The Cost of Plagiarism

Last week, a post on Publishers Lunch, a daily email publication, jumped out at me, because the subject—plagiarism—was one I’d discussed with a friend. On the eve of the distribution of a nonfiction book written by a doctor (and possibly others, though only the doctor is named on the cover), the Los Angeles Times alleged that “at least” (quoting from the L.A. Times and a CBS News article you can access here) 95 separate sections in this author’s forthcoming book were plagiarized from Wikipedia, The New York Times, and other sources. I won’t name the author here, though the L.A. Times and CBS News do so.

I’ll pause here for a definition of plagiarism for anyone who needs it. Click here to see what Merriam-Webster says on the subject.

According to PlagiarismToday (an article you can read by clicking on the source name), the L.A. Times made the discovery during their “pre-publication review.” Whoops. 😣 😖

On the day I read the Publishers Lunch post, I saw the book listed on Amazon. After all, this was the day before its release. When I began this post (3-15-23), I returned to Amazon only to find that the book had been taken out of the list.

The author released a statement through his publisher that he had the book recalled, and would revise it, either rewriting the sections in question or giving credit to the ones who did.

Think about it: this nearly $30 book had been printed and undoubtedly an audiobook had been completed. All of those books that would have been sold have to be scrapped at the author’s expense.

Sobering, huh?

The subject came up because in my years as a book editor, proofreader, and copy editor, I have had to confront authors about plagiarism. I understand that deadlines place authors—particularly busy ones—under the gun. The internet makes plagiarism easy with quick access to encyclopedias, news articles, etc. Sometimes people forget to give credit where credit is due. Neither is an excuse, however, to justify the act.

The internet is full of articles of people who were caught—some after multiple infractions. Some were award-winning journalists.

The cost of plagiarism is steep, but not just in the cost of having to recall a book. “Borrowing” that sentence or paragraph from someone else can damage your reputation. I wish I could say that goes without saying. But the fact that plagiarism still happens means that it still needs to be said.

Plagiarism image from The Veggie Queen’s website.