Wednesday 30 November 2011


Novelist Jeremy Duns is on the warpath against plagiarism in spy fiction, his area of expertise.

Here he shows that Lenore Hart's "The Raven's Bride" drew heavily from a 1956 novel.

Lenore Hart's website says she's a fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts at Sweetbriar College, teaches in the graduate writing program at Wilkes University, and is Visiting Writer at Old Dominion University.

Duns is pushing St. Martin's Press to check into things, and notes a few other "rampant plagiarists" that they've published. The book is still available.

Here and here we find Assassin of Secrets lifted from five books by Charles McCarry, as well as some Bond novels and Ludlum. The book seems no longer available and the author's fessed up.

If everything published now also comes in searchable electronic edition, and Google's digitizing the world's back catalogue, how long until somebody starts an automatic routine running everything through TurnItIn? 

I wonder though about efficiency. It's implausible that Hart's book substantially reduced demand for O'Neil's prior book. If anything, it's a fraud on the publisher by the author if the publisher contracted for a new rather than a derivative work, and perhaps a fraud on the reader if the reader enjoyed the book less for its having been derivative. But Dun talks about how he enjoyed Markham's "Assassin of Secrets" enough to have contributed a blurb for the book, before he noticed its heavy lifting from other books that he had previously read and enjoyed. If an expert gets new enjoyment from reading what feels like a new book, how different is this from remix artists creating new things from other songs? The same post has extensive discussion of other, more minor, literary appropriations that seemed acceptable.

Perhaps this kind of thing ought to be allowed on payment of licensing fees. Tyler wrote a few years back:
Plagiarism is least just when an idea is stolen before the creator can bring it to the public.  That said, some of these forms of plagiarism are efficient, if not always fair.  We can expect the "good executors" to steal from the "idea people"; not all of the latter can execute well, nor are they typically good at selling their ideas to the executors.
Optimal policy is not obvious.


  1. Well, one obvious difference is that remix artists are openly, obviously using the prior work of others. Plagiarists such as the ones mentioned above are trying to pass off the hard work of other writers as their own, original efforts. That's sneak thievery, pure and simple. That's lying. That's fraud.

  2. It's a fraud, yes. As I'd noted. But it gets into the utilitarian arguments about whether something you don't notice and that doesn't directly harm you can count as a harm.