Genres and Plagiarism

There’s been a kerfluffle in the indie publishing world lately regarding one Laura Harner, whose extensive self-published catalog of erotic romance books includes plagiarized — and not very well disguised — versions of works from a mainstream romance author. Becky McGraw. To makes things more juicy, the books in question were changed from M/F romances to M/M ones. You can read about it in detail in Jenny Trout’s exhaustive posts here, and here.

This is wrong, and stupid. The publishers backing McGraw are big names. They have big money and the means to sue. And after developing a lucrative online market for herself, Harner has just torpedoed it big time with this mistake, and don’t think Amazon and Barnes and Noble will not hear of it. Don’t piss off your distributors folks!

On a moral level, it is heinous, of course. The same sort of thing has been going in fanfic circles, one writer stealing another’s work, and claiming it as their own. Since many romance writers have started out writing fanfic, I hate to say that it seems a learned behavior that can be enacted without consequences.

It’s all courtesy of the digital age where it’s extremely easy to search, replace, cut, and paste. Granted, it may have happened in pre-word processor days, but since it was a lot more time-consuming to type out a copy back then, such cases must have fewer.

I hate to say it, also, but the Romance genre is particularly ripe for this sort of plagiarism. It’s a huge market, with lots of books, lots of writers, lots of interchangable plots and characters, and lots of subgenres that come in and out of fashion, each flooded with its own tropes and character types. (This isn’t a criticism; it just is.) The Men’s Adventure genre was once just as huge as Romance is today, and through the 1940s, 50s, and 60s had a similar reliance on a limited set of tropes. If it had remained just as huge today, I’ve no doubt it would have plagiarizers at work for a quick buck.

This brings up some other questions. Would male readers and writers care as much? Would the code of conduct be different? Would the charges be taken more seriously, since it’s a male dominated genre and more worthy of “respect”?

Things to think about, certainly.


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