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How Opal Mehta got plagiarized...

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steph

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I do really empathize with KV- not because I think she's at all the injured party in this (obvious MM is, and she has my full-on sympathy, though I hope this will boost her novel sales in the long run) or because I sympathize with the "pressure" KV was under or think her age is an excuse for this happening- I don't.  I empathize with KV, because even though I don't think a young author is any less capable or culpable in this situation, I do think that a nineteen year old is likely less equipped to deal with the consequences.  She's old enough to know better, but is she old enough to handle being a scandal picked up by the AP and blasted all over the world?  I know some people will say that if you do the crime, you do the time, but I can't help but think that this will be harder for her than it would be for someone older.

She's living in a college dorm, and her college newspaper just printed an expose.  She's the person to laugh and whisper about, and people are GLAD that something happened to knock her off her pedestal.  The college environment is surprisingly conducive to a high school type cruelty, and while the real world may be as well, it's not as concentrated.  Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't help but think that the scale of the impact on her daily life of this fallout is going to be much, much bigger than it would be for someone in a later stage of their life.

I'm not excusing her.  I'm not saying that what she did was right, or that she shouldn't be punished.  I'm not saying that she didn't bring this media circus down on herself, or that her age somehow excuses it.  I'm just saying that, even at twenty-two, nineteen seems awfully young to me to be dealing with this.  I'm not thinking in terms of career plans (if no one wants to publish her again, that's just tough), but I'm thinking of her personal life, and I'm afraid that the personal day-to-day fallout might be really huge, and I feel really sorry for that.
e
Thanks Jen, you explained what I was trying to get across much more succinct than I. I guess that's why you are published ;)
#91 - April 24, 2006, 06:05 PM

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Here is the link to a statement made by Viswanathan regarding the similarities . . .

http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=512999
#92 - April 24, 2006, 06:24 PM
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Thanks Jen, you explained what I was trying to get across much more succinct than I. I guess that's why you are published ;)

I'll bet that's what KV said when she read MM's book. Kidding, of course.

#93 - April 24, 2006, 06:39 PM

fuego80027

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I just found this thread. and have done a lot of reading here. I do wonder if there is somesort of program that a ms could be run through to catch copy catters ( is that even a word?) And the original book I wonder how many people have gone out and read it?
#94 - April 24, 2006, 06:42 PM

steph

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I'll bet that's what KV said when she read MM's book. Kidding, of course.



Yes, I'm part of Jen's 5 year marketing plan!

After 5 years when I receive my 7 figure advance (and for 1 book no less), I'll refer to Jen's books... and well you know the rest.

I will of course have an easier time as I will have 4 books to pilfer from
#95 - April 24, 2006, 06:43 PM
« Last Edit: April 24, 2006, 06:49 PM by steph »

picturebookwriter

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You know, there's a picture book about a dog at obedience school, which I have never read, that sounds a lot like an old Charlie Brown cartoon. I always thought it odd.
#96 - April 24, 2006, 08:01 PM

steph

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Well, how absolutely perfect for MM - she may not have received a 500k advance but hey the publicity is priceless and just in time for her

book 'Charmed Thirds' which also hit the shelves in April 11,2006...hmmmm.
#97 - April 24, 2006, 08:21 PM

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It's patronizing for the same reason it's patronizing to say that a minority who robs someone shouldn't be held to the same standard as a white person. Holding them to a lesser standard implies they are not capable of meeting the ethical standard others can meet (and, FWIW, I am a minority and so is my husband). There are many young authors who can not only meet standards of ethical writing, but excel in doing so (I like to think I'm one of them, although 23 may be outside the edge of what's considered "young"). Claiming her age as a reason to feel sorry for her (you, yourself, referred to her often as "young") insults me because it implies that I, as a young writer, am  incapable of the same work older writers create. I don't think age should have anything to do with it.

