Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Wow, plagiarism scandal

I saw this at Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s blog first:

…this week, historical romance writer and lawyer (who specializes in intellectual property) Courtney Milan discovered—thanks to some eagle-eyed readers—that some “writer” named Cristiane Serruya plagiarized her novel The Duchess War.

I found out a few days ago, and had to deal with some things in my own life, and by the time I returned to Twitter, I discovered this scandal had mushroomed…

It’s quite something. Serruya apparently hired ghostwriters to churn out books with her name on them, these books involved extensive plagiarism, when this was discovered she blamed the ghostwriters, they say she cobbled together the manuscripts and their job was just to smooth them out … either way, of course, it’s all on Serruya, as she’s the one who put her name on the books.

Tactical tip for plagiarists: it’s not wise to target Courtney Milan or Nora Roberts. The former is a lawyer and the latter has quite a reputation for going after plagiarists with everything she’s got. (And good for her.)

But this is the part that gets me:

Courtney Milan says:

Can I just talk about this for a second? Robert’s yearning for family–and specifically, to be a part of Oliver, his half brother’s, family–is a theme in The Duchess War that stretches across the entire series, up through the point in The Suffragette Scandal when Free ends up on his doorstep thinking that she’s imposing. It is something that meant a lot to me when writing it, and to have someone take this scene–the one where Robert feels he simply just doesn’t get to have anyone love him because of who his father was–and to have them rewrite it, while taking out the bones of what made the scene tick–it just makes me feel awful.

And there you have the emotional problem with plagiarism, aside from financial and moral considerations. This is really terrible for Courtney Milan, and for every other plagiarized author. It would be really terrible even if there were no repercussions other than the emotional ones of seeing someone else take your baby and do this hack-and-slash job on it.

Kristine’s post is mostly about ghostwriting, and when ghostwriting turns into the process of faking books together to game Amazon’s algorithms.

The situation with Serruya’s plagiarism is not really the point of Kristine’s post, but it’s the part with the emotional fallout, so it’s the part that caught my attention. Hard to believe someone would be stupid enough to plagiarize extensively from some of the very best known, best selling romance authors out there. Yet she got away with it long enough to plagiarize dozens of books and authors.

Good post about this at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:

And then there’s the ridiculousness of lifting so much from so many places to assemble into one book. Imagine the work that goes into creating a new document, then taking portions of others, fitting them into the skeleton of some kind of narrative, and finding others to add in as well. Forget the mathematical calculations of how many tabs that would be in a browser. Why would someone do that? It seems like an astonishing amount of really, really dumb work and, as always, you’ll get caught.

It seems both clever, in a way — all that splicing must take such a lot of effort — and deeply, deeply stupid in a very obvious way; and I don’t understand why Serruya thought she could get away with this kind of massive plagiarism of so many extremely well-known authors. What can possibly be in the mind of someone who does this?

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5 Comments Wow, plagiarism scandal

  1. SarahZ

    It seems like there’s got to be a lot of cognitive dissonance at work to:

    1) decide that it’s too difficult to write your own book, and making some sort of franken-novel would be easier

    and

    2) think that all these romances are so similar/generic that no one will ever notice the theft

    at the same time.

  2. Mary Catelli

    It’s sad that the plagiarism scandals I have heard of always reveal that many books were put out before someone noticed.

  3. Rachel

    Sarah, yes, a lot of fairly weird thought processes seem to be involved.

    Mary, you said it. But this person might have put all 35 books out in a short time span; sounds like that would be part of the whole plagiarism-as-get-rich-quick-scheme idea.

  4. Pete Mack

    Amazon deserves a lot of grief for this. They already have a massive corpus of electronic works. They should have no trouble detecting duplication within that set, and they should be doing it aggressively. They can also do style analysis (word frequency, etc) and reject books that lack it. I am with Roberts on the reader side: there is a whole lot of dreck at Amazon that makes it harder to find new writers worth reading. Paying 3.99 (or more) for a few hours’ entertainment is not an unreasonable expense.

  5. Rachel

    Pete, yes to all that. It really looks to me like if Amazon wanted to, they could solve this problem in a day or less. We already HAVE plagiarism detection software. They already HAVE the full uploaded text of every ebook. What the heck is the problem? Get it done!

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