Bestsellers and Plagiarism Issues

What is Behind the Plagiarism Accusations Against Bestselling Book Authors?

Plagiarized Best Sellers–Why Do It?

What is plagiarism?

Everyone knows that plagiarism means taking another’s work and presenting it as your own. Most bestselling authors are above doing such a thing, yet accusations against them do occur.

What is behind these plagiarism charges?

Deliberate Acts

If an author has intentionally taken copyrighted material and published it as their own, they have committed plagiarism. Perhaps out of fear of inadequacy, or due to deadline pressure, an occasional author steals copyrighted material without permission, or takes ideas without crediting the originator. The source of the stolen material can be books or other print material, as well as information from the Internet. The result is often a protracted legal battle and the loss of the author’s reputation in the publishing world.

There have been rare cases where a writer has used the entire text from a published book, reworked it so that it is somewhat disguised, and later published it under their name. Not only is this a theft from the original author, it violates the plagiarizing author’s publishing contract, which stipulates that the material is original, resulting in disgrace and lawsuits.

Inadvertent Acts

Unintentional plagiarism occurs, usually due to sloppiness. Perhaps as the author was doing background research for his book, he failed to footnote the paragraph he copied into his notes from another source. He might have been about to create the footnote, but got interrupted at that moment by a phone call or a doorbell. Later, thinking that unattributed paragraph was his own, he included it in his published book. The consequence of this error might be a financial settlement along with an apology from the errant author.


Sometimes people come up with similar ideas independently; it happens all the time. For instance, I was an agent for quite a few years without ever seeing submissions about the black plague. Then, in one week’s time, three authors from different corners of the U.S. queried me with a similar plot device: the black plague being re-introduced today due to a newly-unearthed, contaminated artifact. Perhaps it was pure coincidence. Perhaps the authors had all been inspired by a news story involving an archaeologist finding an object buried with black plague victims. Their stories were otherwise entirely different.

Greed or Imagination

Like the mega-jackpot winners, a best selling author is perceived to have become instantly rich. People with twisted moral standards might try to dream up false accusations against the author as a way to get some of the book’s earnings. Other people might imagine things against successful authors due to their own mental or emotional issues, perhaps even believing that these things are true.

Copyright 2006 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.

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