Friday, 11 December 2009

One Reason Why I Stayed Away So Long

Months ago, a new writer barely twenty years old published a book. She was feted (sort of) at the anniversary celebration of some literary institution. Just a few weeks ago, that book disappeared from shelves everywhere; it had to be pulped because it had at least one plagiarised story. The news has gotten out, and the writer has issued an apology (sort of).

What grabs my goat is the need for some commentators to wield the hammer long after the nails have been driven home. Either the hammer makes them feel important, or such is their indignation that they feel the little cheating upstart hasn't really received that much-deserved butt-kicking.

Then comes this comment (emphases mine):

"...basking in the envy of others..."

That's the operative phrase right there, isn't it? That there are some people who can be envious even of a local book that couldn't sell even a thousand copies. So when a teenager makes an extremely bad call, it's time to give vent to all those years of pent-up resentment :-)

— Amir Muhammad puts it where it hurts

The response to that was so childish, I won't bother describing it. Is there some kind of thrill or claim to fame in pushing someone's buttons until they explode or embarrass themselves? Getting someone the likes of Amir Muhammad to lose his cool might be something to brag about, but really...

It can be hard to describe the pain of someone else getting credit for your hard work, that witty, funny, award-winning prose you spent months, even years on. It would hurt heaps more, and be better illustrated, if the plagiarist stole it and beat you to the book launch with it.

If you think I'm just being nice: After an English comprehension exercise when I was in Form 2, the teacher found two identical answers, word for word. My answer was copied by a classmate. I don't think there was any malice intended; he probably just wanted to fill up that nagging little blank. It probably never occurred to him that he could actually hurt someone. To his credit, he owned up and I avoided being mistaken for a copycat. We remained on relatively good terms until we left school. But hell, was I stunned.

Of course, it's perhaps unfair to compare an English test with a book but in essence, both is considered stealing. And copying something that was published years before and passing it off as your own is more stupid than sinister.

All the appropriate steps seem to have been taken by all parties involved. But the troll takes it a step further, and suggests a boycott of sorts on what she writes from now on. What's the point in covering a target with scarlet letters when plagiarism by others continue around us? She'll be the only one end up hurt, scarred - probably for life.

Is that the whole point in condemning plagiarists and plagiarism? Do we have so many new writers that it's okay to bury the careers of one or two who made a mistake as an example to others?

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