So I, for one, don’t care if you’re currently writing a book about a guy with a sword who reluctantly sets out to free his people from oppression in a world of sorcerers, magic, and prophets. Yes, I already wrote that book. So did a lot of other writers. But unless you plagiarize my work, your book about a society-freeing guy with a sword won’t be my book about the same subject, because we’re different writers.
Plagiarism, on the other hand, is when one person copies another’s work and then falsely passes it off as his/her own original work. (Copyright infringement is when you plagiarize work that’s under copyright; plagiarism can include copying work that’s in the public domain and no longer protected by copyright.) Do we all understand the distinction between plagiarism and synchronicity (or mere similarity)? Are there any questions before we move on? No? Okay.
Returning now to the Sugar and Spice novel, I assert that any claim that the plagiarist unconsciously processed, stored, and then regurgitated Verge’s prose word-for-word in all innocence, without being aware of what she was doing, would probably lead to midnight abduction or a bidding war by intelligence agencies keen to cultivate someone who can reproduce whole passages of text that accurately after one casual reading.
Moreover, the sample excerpt on the Sugar and Spice website was not presented as the sole basis of the plagiarism claim, but rather as an example of it; we are, after all, talking about a novel-length work.
A reader calling herself Nihongoluvr titled her Amazon review of this novel “Plagiarism Alert!” on November 10, 2012, the month before the publisher’s announcement on its website. Nihongoluvr wrote: “...the core of the story as well as some of the same scenarios and places were the EXACT same. I read the story years ago, and color me surprised when I read the ‘new book’ and realized I was anticipating the next scenes.” Nihongoluvr concluded: “[This book] is a straight rip off of Logan’s Way by Lisa Verge Higgins.”
I believe the scene-by-scene similarity combined with whole passages of virtually identical text leaves no room for realistic doubt about what happened, though speculation is certainly wide open on why this individual did it, as well as on how she expected to get away with it...though it did take a couple of years for her to get caught, come to think of it. The book is listed as a 2010 release, but it evidently wasn’t until 2012 that someone noticed the rotten smell in Denmark (so to speak).
It should be noted that Sugar and Spice Press acted quite appropriately in this matter, which is not something one really expects of publishers—who too often have a repellant and irresponsible tendency to treat copyright infringement as a silly catfight between writers rather than as a violation of federal law and an inexcusable breach of professional ethics. For example, after bestseller Nora Roberts won her copyright infringement lawsuit against novelist Janet Dailey, Roberts wrote in the Nink letters column: “...Within a year of the settlement, Harper published [Dailey] again, sent her on tour, generated media for the book by using the plagiarism as a hook. For me, it was like being smacked in the face again.” (See: Nink, March 2000; Vol. 11, No. 3)
Sugar and Spice Press, however, issued a public apology to Lisa Verge and immediately removed all of the plagiarizing author’s works from its website. The house also stated its intention to investigate fully, and it vowed that “this matter will be handled with urgency so that we can find a swift resolution.” Now that’s an appropriate publisher reaction to being presented with convincing evidence of plagiarism! In what strikes me as a sadly uncommon stance for a publisher, the company declared, “Sugar and Spice Press abhors plagiarism, and we do not condone this in any way, shape, or form,” also adding that “we believe that plagiarism cannot be tolerated.”
Whoa! Who was that masked man?
However, even an unexpectedly responsible response from a publisher doesn’t solve the problem or eliminate the fall-out. Despite Sugar and Spice removing this individual’s books from its website, the novel in question is still available elsewhere as of this writing. Moreover, there are two years’ worth of copies of the plagiarized novel out there in the hands of readers who are unaware that they’re reading stolen material.
There is also the feeling of violation which remains, particularly if the plagiarist doesn’t admit wrong-doing, apologize, or make amends and reparations (as of this writing, this plagiarist has done none of the above).
Finally, there is the outrageous and unforgivable damage that a plagiarist often does to the good name of the writer from whom he has already stolen. For over a decade, I have been haunted by something Nora Roberts wrote in that same Nink letter about the aftermath of her lawsuit against Dailey: “Do you know what it’s like for me to be told that there are readers, writers, booksellers who aren’t really sure who plagiarized whom? God almighty.” And, indeed, in the years since I read those words, on at least two