Agent Kristin Nelson has some very valid points about young writers on her blog: http://pubrants.blogspot.com/2006_03_01_pubrants_archive.html

Here's a particularly relevant quote:

"Your age doesn’t really matter to me. Just your writing ability. If you’re under 18, no need to declare so in your query letter. It’s unprofessional for one. Two, it’s irrelevant. I won’t think you a prodigy or lend you an extra dose of sympathy or be more lenient and request a partial. It won’t do any of those things. I still want a well-written, professional query that shows me you’ve done your research about this business and you’re ready to be serious and be taken seriously."

Karen


#98 - April 24, 2006, 08:25 PM
« Last Edit: October 10, 2010, 09:34 AM by Karen K »
Out now: DEADLY DELICIOUS

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Something that's been gnawing at me is whether or not it was intentional. (I don't really care how old she is. To me, that's irrelevant.) When I was younger, before my kids were born and sucked away what brain cells I had left, I had a photographic memory. When I read something, I remembered it forever. There are still odd, random fragments inside my head. So part of me wonders if a gifted student might have a photographic memory too.

Plus, when I hear a phrase that I find to be especially brilliant, I chew on it and think about it, and often add it to my vocabulary or knowledge base--to be called upon later. (These are quotes from famous people--I memorize who said it too, beautifully written descriptions, anything really.) I love words and can always appreciate it when they're masterfully crafted into an image or feeling. 

However, when I read the passages that were similar, they weren't similar, they were exact--word for word in some cases. And they weren't just word for word in a phrase or two--nobody would probably even notice that. I would be curious if there are others, in her other works that aren't her own. If a brilliant writer just copies from other brilliant writers, is she still a brilliant writer or just a brilliant typist? I wonder...
Kelly
#99 - April 25, 2006, 03:56 AM
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If a brilliant writer just copies from other brilliant writers, is she still a brilliant writer or just a brilliant typist? I wonder...
Kelly

Shakespeare did it all the time, and most folks think he was still a pretty sharp fella......
#101 - April 25, 2006, 06:08 AM

Shoshi

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There's an article about this in today's NY Times.
#102 - April 25, 2006, 06:18 AM

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There's an article about this in our itty-bitty local daily (picked up from AP, of course).

My thought this morning is this:  I'm glad the mistakes I made at 17, 18 or 19 were not big enough to make national news.  But I did make them, and plenty of them.

AM
#103 - April 25, 2006, 06:26 AM
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Jaina

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http://in.rediff.com/news/2006/apr/25ajp.htm

I have to say, she does sound pretty ESL in the quotes.  She says it's was a "hard procession" (not process) and that no one else in her family had shown an "inclination to be creative side."  Unless these are misquotes.

Before anyone gets offended, I'm not trying to "pick" on her or anyone who might not have English as their first language!  My own mother is from South America and even though she's lived in the US for longer than her childhood, teen and college years in her home country, she still has problems with some English idioms.  She always has me look over anything "official" she writes to make sure it's correct, and she's one well-educated lady!  Now that I think about it, she also went to college at 15, hmm . . .
#104 - April 25, 2006, 06:30 AM

Jaina

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Now that I think about it, I still have problems with some English idioms!

Anyway, my point was that perhaps some of the posters on this thread were right--I don't know KV at all, but it could be that American English phrasing doesn't come naturally to her.
#105 - April 25, 2006, 06:32 AM

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Yeah, I'd say it sounds like maybe she needed some help with dialogue -- she might have taken from more than one source, if that's the case.  It's too bad...but I also have (ha -- had!) a photographic memory, and I too always remembered the source of the words and phrases I loved...I'm sure she did too, if that's the case.  But it is too bad that she has to experience this so young...and there but for the grace of God go I.  :P
#106 - April 25, 2006, 07:19 AM
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Another thought occured to me on how at least *some* of these "internalizations" could have happened pretty innocently.  When I write, I write the way I talk.  At the same time, though, the things I read and watch on television affect the way I talk.  I can imagine someone really liking certain phrases in a book and mentally earmarking them as things to say (like the masochistic cinnabon thing, or having to be either smart or pretty) and then, after saying them for months or years, forgetting that they didn't make them up.  This doesn't really work for all of the examples, but for some of the ones that are based on a "catchy phrase," it's believable...

