Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Attack of the Black-footed Ferrets

On the I.N.K. blog, Ris wrote about a plagiarism case that recently came to light. I started to comment, and the comment grew to be too unwieldy. I guess I have a few more things to say about it than a comment box can contain.

If Cassie Edwards deliberately took another writer's work to pad her word count and used the excuse that she didn't know how else to include the information, then she really needs to be called out for this. It's the stealing to eat argument with the exception that she has demonstrated that she doesn't have to steal in order to eat. Most of the writing in her books is her own, or so I assume, so really, excluding that text wouldn't cause her to starve. It was an option, a choice, with no negative consequences to her career (or at least that are clear to me. I could be wrong.)

It also seems unlikely that Ms. Edwards is innocent, as I understood is her claim, because she didn't know it was wrong. Didn't it bother her in the least that she was cutting and pasting someone else's work and selling it to a publisher as her own? Ignorance of the law, maybe, but how about ethical standard, or even simple pride? Very young children are taught in grade school that their papers have to be written in their own words. They can't just copy. This message is reinforced through middle school, high school and beyond. Maybe she never thought about the reason behind this, that you have to actually do the work in order to get the credit. Not only did she get the credit (until she was exposed) but she got paid for it.

Sometimes people do things without thinking it through, and I can understand that. I've certainly done things I'm ashamed of, sometimes deliberately, sometimes because I was short-sighted, lacked information, or had a major blonde moment. Having said that, if she really is a writer then she sits in front of a typewriter or a computer or scribbles into a notebook for hours and hours, producing words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters. That's honest, hard labor and she very much deserves to get paid for that. If she's given the luxury of time, she revises that draft, polishes, and ships it off to her agent (or publisher.)  That also is work she should get paid for.

She stops being a writer when she starts to transcribe instead of write. I'm not sure how someone could unwittingly cross that line.

Then again, I've had times when I've been a really crappy mother. That's an unforgivable, awful thing and it haunts me. It wasn't deliberate per se, but deep down I knew I could, and should do more and better for my kids. If she had a bad mom moment with her writing, I completely understand, but that also means that she will have to at some point apologize, and try to make things better, or do things better. If she can't atone or legalities prevent her from apologizing, she has to at least stop, to not do that anymore, and not pretend that everything's all right. Considering the threats of boycott and the rising scandal, I doubt she will be able to pretend everything's all right even if she wanted to. It just depends on who she is. If she believes Signet's statement and persists in the idea that she did no wrong, maybe she can spin this as a great unfairness, a bunch of poopyheads trying to ruin her life and career. We could all be jealous, conniving people who want to tear down her success. I sure hope she doesn't feel that way. I'd feel so badly for her. That would set her up for a very miserable life and might well end her career, whereas a swift apology and some compensation might have saved it.

On the plus side, Paul Tolme, the man who wrote the ferret article, is now famous. The ferrets might do pretty well too. I also hope that any writers out there who felt the issues of rights infringement and plagiarism were unclear can now recognize that the public will not turn a blind eye if they discover that someone has placed a by-line over someone else's writing. People do care. They want writers, and musicians and artists, etc. to be compensated for their work, because it's only fair. Just because their product is public and easily obtained and easily reproduced that doesn't mean it should be free, any more than the tasks I complete at work should be done for free because any monkey can be taught to do it.

The outrage out there is in part a result from thousands of people being underpaid, laid off, underemployed and undervalued. They know what it's like to work hard and see nothing for it. So this won't go away quietly. The ferret is out of the bag, and there's no way Ms. Edwards will be able to get it back in.


Carissa said...

Go, Kami! Well said.

In the very least, I am glad this has gotten writers and readers talking once more about the issue of plagiarism. And ferrets. Ferrets are awesome.

Kai Jones said...


(Yes, I know I can make it bigger, but it makes *everything* on the page bigger, too, and then there is less width of text.)

Kami said...

I tried to change elements to be more legible. May have mucked things up, but oh well. For whatever reason some changes didn't take. Hopefully it'll adjust itself soon.

Kami said...

I tried to change elements to be more legible. May have mucked things up, but oh well. For whatever reason some changes didn't take. Hopefully it'll adjust itself soon.

Carissa said...


You can change the font size of just your posts on the new post page. It is next to the Font box and looks like "tT" Click on that to enlarge and make smaller, rather than changing the font of your entire page. Just this entry was too small, so the text size box may have been hit accidently while you were typing it (I'm always tabbing off the entry title box and changing things before I actually tab into the text entry box!).