Kaavya Viswanathan's "Unintentional Copying"
April 29, 2006
I've been following the discussion about this issue all week. In case you've somehow missed the story, Harvard student and first-time author Kaavya Viswanathan stands accused of plagiarizing more than 40 passages that are "similar or identical in theme and content to parts of two novels by Megan McCafferty, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings" (this quote is from an April 28th L.A. Time article). She has acknowledged reading Ms. McCafferty's books several times, but says that the copying was "unintentional." After some dithering about it, Little, Brown & Co. finally announced at the end of the week that they would pull Ms. Viswanathan's book from bookstores. I had already pulled the book off of my "to read" list (yes, I had intended to read it, before all of this came up), and added Megan McCafferty's books instead.
Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy has a couple of good quotes from Meg Cabot and Jennifer Weiner about the incident. I've also particularly enjoyed the blunt discussion about this at Bookshelves of Doom, such as "Am I being too harsh? I don't really think so. Plagiarism is gross. As are excuses."
I don't have much to add - people have been talking about this all week. But I do agree with Bookshelves of Doom that one of the most disturbing aspects to the whole story is that Kaavya hasn't really confessed. She's made lame excuses about "unintentionally copying" because she has a photographic memory. She has yet to say "I was under pressure to complete the book, and I couldn't do it, and so I cheated by taking material from Megan McCafferty. I'm sorry. What I did was wrong." And what I wonder is this: does she even think that what she did was wrong? Has she really convinced herself that it was unintentional? Or does she justify her behavior to herself because she needed it, or deserved the opportunity, or some other falsehood?
I've heard talk about cheating at elite universities, and among high school students trying to get into the elite universities. I know that you can buy papers online and all of that. To me, this seems like part of that continuum of behavior. Take what advantages you can, and hope that you don't get caught.
I hope that some good will come out of this whole How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life controversy. I hope that it leads to discussions between parents and their children about why plagiarism and cheating are wrong, and that it makes others think twice before stealing intellectual property from anyone. And I hope that Megan McCafferty's book sales go way up - because she has been the essence of grace throughout the whole incident. That's my two cents.