Kaavyat Emptor

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Bestselling Harvard plagiarist Kaavya Viswanathan does a relatively unfriendly interview with the Today show's Katie Couric, and weaves the web of deception more tightly around herself. An exchange:

Kaavya: The last thing that I ever wanted to do was cause any distress to Megan McCafferty, who's an author that—I loved her books. I have so much admiration and respect I have for her.

Katie: You tried to reach out to her but have been unable to contact her I understand?

Kaavya: I've been unable to contact her. All I want to do is just tell her how profoundly sorry I am for this entire situation; and I just hope she believes that I would never ever intentionally lift her words, and the last thing I ever wanted to do was upset her.

Viswanathan has also pledged to add an acknowledgement to McCafferty, whose books Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings provided the source for some 40 phrases—so far—and the general outline of Viswanathan's How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. She also has bravely outed herself as a "huge fan" of McCafferty's work.

But she forgot to add, "I'm such a huge fan that I never mentioned her name in public, not even once, until I got caught ripping her off. And in fact last week when the Newark Star-Ledger asked me about my inspirations I replied, 'Nothing I read gave me the inspiration.'"

This is what is so infuriating about high-profile plagiarism cases. The victim (and I realize, as Jesse Walker has noted in another context, that McCafferty will most likely benefit from this contretemps) is always somebody the plagiarist regards as too small to worry about. McCafferty toils in the Young-Adult ghetto of contemporary fiction, where she has already aged out of the personal marketability writers increasingly need to move units; Viswanathan had the self-promotional drive to avoid that trap and position her book (and with the help of a consultant*, herself) in the wider, greener pastures of Chick Lit. Now that the deception has been exposed, it's still all about Viswanathan: Although Couric does stick the knife in at the end of the interview, she also clucks sympathetically about Viswanathan's "shattered dream." Imagine, having your dream of getting rich by stealing somebody else's work shattered!

* A relatively unexplored question in this controversy is how much material the "book packager" Alloy Entertainment contributed to Opal Mehta (none at all, Viswanathan claimed before the controversy), and whether the consultant will ultimately take the fall for introducing the purloined passages.

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42 responses to “Kaavyat Emptor

  1. Kaavya Viswanathan is piece of shit!

    Ah, I feel much better now.

  2. Of course, my exclamation would have been more satisfying if it were free of typos and I had actually included the article “a” before calling out her piece-of-shit-itude.

  3. Naw, seeming to be foreigner calling her out was better than if you’d used article. We get to imagine crazed Russian Mafia enforcer Smacky.

  4. “Shattered dream.”

    For some rich 19 year old–who used a $30,000 college coach to hook up with a superagent at William Morris and earn a $500,000 advance and admission to Harvard on the back of a book she probably didn’t even write–to use this language because her plagiarism of the parts of the book she actually did write finally caught up with her makes my irony meter go kablooey.

    Excuse the run-on sentence. That’s just the rage talking.

  5. Is funny because is true.

  6. Here’s what I, Pro Libertate, have to say about this matter in my own, entirely original words, uninfluenced by anyone:

    Kaavya Viswanathan is piece of shit!

    Ah, I feel much better now.

    Of course, my exclamation would have been more satisfying if it were free of typos and I had actually included the article “a” before calling out her piece-of-shit-itude.

  7. I’m sure the cut and paste she did was delibrate but it does make me wonder how close a passage has to be to the origional to be considered plagiarism. I have no doubt that one who looked through all my undergrad essays would find paraphrasing of Hayek or Sowell or even P.J. O’Rourke. Sometimes it’s delibrate and I’ll credit the origional. However, there are some writers whose work becomes so ingrained in your personal philosophy that you might use their words without realizing it. Fortunately, I majored in sociology and there was no way the faculty would recognize Hayek’s work even if I literally cut a page from “The Road to Serfdom” and pasted it to my essay. Still, where is the line between good faith influence and deliberate theft?

  8. If she uses her advance for a much-needed boob job and decides to pose (at least) topless, this story could have a happy ending.

  9. Baylen: That’s the most sensible thing anyone’s said about this case, ever.

    Unfortunately, I suspect that the $500,000 will be sued away before all of this is over.

  10. I don’t understand. I thought plagiarism was required at Harvard!

  11. In Russia, article uses you!

  12. People should get some perspective!

    A lot of students pay college coaches and consultants to try to get into Harvard. What’s wrong with that? So she didn’t have influential friends and relatives to help.

    She was a young girl who wrote her first book. There are similarities to another book she admits to reading. Surprise surprise. We’re talking chick-lit here, not a doctoral thesis on particle physics.

    I think the people that outed her should examine their own motives. This is America not Britain. We’re not supposed to hate people who have some luck and try and get ahead.

    I saw her on Today with Katie Couric and she handled herself pretty well considering her age.

    I think some of the comments on here stink, and wish her luck.

  13. Lay off people. What, no shark attack stories to dwell on?

  14. From what I’ve read about this matter, it ain’t simply “plagarism”. It sounds like there’s probably some line lifting, which could take us into the world of actual copyright infringement. Still, I blame society.

