As I was surfing for answers in the frantic search for how to solve the LJ cut debacle I got into a 6 clicks of separation and ended up reading posts about plagiarism. If you know me, it’s just how my mind works, what can I say? Anyway, in the long convoluted way it evolved because I was searching for answers then decided I’d check up on Dear Authors and Trashy Bitches since I hadn’t read them in a month (why the connection? No idea, but it was there) and so on leading to reading their back posts on plagiarism.
Which went on and on because as I reading it struck me then that there is quite a bit of plagiarism in the romance writing world; more than just the very notable and high profile Janet Daily, Cassie Edwards and JJ Massa. What astonished me even more was the realization that being caught blatantly plagiarizing and even admitting to such has not stopped these authors (and others I’m sure) from being successful and published authors.
Part of that is clearly the feeling that Romance fiction is all the same. It’s formulaic and the same ideas/settings are used frequently so how can it be plagiarism if an entire genre does it? Everyone has had those moments when something you’ve read or seen reminded you of something else. I’m sure all of us have read numerous plagiarized accounts without realizing it at the time. It’s only when you take the time to look more into it, do you uncover the evidence. This of course comes to the point that very few actually take the time and effort to see if what they’re reading is authentic. You rely on the publisher and the author themselves for honesty and original work. You are putting your trust in their ethics that they are not going to use another’s words because they’re not creative enough to do it on their own.
So who cares if Romance books are all the same? Well I do. Perhaps that’s not good enough, although the amount I spend on romance books in any given year is more than the GNP of small, third world countries (to which I do donate because after all, that is so wrong). So maybe just one person wanting someone to be original isn’t enough but really where is the pride? Romance novels are almost categorically looked down upon as trash reading, bodice rippers, or Harlequin fluff. When I was in grad school, I was always hiding the covers of books I read because a scientist doesn’t read that trash and I was teased mercilessly for it. Some I could argue were well-written and others, well I enjoyed them anyway so back off!
This has led to a belief that the writing talent produced in this genre is sub-par and therefore, any plagiarism is laughable. It’s ok since its romance or erotica. After all, there are only so many ways to have a HEA and sex right? Unfortunately what I’ve found is that the majority of plagiarism is “up to interpretation”. Apparently you can steal an entire story and as long as you paraphrase it, you’re set! You have plausible deniability. That doesn’t stop you from being a talentless hack but hey, you’ll probably make a lot of money from it still.
Unfortunately none of this even comes close to touching the murky world of fanfic. Now, I’m a big fan of fanfic pieces and I’ve even written a few. There is truly nothing more complimentary to a creator (IMO) then to fanfic their universe and even characters – provided that you acknowledge you are not said creator of world or characters and the only bits that are yours are words you craft. Most of this is understood under the title “fanfic” but when does that become more?
I recently read a novel that I could swear was an extended and slightly modified view of a fanfic piece. Now I do believe the author of the fanfic piece and the novel were one and the same, even with different pseudo-names but it occurred to me, is that ok to change a detail or two? Is that enough? What is not enough or too much? Is it ok? After all, you are publishing *your* original, creative input to the story even if you didn’t build the foundation. Whenever I think of that, I just imagine if JK. Rowling would allow fanfic pieces to be sold and profited off her creativity?
In the genre of Romance writing, originality and creativity should be rewarded as should re-inventing the wheel. Perhaps I’m alone in that belief but I do think if you write a take on classic themes, you should be recognized as such versus the author that created a new sci-fi world. It doesn’t mean it’s poorly written or less of a great book but they are two different animals of creativity. Too many authors get published with poorly thought out plots, poor characterizations, horrid dialogue and unrealistic positions (the average person is not limber enough for the advanced karma sutra, I’m sorry). I like a guilty pleasure read as much as the next person but sometimes I do get the feeling that I’m enjoying the trash of someone else’s labors.
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