Sloppy Firsts, Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds, Filched Fourths


Beats there a heart so cold as not to rejoice at the downfall of Kaavya Viswanathan? The Harvard sophomore, literary prodigy, receiver (at age 17) of a $500,000 book advance, comely literary lioness, and author of the well reviewed How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life has added a new title to her portfolio: plagiarist of the young-adult novels of Megan McCafferty. The always-scowling Crimson digs into Viswanathan's expropriations, and others have continued the search.

Viswanathan has already bungled the controversy, calling the repetitions of phrases from McCafferty's books Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings "unintentional and unconscious," and claiming "the central stories of my book and hers are completely different." (Quite true: McCafferty writes about a New Jersey high school girl striving to get into Columbia, Viswanathan about a New Jersey high school girl striving to get into Harvard.) Why didn't she just acknowledge the thing and call it an open tribute? When will one of these plagiarism cases end with the suspect standing up loud and proud for the right to steal words? As Greg Beato wrote many years ago, when Kaavya Viswanathan was just a nine-year-old Jane Austen Jr. in the Garden State:

[O]ur desire to claim the words of others as our own seems at least as instinctive as our desire to get high. And with the advent of the web, which is to plagiarism what crack is to violent, glassy-eyed babbling, this desire shows little sign of abating. Indeed, at this very moment, you're just a click and a credit card away from enough term papers to earn you a thousand college degrees without ever having to visit a library or put pen to paper…

But, really, what great crime is it in the grander scheme of things if a budding infopreneur hires the local coffeehouse Heidegger to pen a few ponderous pages for him? The fact that there are so many desperate pencil-nibblers willing to take the lower-than-burger-flipping wages that term paper mills shell out for such work shows you how much that particular skill is worth. The real money goes to the people who broker content, not the sad dupes who create it. The students who recognize this fact early on gravitate quickly toward plagiarism; it's the best way to bone up on one's content-acquisition skills. At the same time, it frees up valuable hours for more career-enhancing pursuits like golf and schmoozing.

Not convinced? Dreamworks is developing a movie of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, while the Chicago Tribune savages McCafferty's Charmed Thirds with the review: "This third time's hardly a charm."