The question, I guess, is whether or not it's believable that she could have done that with the catchy phrase ones, and then just plain internalized some of the others.  I'm still somewhat skeptical, but I also can't bring myself to believe that someone in her position would plagiarize with so little to gain, or that, if they decided to do it, they'd do it so BADLY.

On another note, it's come up in the articles that KV shares the copyright to Opal Mehta with 17th Street Productions, her book packager.  I think this is fairly standard with book packagers (maybe?), but it could put them into hot water as well...
#107 - April 25, 2006, 07:27 AM
« Last Edit: April 25, 2006, 08:13 AM by Jen »

HB

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Jaina, I read that article you linked to and the writer seems to have a few problems with the English language himself. So I wouldn't assume that those quotes are necessarily correct.

I looked up one of the quotes he's attributed to her from her press release. In his article it's a sentence fragment. In other articles it isn't. (Paragraph 4)
#108 - April 25, 2006, 07:57 AM

Jaina

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No comment.  I have no idea what you're talking about.
#109 - April 25, 2006, 08:00 AM

lurban

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We have been calling our daughter a "silly moo" for a very long time.  I'm sure if the opportunity presented itself, I'd have used the phrase in a book without concern.  Last night, I was reading her poetry from WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS and there it was "silly moo."  These things happen.
#110 - April 25, 2006, 08:04 AM

Jaina

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Just kidding, HB.  Could be that it was his problem, not hers.

P.S.--I just had to go back and fix that sentence, because I wrote "proglem."  And that is MY proglem!
#111 - April 25, 2006, 08:04 AM

Bella

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To be honest, my first response to this was 'Oh, the poor girl.' I mean, poor MM too obviously, she's clearly the victim here and by the sounds of it, there's little doubt that these words really do belong to her (and while this is probably great publicity for her, this really isn't the sort of publicity anyone would want).
But after the girl's been feted, applauded, paid huge $$$, had the prospect of Steven Spielberg turning her book into a movie and all at the age of 19 - it's like watching a dream come true suddenly turn into a nightmare. If this mistake ruins her career, that would be very sad. After all this, it's not like she'll be copying anything ever again, after all. Plus, I wonder what this will mean for her other employment possibilities after college.

It's just a horrible situation for everyone. :(
#112 - April 25, 2006, 09:08 AM

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I don't think KV's career is ruined.  She's only 19 ... and has lots of time to redeem herself.  I hope she never, ever does this again.
It's very hard for me to believe that she did this unintentionally.  If it were simply a matter of short phrases, like "silly moo," I could believe it, but not entire sentences.  And I also don't care whether she has trouble with colloquial American English.  Or if she had stress. They're all excuses.
Vijaya
ps: Oh, and this topic title bothers me ... I really want to get rid of the "got" because it's not her words that were plagiarized, rather she plagiarized.

#113 - April 25, 2006, 09:30 AM
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Melanie

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how much of this responsibility falls on the editor and publisher?  why is it that someone at the harvard paper discovered the plagiarism before the editor and publisher?  if it was a matter of them purchasing the book before it was finished, they must have seen several drafts of it, no?  did no one at LB read McCafferty's book?

strange.  :eh:
#114 - April 25, 2006, 09:49 AM



And I also don't care whether she has trouble with colloquial American English. Or if she had stress. They're all excuses.
Vijaya

But there's a difference between excusing someone's behaviour and just trying to understand it. I'm very curious about motives, intentions, circumstances, and environments that surround such actions. We don't live in a vaccum, and it is interesting to think about what drives us to do certain things....
#115 - April 25, 2006, 10:00 AM

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Whew!  Just read through this entire post and feel an abundance of emotions.  We all feel strongly about this issue because we're writers but it does seem to me many posts reflect an attitude of "writer first, human being second."  I've made so many horrible mistakes in my life and can't imagine having the spotlight on any of them.  Fortunately, I privately outlived those mistakes and make fewer of them as I age but this young woman's shame is front and center.  Personally, I don't feel a need to point and whisper.

