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Plagiarism in books

Every politician’s nightmare is to be caught in a compromising position with an underage boy/girl. Every doctor’s worst fear is to be faced with a malpractice suit. Every writer’s trepidation is that somehow, someday, he/she will end up being branded a plagiarist, caught by a plagiarism checker. In the academic realm, plagiarism is rife. However, the same also occurs in the publishing world. Take the case of the author of the 2006 novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life Kaavya Viswanathan. Kaavya’s book contained numerous passages plagiarized from other books that her writing career was instantly over. There have been many famous cases of plagiarism, which I will discuss below.

We recently found out of how difficult plagiarism is to explain when we discovered several plagiarized passages in a book that was submitted to our plagiarism checker. The author insisted the passages were not plagiarized, which left it to us to explain why we thought they were.

One famous plagiarism book essay is Alex Haley in his book Roots. Alex Haley won a Pulitzer Prize for his story about several generations of a black family residing in America, a family where he said was his own. Haley stated that he had carried out years of research into his family’s past before writing Roots, but historians cast doubt onto the research and whether Kunta Kinte, the man Hayley maintained was his ancestor actually existed. After Roots became a legendary miniseries, Haley was sued by another author Harold Courlander, who argued that some passages of Hayley’s book were taken from his book The African. Hayley responded by claiming that he did not plagiarize but later admitted that a few sections of Roots seemed to have appeared originally in Courlander’s The African. Haley’s plagiarism of Courlander’s book was so evident that even Michael Wood, an English professor from Columbia University did a comparative analysis of the two books and found that evidence of plagiarism was clear and irrefutable. Woods argued that evidence of copying from The African was extensive and significant, in particular, Courlander’s ideas, phrases, situations, and aspects of plot and style. However, during his trial, Haley said that he had personally never read The African. Haley heavily relied on oral histories to authenticate his historical claims that proved to be an issue when critics backed by checkers started stating the several inaccuracies of his book.

Kaavya Viswanathan was found guilty of plagiarism in her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life. This book was poised to be a chick-lit big hit and even landed Kaavya a movie deal before she was found guilty of plagiarizing two works by Megan McCafferty; Second Helpings and Sloppy Firsts and The Princess Diaries and works by Salman Rushdie and Sophie Kinsella. Kaavya lost both the movie and book deal. However, on the Today Show, she argued that she was innocent of the plagiarism accusations and that she had basically ‘internalized’ details of the other author’s novels, and that any similarities evident were ‘completely unintentional’. Additionally, popular biographer and historian Stephen Ambrose, renowned for his book Band of Brothers was involved in a plagiarism scandal in 2002 when he was charged with taking sections of the book Wings of Morning written by Thomas Childer, and put them in his book The Wild Blue. A further investigating by Forbes.com showed that passages in some of his other books; Custer and Crazy Horse proved to be similar to sections of books by other authors. Ambrose apologized.

After examining the plagiarism of books by Alex Haley, Kaavya Viswanathan and Stephen Ambrose, it is evident that more needs to be done, in terms of punishment. In the suit filed by Courlander, Haley ultimately acknowledged accidentally lifting three paragraphs from Courlander’s work and he settled the suit out of court. On the other hand, Ambrose only suffered public shaming while Viswanathan lost the movie and book deal.

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