Plagiarism or Copyright Fair Use?

While traveling to the AAA auto repair center to pick up my car I heard something on NPR that caught my attention.  The latest literary scandal involves Cassie Edwards, Paul Tolme, and the black-footed ferret.

Cassie Edwards is a historical romance novelist.  I don’t think I’ve read any of her work.  Her 100th novel, Shadow Bear, appears to contain information that Paul Tolme reported in 2005 about the endangered black-footed ferret.  The absurdity is that after the love interests show their love for each other (if you know what I mean) the black-footed ferret becomes the topic of conversation.  A dry and very clinical sounding conversation. 

Paul Tolme’s web site has the links to his NPR interview, his recent article about it and his original story.  Until recently, Cassie Edwards’ web site had information about all of her books and the link to her fan club.  Now her web site is simply “under construction”.

Copyright fair use allows a person to make copies of the media (for example, it’s okay to make a copy of your favorite CD so you have one at work and one at home but it’s not okay to make ten copies and give them away) or use bits and pieces of information.  The US justice system takes a look at how the information was used, how much of the information was taken and if the use devalues the original work. 

Plagiarism is basically lifting or taking the work of someone else and calling it your own.  No credit or acknowledgement is given to the original source.

For writers who need to do a lot of research it can be a fine line between the two.  Sometimes we read things so many times it becomes ingrained in our heads and that’s the only way we think of it. 

Signet, the most recent publisher of Cassie Edwards’ books, is looking into the matter.  Their original statement is that she used the information under copyright fair use and forgot she needed to provide acknowledgement of her sources.  Now they are looking into all of the books she’s published with them.

If a writer has to do research for their books and has been with more than one publisher, wouldn’t an editor at one of the publishing houses ask about how the research was done?  If writing about a specific location, did the author visit it in person, take tours through web sites or use travel brochures? 

I’m not a judge or an expert on copyright laws.  Everything I know about copyright laws is what I’ve read in writing magazines and Wikipedia.  This isn’t the only book in recent years to come under scrutiny and that’s a shame for the entire writing industry.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge