That sounds familiar...
May 27, 2010 5:37 AM   Subscribe

I found a passage in a novel that directly takes material from a popular email forward. What can I do?

I'm reading a novel and came across a section where a woman stands up to speak about love, opening with: "But instead of me telling you what I think love is, I decided to ask my students. So here’s how a few first, second, and third graders define love." Then she goes on to quote several of her students' responses...but they are directly taken from that popular email forward often called "Kids Define Love." It's all over the internet, but here's one site that reproduces it.

Aside from changing the kids' names and altering the wording slightly, every student she "quotes" is precisely from that "Kids Define Love" email.

My first reaction was shock that anyone would stoop that low, but also, how is this permissible? Why hasn't anyone called him out on this?

My main question: what recourse do I have? Is there a tipline I can call? Should I send his publisher an email? I'm appalled that a mainstream novelist would co-op material from an email forward and present it as his own character's research. Any advice on what I can do next would be appreciated.
posted by fantine to Media & Arts (61 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How do you know that the e-mail forward didn't take the material from the book?
posted by proj at 5:41 AM on May 27, 2010

Response by poster: The book was published in 2008. The forward has been around much longer than that, and contains more responses that the ones the author lists; it usually opens with "A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, 'What does love mean?' The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think."
posted by fantine at 5:44 AM on May 27, 2010

With you not being directly damaged by it, and there being no "real" author available to notify, I think your recourse is mostly "mock and shame them on the Internet."
posted by tyllwin at 5:45 AM on May 27, 2010 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: tyllwin, I'm definitely going to post about this once I finish the book, but I would also like to know if there is an official course of action I can take.
posted by fantine at 5:48 AM on May 27, 2010

You're shocked and appalled and you want recourse? Seriously? I mean this gently but I think you need a bit of perspective if this is all it takes to send you off the deep end.
posted by Jubey at 5:51 AM on May 27, 2010 [13 favorites]

Aside from changing the kids' names and altering the wording slightly...

In some cases, which I think apply here, changing the words so as to express the identical concepts in a somewhat different way is all that is required to avoid infringement. The original excerpt--if it even was original at the time it was first distributed on the internet (I wouldn't be surprised if it came from a very old source and possibly already in the public domain)--consists of short, general quotes that derive much of their appeal from their universality. Work like this is afforded a lower lever of copyright protection than more complex work where the expression (as opposed to the underlying concept) is more developed.
posted by applemeat at 5:52 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Have you finished the book yet? For all you know, the character is going to get busted for quoting from an email and pretending that the comments came from her students.

Likewise check the acknowledgements and credits.

Otherwise, what Jubey said.
posted by ask me please at 5:54 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

What is the problem here? Do you feel the (apparently real) third graders who originally gave answers very similar to those in the novel deserve some sort of credit? The email forward may have used the same material, but that doesn't make it the source, and doesn't give its author copyright over material it simply quoted from some third source.
posted by jon1270 at 5:55 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Probably you should finish reading the book and then write a strongly worded letter to the author if it still seems important.
posted by JJ86 at 6:00 AM on May 27, 2010

You aren't Oprah, and this ain't James Frey.

You need to ask yourself why you're so invested in this. Are you like, SuperPlagiarizerMan? Coz I think Patton Oswalt would like to hire you.

If the publishing house didn't vet the material, your "exposing" it will do nothing, because no one really cares.
posted by kidelo at 6:06 AM on May 27, 2010

Response by poster: Jubey, the woman is a minor character and I highly doubt that she will get "busted" for misusing internet material.

To everyone who thinks I need to let it go, my question was not "Is it reasonable to be annoyed?" It was "what can I do about this?" I find this best-selling author's lack of authorial integrity quite distasteful and would like to do something about it.
posted by fantine at 6:06 AM on May 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

Why not write to the publisher and ask them (preferably non-confrontationally) if they were aware of the email forward? Ask for a response -- you may not get one (or it may take a while), but it's likely that they would reply, and at least you would know that you had made them aware of it, if they weren't already.
posted by cider at 6:08 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

my question was not "Is it reasonable to be annoyed?" It was "what can I do about this?"