  15. What makes me laugh is that I used to do the opposite of plagarise. I would make up an entire paper, cites and all. Sure, I would go to the library and find actual books on the subject, but then I wouldn’t really read them through all the way or select parts to put into my papers. I’d just make something up that sounded good and say it came from one of the books I had found.

  16. Rich,

    I appreciate the lesson, but no, I’m with smacky. She is piece of shit.

  17. And the brigade arrives!

  18. In this world one must take sides!

    Either you are with Kaavya Viswanathan or against her!

  19. Lowdog –

    I used to do the same thing! Too funny…

  20. Aw, how can you guys pick on her–she’s pretty! The only way we could blame her less is if she was a pretty missing white girl.

    Now, if she’d been some ugly man who exaggerated his life’s story, we could get upset.

  21. She plans to be an investment banker. Definitely not someone I’d want handling my money.

  22. Free Kaavya!

  23. My own original thought on the matter:

    She was a young girl who wrote her first book. There are similarities to another book she admits to reading. Surprise surprise. We’re talking chick-lit here, not a doctoral thesis on particle physics.

    Did I mention that I am totally a huge fan of rich?

  24. thoreau! I already did that bit with smacky long ago in this thread. Now you are not only stealing actual text, you are also stealing my concept.

    My seconds will call on your seconds. Shall we say pistols at dawn?

  25. Or perhaps head-mounted green “lasers” at dawn would be more apropos. And cooler.

  26. But PL, thoreau is a huge fan of yours. Plus he hired a consultant to help craft a more salable comment, and in fact his comment is totally different, because his was about rich and yours is about smacky.

  27. Sorry, Tim, but the Copyright Act clearly allows me the option to face on the field of honor anyone who infringes upon my rights as an author. See 17 U.S.C. ? 503(c) “Remedies for Infringement – Shoot or Stab the Fucker”.

  28. I was going to suggest candle sticks in the library.

  29. Aw, how can you guys pick on her–she’s pretty! The only way we could blame her less is if she was a pretty missing white girl.

    Oh, bad, bad, wicked, naughty Kaavya Viswanathan!

    There can be but one punishment for plagiarizing the work of Megan McCafferty. First you must tie Kaavya Viswanathan down. And then … you must give her a spanking.

    A spanking! A spanking!

    And then you must spank Megan McCafferty.

    And then smacky.

    And then comes —

    (I’m such a pig.)

  30. A spanking! A spanking!

    And then you must spank Megan McCafferty.

    And then smacky.

    And then comes —

    Hey! Why do I get a spanking? I haven’t written any crappy chick lit…I don’t even read chick lit.

  31. Stevo – hah, I’m glad others metioned her attractiveness first, because I had to tie myself down to not do so.

    It’s spring, the weather here in AZ is amazing, the women are walking around in their warm-weather best, and I’m actually feeling somewhat optimistic.

    When that happens, parents, hide your daughters! 🙂

  32. Hey! Why do I get a spanking? I haven’t written any crappy chick lit…I don’t even read chick lit.

    There can be but one punishment for leaving out the article “a” …

    Oh, never mind then. ‘Twas just a bit of fun.

  33. Aw, how can you guys pick on her–she’s pretty!

    I have to concur. This is obviously a conspiracy of chunky, unattractive, non-plagarizing women jealous of Kaavya’s youth, beauty, thinness, and brazen theft.

    Hey! Why do I get a spanking? I haven’t written any crappy chick lit…I don’t even read chick lit.

    She’s right, Stevo, and she saved you from almost certain temptation.

    Lowdog & Aaron – I used to take quoted material from books and use the original sources in my bibliography. So even though I might read four books, it looked like I’d read about twenty. The best part was, even if they were intimately familiar with the material, I couldn’t be busted, since the attributions were all correct.

  34. It is the prerogative of the person being challenged to choose the weapons.

    I say water pistols loaded with corn syrup. Whoever gets diabetes first loses. My second will verify that you don’t bring a real gun that fires when gently bumped.

    I’ll see you at dawn…on Little Round Top!

  35. I wish there were more cute libertarians. Mabye we can construct an argument wherein she gets away with the whole thing. Then she can hold a pillow, don some tight daisy-dukes, and pose for a commercial on the reason site.

  36. thoreau, don’t you know that infringers have no rights? However, I’m willing to compromise–say, killer tasers. Zaaaap.

  37. Fine, tasers it is.

    But I want Deputy James Garcia of the Reno Sheriff’s Department as my second.

    See you on Little Round Top!

  38. Eryk Boston, thoreau: One of the dead-tree papers I occasionally read had some comparisons. It wasn’t just a few sentences; there were cases where entire paragraphs were nearly the same with just a few details changed. It was pretty damning.

  39. Regarding my 3:49 post and after further, um research, it turns out plagiarism is required at Harvard only for faculty. My mistake.

  40. I don’t believe it, JD. This is obviously a conspiracy of chunky, unattractive, non-plagarizing women jealous of Kaavya’s youth, beauty, thinness, and brazen theft.

  41. Ms. Viswanathan, I think we can have some of your original work published.

  42. I note from the Globe article that she denies hotly that her consultant did the lifting. But if he did, why would she not let him take the fall? Answer: Because she is still desperately trying to hang on to a literary career that is dead in the water.

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