Friday, April 28, 2006

Hello, can someone do this story?

Hey, New York Times, Washington Post, New York Review of Books...someone! Can one of you guys do a really good, in-depth story about plagiarism and why authors continue to do it, especially now in the days of Lexis/Nexis and Google.

I've always wondered what goes through writers' heads when they basically copy paragraph after paragraph of another author's work and think they will somehow get away with it. It often comes to light with newspaper writers, but it also happens with book authors - novelists and non-fiction.

A few years ago, the issue got a burst of press when both Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential biographers and historians, were found to have used others' work as their own.

Now, we see it with hot new lit sensation, 19-year old Kaaya Viswanathan of Harvard, who got a huge book deal for her novel, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life," only to have it turn out she had plagiarized many passages from young-adult writer Megan McCafferty's books, "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings."

As the Times reports: "The similarities between "Opal" and Ms. McCafferty's books were striking in some cases, with many passages in Ms. Viswanathan's novel — (McCafferty publisher) Crown cited more than 40 — echoing Ms. McCafferty's works almost exactly."

I really am fascinated by this. How can these people not think they will get caught?

It's calling out for a great report, and I'd love to know the psychological backstory. Not just that it happens, but why do they do it?

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