Yeah, but if it's not really reasonable to be annoyed, then there's probably nothing you can do about it.
posted by jon1270 at 6:12 AM on May 27, 2010 [10 favorites]

Is there a tipline I can call?

Seriously? I suppose there are newspapers and the author's local TV news and some ethics-concerned websites like Poynter...but mostly, no. There is not a general tipline for copyright infringement. You could report it to the FBI, but your particular allegation of copyright infringement doesn't sound very troublesome. To get that kind of attention you would need to show fraud and/or victims. (They might pay attention if the publisher complained. But probably not.) By the way, whose copyright would you allege the author is infringing? In other words: Who wrote the original email 'forward'? What makes you think there were really ever any kids?

I'm appalled that a mainstream novelist would co-op material from an email forward and present it as his own character's research.

Yeah, I don't know about that. I haven't seen the novel or the passage so you're in a better position to judge, but it sounds like an instance of something that's pretty common. You know that saying, "Good authors borrow, great authors steal." It's true. This guy took widely known quotes, put them in a relevant spot, and maybe adjusted a few words for aesthetic? Watch an old episode of The West Wing sometime; Aaron Sorkin did that constantly. Maybe this is a clumsy attempt, but it's not unusual or egregious.

If you found that this was a repeating pattern throughout the book—that every key scene is comprised mostly of dialogue stolen from email forwards—that would be a more substantive allegation. Although maybe that would be an interesting pastiche technique of building a novel.
posted by cribcage at 6:15 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stop supporting the author (don't buy another of his books). Tell your friends to do the same. Leave negative reviews on Amazon,, various book review sites.

Honestly, that's about all you can do. You aren't the aggrieved party here (if there even *is* someone, somewhere who might be), you have no grounds to sue. That email was very, very popular - it's highly likely someone along the publishing chain recognized it in the work. They are aware, it didn't stop them from publishing or asking the author or editor to remove that section, nothing you can do will change that.
posted by Roommate at 6:15 AM on May 27, 2010

Reading this sort of populist drivel in an actual book is infinitely better than receiving it in your inbox (along with 50 other people in the CC field) from your cat-loving aunt who wears floppy hats. The writer deserves an award. Besides, anyone who ever forwarded the email is equally guilt of appropriation.

If I were you I would be delighted by the author's innovation, rather than annoyed.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:17 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Contact the publisher and the author and explain to them why you feel it's wrong.

But if it's best-selling author, the work has probably been read by many editors and you probably aren't telling them something they didn't know. All you can do is express your personal feelings about it and maybe this will make them think twice before doing it again without acknowledgment somewhere else in the book (if they haven't done this). is full of examples of books and films where urban legends, tall tales, jokes, and glurge that have been part of the public domain is used in pop culture. In my opinion, this situation would be incredibly different if it wasn't a fictional character but the author writing a book claiming this as their own research, but it doesn't sound like this is the case.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:17 AM on May 27, 2010

Depending on how popular the author is, you could possibly get a big name blog to pick up the story, thus creating an internet scandal situation.

Do you have a blog? Do a side-by-side comparison between a copy of the 'kids define love' email and the book for your blog (look for an archived copy of the email somewhere from prior to the publication of the book). Then promote that article to blogs that might be interested -- BoingBoing if the author is in one of the genres they tend to care about, perhaps Gawker if it's a New York literary darling type author, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books if it's a romance novelist, etc.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:17 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could send in a tip to Gawker - they (ostensibly) cover publishing gossip, and have done items on James Frey, Kaavya Viswanathan (sp?) and lots of other recent infamous cases of plagiarism.
posted by aiglet at 6:19 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I never said anything about the character getting busted, but good to know! While you're at it, I have neighbour down the street who doesn't seperate their recycling. Time to practise your deep breathing...
posted by Jubey at 6:19 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you want to rake muck, contact a muckraker - I am sure that Gawker will trip over its own balls to run a story like this.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 6:20 AM on May 27, 2010

my question was not "Is it reasonable to be annoyed?" It was "what can I do about this?"

You can't do anything about it, as there's nothing wrong with it.

It's perfectly legitimate and almost certainly legal to have your character stand up and just say an email forward that presumptively has no definable and locatable author. Similarly, it would be perfectly legitimate to have a character stand up and tell the story of Mikey from Life who died from putting pop rocks in coke, or to have a character for whatever reason state word for word a speech from Moby Dick as his own words.

