Song of the day: Justice by Rev Theory
This month is a buzz of newsworthy stories. The latest being the outcome of a lawsuit filed by an unpublished romance writer against Harlequin.
In a nutshell, the writer claimed that her story was stolen by an author of Harlequin and published by Harlequin. The plaintiff claimed that the Harlequin author was a judge in a Romance Writers of America approved and/or sponsored contest, had read the entry and synopsis, and copied the work as her own. The plaintiff pointed out that there were over 40 similarities to the published, financially successful book and that it was blatant plagiarism of her creative expression.
You can read the claim here.
The judge handling the case disagreed and dismissed the case. The judge, in part, says:
“The similarities that [the plaintiff] asserts are either stock elements of romance novels or plot elements that naturally flow from the broad themes that the two works share with other works in the same genre. The two works share common tropes that are typical of, and generic to, the romance novel genre. A beautiful woman and a handsome, wealthy man fall in love, become estranged, find themselves alone together in close quarters, have a passionate reunion, rediscover their love and commitment, and begin a new life together. These are familiar plot elements in the romance genre. Many of the similarities accompanying these tropes in the works are scenes à faire. They describe similarly choreographed scenes of love, estrangement, rediscovered passion, and recommitted love. The details of these scenes are similar not because of infringement, but because they flow logically from the plot elements.”
The author must have felt truly infringed upon. Unfortunately, her actions wreaked undue havoc on an innocent author’s life and likely put a death knell on her own career. Should she seek publication through a publisher, she will probably to be seen as a pariah.
The purpose of my blog is not to chastise this author or take sides, but to point out this is a lesson for us all. A plot, theme, idea, generic characteristics and details cannot be copyrighted. Not even zombie-loving Highlanders with secret babies.
The other issue at hand is now many published authors are reluctant to offer help to newbies still green and learning their craft. There is a fear that they, too, may be accused of stealing. They no longer want to judge contests. This in a time when finding qualified judges is difficult. Published authors are wary of offering mentorship and advice.
What a shame.
The romance genre, with all that amazing talent, is one place where authors share their knowledge freely. There is camaraderie and a drive to help peers succeed. One good turn deserves another. Paying it forward. However you want to describe it, romance authors learn from each other. Judging not only helps others with their craft, it strengthens your own writing. It’s invaluable to both parties involved. I’d hate to see that disappear.
Instances such as this lawsuit are rare. I would encourage published writers to be informed—know your rights, act accordingly. But don’t be so gun-shy that you deny others help. Remember you were once wet behind the ears, too. Your hard work and talent had some guidance and encouragement along the way from a writer more successful than you.
Do you agree or disagree? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.