Saturday, April 29, 2006
At first, I was reluctant to blog about this issue, but ever since the plagiarism news got broken in The Harvard Crimson, the floodgates of comments and blogs opened, and Harvard Sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan has been pilloried uncessantly.
I am not writing this post to defend Kaavya here. Nor do I support any act of plagiarism (though copycat Bollywood does it all the time but no one touches its whiskers). Not 14 as initially reported but about 39 counts of plagiarism were found in Kaavya's novel, How Opel Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got A Life. Interesttingly, the novel was not selling like hot cakes. It was not on the NYT bestseller list. At Amazon, it was at some 300+ rank. Once the controversy broke out, Kaavya has hit the international headlines. She has become one of the top ten searches at Technorati.
Is this a story of getting all the glory (the USD 500,000 advance, a movie deal, international coverage) for an eighteen year old and then giving everything away, nosediving into the abyss of disrepute? Or there is something more to it than what meets the eye?
I guess people should pay attention to a NYT report that addresses this angle:
"Nobody associated with the plagiarism accusations is pointing fingers at Alloy, a behind-the-scenes creator of some of the hottest books in young-adult publishing. Ms. Viswanathan says that she alone is responsible for borrowing portions of two novels by Megan McCafferty, "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings." But at the very least, the incident opens a window onto a powerful company with lucrative, if tangled, relationships within the publishing industry that might take fans of series like "The It Girl" by surprise."(The NYT)
Look at these important facts and decide for yourself:
1. On the copyright page of Kaavya's novel — and the contracts — there's an additional name: Alloy Entertainment
2. The relationships between Alloy and the publishers are so intertwined that the same editor, Claudia Gabel, is thanked on the acknowledgments pages of both Ms. McCafferty's books and Ms. Viswanathan's "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life."
3. Alloy owns or shares the copyright with the authors and then divides the advances and any royalties with them.
4. The publishing contract Little, Brown signed is actually with Alloy, which holds the copyright to "Opal" together with Ms. Viswanathan. Neither Little, Brown nor Alloy would comment on how much of the advance or the royalties — standard contracts give 15 percent of the cover price to the author — Ms. Viswanathan is to collect.
5. After the breaking out of the controversy, both the books have gone up in the Amazon.com rankings. It means sales of these two books multiplied.
6. Ms. McCafferty, from whose novels Kaavya has stolen the phrases, has clearly said that she was not pressing any legal charges against the erring author.
7. Kaavya has gone on leave from her school. In a few week's time, the story will be forgotten, and Ms Kaavya will go on with her normal life.
Based on the above, please make up your own mind. And let me know if you have anything to say on this.