Back in our very first post on CopyKaavya, I mentioned the historical example of Jacob Epstein, who got caught plagiarizing from Martin Amis when Little, Brown published his debut novel back in 1980. Now, I don’t think it’s swiping when press accounts like this morning’s NYT report and the AP wrapup invoke Epstein—it’s a historical fact, and nobody needs to cite me for reminding them of it anymore than I needed to cite Thomas Mallon for writing about it years ago in Stolen Words (which is, if you want to know about plagiarism, the book to read) and making it stick in my head. But I am mildly amused by stuff like this:
AP: “And Viswanathan’s fall is not necessarily fatal. In 1980, debut author Jacob Epstein acknowledged plagiarizing Martin Amis’ The Rachel Papers for his novel, Wild Oats. Epstein moved on to Hollywood and eventual forgiveness, his writing credits including Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law.”
Boston Globe: “Viswanathan’s fall is stunning, but not necessarily fatal. In 1980, debut author Jacob Epstein acknowledged plagiarizing Martin Amis’s The Rachel Papers for his novel Wild Oats. Epstein moved on to Hollywood and was forgiven quickly. His writing credits including Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law.”
The Globe does, however, at least concede that “information from the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press was also used” in creating Mehegan’s report. It’s true: From a scientific viewpoint, exact phrasing counts as information!
(Richard Grayson wrote to share his own memories of Jacob Epstein: “My first book and Epstein’s came out about the same time in 1979, so of course I was quite envious of him and felt the kind of schadenfreude a lot of people seem to have regarding Viswanathan.Â But I remember the more generous reaction of a friend who had also published his first book around then with no media attention: ‘He must have been under terrible pressure to have done that and he must have been scared shitless when he got away with it that eventually someone would expose him.’” And he was considerably older than 19 when it happened…something to think about, at any rate.)