Opal Mehta eats crow

Time to eat crow. Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan has apologised to Megan McCafferty for borrowing words and phrases from her books, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings.

I should apologise too to Harvard Crimson for questioning its coverage of the story.

In my post yesterday, I noted the Harvard newspaper in one of its early reports mentioned plot differences between Viswanathan’s bestseller, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, and McCafferty’s novels, but did not mention that difference in its later reports. I wondered why.

Now I know. The New York Times says there are similarities in the stories too. And while the Crimson mentioned 13 similar passages, the Times claims there are “at least 29”.

Viswanathan has apologised but even her apology is weird.

“Harvard novelist says copying was unintentional,” says the New York Times headline.

” I wasn’t aware of how much I may have internalised Ms. McCafferty’s words,” said Viswanthan.

I love that verb,”internalise”. She is — in her own words — such a “huge fan” of McCafferty that she unconsciously ended up using the older writer’s words and phrases.

Thank goodness, there are no copyrights on words and phrases, as I said yesterday. “Even if Viswanathan is found to have plagiarised passages, McCafferty may not be able to bring a copyright lawsuit against her,” the Crimson reports. “In fact, Viswanathan may be more likely to face a suit from her own publisher over a contract violation.”

Plagiarism and copyright infringement are different concepts, it adds, quoting Lawrence Lessig, the blogger and intellectual property scholar at Stanford Law School.

“If I use a sentence from another work and pass it off as my own without citing it or quoting it, that might not be copyright infringement because I wouldn’t necessarily need permission to use it,” Lessig said. “But since I’m asserting that I am, in fact, the author of that sentence, that would be plagiarism.”

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