Apparently, there is justice in this world.

Today, Little Brown, the publisher of Kaavya Viswanathan’s novel, pulled the plug on the thing permanently after learning that Viswanathan had stolen from two other authors. “Little, Brown and Company will not be publishing a revised edition of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life by Kaavya Viswanathan, nor will we publish the second book under contract,” Michael Pietsch, Little Brown’s senior vice president and publisher, said in a statement.

It turns out that Visnawathan stole from the book version of The Princess Diaries by Megan Cabot and also from a book called Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella. Various accounts have reported the same kinds of spookily similar passages in Visnawathan’s book as passages from these two works, much like the eerie similarity of passage from two books by Megan McCafferty that I noted here last week. As I said then, there are simply too many verbatim or nearly verbatim restatements for these things to be coincidental. It’s extremely interesting to note that Visnawathan has suddenly gone silent, refusing comment and refusing to talk to the press. It seems to me that the deafening silence is the best evidence of her guilt; if she was indeed innocent, wouldn’t she be protesting her innocence loudly?

As an author who has worked hard to maintain his integrity and honesty, I am tickled to learn that Little Brown has done the right thing here and has not only pulled the plug on revising the existing book, but also in canceling its contract with the plagiarist. It remains to be seen whether Kinsella or Cabot will pursue copyright infringement claims against Visnawathan (I sincerely hope they do), or whether Little Brown will sue to recover the large advance that it paid to Visnawathan on breach of contract grounds.

Irrespective of whether the publisher or the other authors take legal action, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Kaavya Visnawathan’s career as a novelist is over. That, in and of itself, is poetic justice. Of course, Hollywood being what it is, she’ll probably land a tell-all book deal and sell the movie rights and make a fortune, thus receiving a huge reward for being a thief.

I can only hope that doesn’t happen. Sadly, though, P. T. Barnum was quite correct when he said “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” In a society where a brainless, completely talentless bimbo like Paris Hilton is considered newsworthy and admirable for no reason other than genetics, I don’t hold out a whole lot of hope. However, I remain optimistic and I pray that he will be proved wrong and that justice will be served by Visnawathan’s impending fade into obscurity.

At the very least, my belief in the power of karma has been restored. There is justice in this world.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Dave Kelly
    Wed 03rd May 2006 at 8:26 am

    Care to borrow my napkin? (There’s still blood on your fangs.) ;).

    Still waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think Haavahd ought to boot her out the gate as well…

  2. Wed 03rd May 2006 at 9:50 am

    Wow, so apparently the plagiarism is more serious and broad than I originally thought. Now there are 3 books that she mimicked. At this point, it’s hard for her to keep up her previous defense – that she had read one book many times and it must have “stuck in her head.” Now that there are apparently 3, and passages are nearly verbatim, it’s quite obvious that she had at least a few other books open and on her computer desk while writing…

    Good for the publisher. Yank the book, throw out what’s left, and demand all payments be returned. It’s a breach of contract, not to mention a breach of morals, and hopefully this young lady finds another vocation other than writing to occupy her time.

    Maybe working in a carbon paper and tracing paper manufacturing plant…

    J.D.

  3. Wed 03rd May 2006 at 10:15 am

    Dave,

    It would not surprise me a bit if Harvard didn’t do just that. Plagiarism is, so far as I know, a violation of every student code of ethics around. This is pretty blatant.

    Eric

  4. Wed 03rd May 2006 at 10:17 am

    JD,

    LOL. Good point.

    Eric

  5. Valerie Protopapas
    Wed 03rd May 2006 at 6:44 pm

    Excuse me, but isn’t THEFT involved here? This person took an advance, I’m sure, or at least payment for her book – or rather what WASN’T her book but a compilation of the books authored by others and cobbled together. As the publisher purchased the item with the understanding that it was a legitimate original work, don’t we have not only plagiarism but fraud and theft extant as well?? Now, if she GAVE the work to the publisher and asked for nothing, you might be limited to a charge of plagiarism. But as I’m sure there were monies exchanged in a quid pro quo situation – the publisher’s money for the ‘author’s’ work – then it becomes a matter of fraud and should be pursued as such.

    It won’t be until plagiarists are hit with criminal charges arising from their efforts to defraud their publishers as well as steal the ‘property’ of those from whom they plagiarize that this noxious plague (Hey! Nice word play there!) will cease.

    v.p.

  6. squdge
    Wed 03rd May 2006 at 7:03 pm

    I agree with all who said

    a) Little, Brown ought to ensure that it gets its $500,000 back,

    b) the plagiarist ought to lose her movie contract & any funds pertaining to that,

    c) get booted from Harvard ASAP, and

    d) be prosecuted for theft — which could possibly put her under the strictures of the “Son of Sam laws” that prohibit certain criminals from earning money from tell-all books. (Unfortunately, I’m not sure that this law has not already been stricken down by the courts.)

  7. Wed 03rd May 2006 at 7:21 pm

    Squdge,

    The Son of Sam laws remain in full force and effect.

    Eric

  8. Wed 03rd May 2006 at 8:49 pm

    Dear Eric: It’s safe to conclude that Viswanathan will not be expelled from Harvard College. For one thing, her theft occurred before she was admitted and involved a work not submitted for academic credit. Clearly, the Harvard of another era would have known exactly what to do in this case–boot her for the theft without regard to the legal niceities. It would have been based on her lack of character–in another day, that was the onlye gravamen required.

    But times have changed. For example, the Law School’s Prof. Lawrence Tribe, renowned left-wing constitutional lawyer, wrote in 1985, “God Save This Honorable Court: How the Choice of Justices Shapes Our History.” Only later did he admit stealing entire sections from a 1974 work by Prof. Henry Abraham. Tribe remains tenured at the Law School. Likewise, the Law School’s Prof. Charles Ogletree admitted the “unintentional” borrowing of six entire paragraphs from another man’s book. He still retains his chair. (In “fairness” to Ogletree, he later admitted that “his” book was actually a cut and paste job performed by his students to which he later slapped on his name!) Moreover, another well-known Harvardian, an historian in fact, settled out of court on multiple charges of literary theft. At the time, she was an Overseer of the Corporation, and was permitted to serve out her term.

    So bear in mind that stealing at Harvard ain’t what it was. Today’s Harvard is characterized by indiscriminate grade inflation and professorial self-inflation, the curbing of which arguably cost Larry Summers his job as university president.

    An easy prediction–other than legal hassles over her advance, Ms. Viswanathan will pay no academic price at Harvard. Indeed, by her fourth year, she may even have tenure!

  9. Wed 03rd May 2006 at 9:15 pm

    Richard,

    Welcome back from the Big Sand Box! I’m very pleased to hear that you made it home safely.

    I had forgotten that you are a Crimson alum. Thanks very much for the insight into the mindset there. I’m sorry to hear that this sort of thing won’t be punished more severely, but I do understand.

    I was in my second year of law school when Tribe’s piece was published, and it was required reading in my Constitutional Law class. It was quite a shock–and quite disheartening indeed–when I learned that he had committed plagiarism.

    Eric

  10. Thu 04th May 2006 at 7:14 am

    Dear Eric: Update. For those who are interested, the student-run Harvard Crimson has called for this this thief to be disciplined. The editorial can be found at http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=513317

    FYI,
    Richard

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