but not the words, not even a so-called paraphrasing of the words. The benefit-of-the-doubt people say that after of hours of research, it's hard to separate what you read from what you're going to write, that we're sponges, that we genuinely think what we've written is our own. I just wonder: How many of you have heard of a shoplifter who didn't know he was shoplifting? Probably no one.