Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Plagiarism, copyright, tropes

I had planned to write a blog on the subject of copyright theft - which as some of you will know is something that I've experienced in the past. I'm not going into the details - they're here if you want to read about it.

On this occasion, it's the other way around. Kate Walker, who has been writing best-selling romances for more than twenty years, was accused of stealing the work of a woman who had been submitting the same first chapter and synopsis to endless competitions for several years. There are a whole raft of reasons why this was nonsense. Kate had never seen the work and her editor is in the Mills and Boon office at Richmond, not Harlequin in Toronto. The judge, having read both The Proud Wife and the other work dismissed the case with prejudice.

A happy result? A relief certainly, but a dear friend had suffered a a year of stress and misery and has left the deluded complainant considerably poorer (that "with prejudice" meant that she had to pay everyone's expenses, which were considerable.) What made her believe she had a case? Drove her to court? She's not the first failed author to take this course, or the last. The latest victim to be accused in this way is Stephanie Meyers. The problem appears to lie in the misunderstanding of the use of tropes in genre fiction.

Fellow author, Michelle Styles, explains it all with with breathtaking clarity on her post "A Troupe of Tropes" at the Pink Heart Society -

"As some of you may know, an unpublished author recently brought a case against PHS columnist Kate Walker and Harlequin claiming that they had used her contest entry to craft The Proud Wife. The unpublished author had submitted her 20 pages and synopsis into many RWA sponsored contests and cited one where  she thought Kate Walker had been one of the judges. In fact Kate Walker had never heard of the contest and had never judged it. The unpublished author felt so strongly that the works were similar, citing 40 different points of commonality that she took the case to court.   What followed was many months of agony for Kate Walker who knew she was innocent.  Harlequin’s legal team asked her not to speak about the case to anyone.  Earlier this month the federal judge dismissed the plaintiff’s  claim with prejudice..."  read on - A Troupe of Tropes , read the judgement for yourself. And then read the book. It's terrific!

Here's the blurb -

Her husband wants her back!
Marina thought her dreams had come true when her husband placed a wedding band on her finger. But their marriage was not the fairytale she'd hoped for, and eventually Marina walked away, her heart broken.
But two years on Pietro DInzeo no longer haunts Marina's dreams. She knows the time has come to move on, and even a summons to join him in Sicily won't deter her However, with his wife standing before him, about to sign on the dotted line of their divorce papers, Pietro wonders why he ever let her go?

To read on click here for Amazon US
or here for Amazon UK


Vince said...

Hi Liz:

I just read the judge’s full decision and that judge can really write well. It seems the judge read both works very closely. His opinion is easily understandable by non-lawyers. I just wonder about the lawyer who took this case. All the plaintiff’s examples of copyright infringement weren’t even protected by the copyright law! The case had no merit and was thrown out of court.

There is a saying about the romance genre: "Romance fans want the same stories over and over but they want them to be different."

“The same but different”.

This may seem like a contradiction but every romance fan knows exactly what this means.

I think in a romance the plot is incidential to the moment-by-moment process of the hero and heroine falling in love. What’s more important: the road map of where your tour of Europe traveled or the experience of traveling and all the sights you saw along the way?

Also, it is kind of ironic that Kate Walker, who wrote a great book on how to write romances, would need to steal a plot. I think Kate could come up with ten great plots a day if she wanted to.


Valerie Parv said...

I'm glad to hear that justice prevailed and urge everyone to read this and Michelle's blog. I'm tweeting links. I liken the romance tropes to a skeleton. We all have one, yet once clothed in flesh and blood, we're all uniquely different. I like the analogy of a road map, too. Go Kate!

Liz Fielding said...

Vince, I always refer to writing romance as reinventing the wheel three times a year.

And yes, Kate is a plotter par excellence.

Liz Fielding said...

Absolutely, Valerie. Give ten authors the same skeleton and you'll get ten completely different stories.