Stealing someone else's words is bad but I'd rather use the tar and feathers on those whose lies/cheating resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands.   
#116 - April 25, 2006, 10:09 AM
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Whew!  Just read through this entire post and feel an abundance of emotions.  We all feel strongly about this issue because we're writers but it does seem to me many posts reflect an attitude of "writer first, human being second."  I've made so many horrible mistakes in my life and can't imagine having the spotlight on any of them.  Fortunately, I privately outlived those mistakes and make fewer of them as I age but this young woman's shame is front and center.  Personally, I don't feel a need to point and whisper.

Stealing someone else's words is bad but I'd rather use the tar and feathers on those whose lies/cheating resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands.   
I see what you're saying Vinca, but I have to disagree. Many of us have expressed sadness for the situation and even a bit of sympathy over her plight but that doesn't change the fact that what she did was very wrong. I'm not going to baby her or accept her excuses. I might feel more sympathetic if she could be truthful and fully accept responsibility for what she did.

I say this as a human first... If you're going to make a 'mistake', be prepared to deal with whatever consequences are dealt to you (public or private). Maybe that makes me harsh but I don't care.

My son brought home a report card last month that showed a drop from an 86% to a 44% in one of his classes. When I found out he'd misplaced a project and hadn't handed it in, I did not bale him out and he did not get a lot of sympathy. He made a mistake. We discussed the need for responsibility and organization skills but I did not go running to the teacher for him, asking if there was any way he could make it up. He's going to have to deal with that mark and bring it up on his own. Harsh? Maybe.

People don't learn from their mistakes if there aren't consequences to those mistakes. KV made her choice. Now she can live with it. And I'm not whispering. This is a public forum. She's welcome to come and read my comments any time she likes.
#117 - April 25, 2006, 10:46 AM

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I agree, Lenzi, that it's interesting to think about the why ... but as much as I've thought about it, I still don't understand it.  I think it boils down to fuzzy morality.  People don't distinguish between right and wrong.  I mean, as a mother of young children, I'm constantly harping on doing the right thing -- don't hit your sister, don't bite your brother, don't lie, don't cheat, be kind, do the right thing even if everyone else around you is doing the wrong thing, etc.  My hope is that is we impart a strong sense of ethics and moral values to our children so that they know when they've crossed the line.  Anyway, I digress, like Vinca.  This is a discussion about plagiarism, not terrorism or war or raising my kids.
Vijaya
#118 - April 25, 2006, 10:50 AM
« Last Edit: April 25, 2006, 10:57 AM by Vijaya »
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sbk, I didn't mean to imply these posts are whispers.  I was referring to Jen's point about the author living in the dorm on a college campus, dealing with her peers pointing and whispering.  I agree that you're entitled to write whatever you want here and I couldn't agree more that we as humans need to be accountable for our mistakes.  Each one of us. 

And Vijaya is right that this is a discussion about plagiarism but I can't help thinking it's much easier to get all wound up about the smaller stuff rather than the bigger issues.  But again, this is a writing community so plagiarism is the highest crime.  Please understand that I wasn't pointing the finger at anyone here, just making a comment with the big picture in mind.  I appreciate the thought and analysis that went into this discussion.
#119 - April 25, 2006, 11:01 AM
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Opal's Amazon ranking keeps getting better and better--it cracked the top 100 and is now around 74--Little Brown won't have to worry about getting the books back--the first printing will be gone in no time.
#120 - April 25, 2006, 11:02 AM

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