Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Viswanathan-Gate, Part II

Publishers Weekly reported an announcement from Little, Brown that How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life will not be reprinted, and that L,B has killed the second novel of the reportedly-half-million-dollar deal.

The PW report then has a long quote from agent Robert Gottlieb, speculating about L,B demanding their advance back from Viswanathan. Either Gottlieb or PW has forgotten the fact that L,B did not contract for this book with Viswanathan; they contracted with Alloy Entertainment, and they would have to seek their money back from Alloy. (Alloy could then pursue Viswanathan themselves, of course, and they have that option no matter what L,B does.)

I also feel compelled to point out that nothing in the PW report indicates that either they or Gottlieb are privy to the terms of L,B's contract with Alloy, or the terms of Viswanathan's contract with Alloy (and I certainly don't know anything about those contracts). Without knowing what those contracts actually forbid and allow, this is all uninformed speculation.

My local paper (and every other news outlet in the world, it seems) has the story of more "plagiarism" claims, which are now getting very silly. The supposed smoking gun of this round is similar scenes from Opal Mehta and Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries in which the heroine is given a massive makeover, and doesn't recognize herself afterward. The two scenes have substantially different phrasing (making the "using the exact words" argument useless) and the "Ugly Duckling Becomes a Swan (And Isn't Sure If She Likes It)" idea is a genre staple -- I'd bet a large sum of money that the intrepid plagiarism-hunting bloggers could find at least a dozen equally similar scenes that pre-dated the Cabot book.

Another supposed case of plagiarism is using a single sentence slogan, in a similar context, from a Salman Rushdie novel. If we apply this standard of plagiarism, no literary novelist in the world will be safe; they all use allusions and references to previous work, mimicking sentences and phrases from previous books.

I'd like to see the people diligently researching Opal Mehta for plagiarism try their hands at a randomly-chosen literary novel, by someone of impeccable reputation. I suspect they'd find just as many "borrowings," but that literary novelists are just better at making allusions, references and genre conventions integral parts of the fabric of their books.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. If this is plagiarism, then Shakespeare was a plagiarist. It is absurd.


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