It's also perfectly legitimate to have your character stand up and sing an actual song or say the words of an actual song, even with no acknowledgment in the text whatsoever and even if the novel treats the song as the character's creation, though if the song was modern and in copyright you'd probably need to license it if you used more than a wee smidge of it.

Short answer: it's fine, because novels aren't homework assignments.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:27 AM on May 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Write a scathing blog post and review on Amazon.
posted by schmod at 6:27 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

What's the book? Who is this author?
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 6:36 AM on May 27, 2010

Aaron Sorkin ripped off a popular email forward about the (then imminent) war in Afghanistan for the 9/11 episode of West Wing. I recall critics praising the choice as evidence of how 'in touch' Sorkin was with the zeitgeist at the time. But as others have said, think about why some crappy author is getting to you so much, and let it go.
posted by mattholomew at 6:39 AM on May 27, 2010

This reminds me of Christine Angot (french writer) who would not quote and still use sentences from others. French lit. people debated a whole about it. More recently: fight between 2 writers with the same publisher: Camille Laurens and Marie Darrieussecq. Laurens wrote ''Philippe'' in 1995 about the death of her infant and Darrieussecq wrote ''Tom est mort'' in 2007 about the death of her son. As a result: now Laurens changed publisher and they both had their ''fight'' in their following publication. Laurens in a ''auto-fiction'' and Darrieussecq in a work about the history of plagiarism.

As for your post, maybe the author wanted people to recognize the text? Internet is wide open and people have access to everything. If this post was popular I doubt that the author wanted to hide the source.
posted by Ahhhnouck at 6:48 AM on May 27, 2010

Response by poster: My bad, jubey, I was referencing another answer in regards to the character getting "busted."
posted by fantine at 6:52 AM on May 27, 2010

Here are some options:

* Write to the publisher.
* Find reporters and websites that discuss plagiarism and inform them.
* Create a website or blog posting that includes the relevant portions of the book and the original e-mail forward. Tell everyone you can think of who might be interested about it.
posted by alms at 6:58 AM on May 27, 2010

I was going to bring up Sorkin as well, but in a different setting:

"A friend forwarded me a copy of an anonymous Internet posting in which the author sarcastically agreed with Dr. Laura [Schlessinger, the controversial talk-radio host] that homosexuality was an abomination as cited in Leviticus. He or she then went on to point out other Old Testament passages that mentioned extreme punishments for what today are some pretty ordinary things." - Aaron Sorkin

Sorkin already had written a subplot for the episode about President Bartlet (played by Martin Sheen) taking an obsessive interest in a New Hampshire school board election. The race was in the district where Bartlet, a former New Hampshire governor, sent his kids to public school. And the leading candidate was Elliot Roush, a Christian fundamentalist whom Bartlet beat in the first election of his political career.

With that story line already percolating, Sorkin said he looked at the e-mail about Schlessinger and thought, "Gee, this is right for this episode, and there's a way to dramatize it."


But Sorkin said he was troubled by his use of the Internet material.

"If you're a writer," he said, "the only thing worse than not getting credit for something you did is getting credit for something you didn't do."

So Sorkin mentioned the situation in a weekly meeting of "West Wing" producers. "I wanted to make sure that nobody thought I was trying to pull a fast one," Sorkin said. "Being called a plagiarist is like being called a sex offender. Even if it's not true, once the stench is out there, it's not easy to get rid of."

Staff members were assigned to try to identify a specific author, and efforts included asking questions in some of the many anti-Schlessinger Internet chat rooms and contacting gay-oriented publications like The Advocate.

"We came up empty," Sorkin said, "except that all the people we spoke to said they'd seen several different versions of the [Schlessinger/biblical] material over the last year or so."

"'Wing' Uses Net Asset"
by Eric Mink
October 25, 2000
New York Daily News

If you are really troubled by this, write the publisher and see if they did due diligence in trying to find the source.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:14 AM on May 27, 2010

Michael Moore was noticed (scroll down to paragraph 10 & 11) doing a similar thing more than once. It did not appear to bother him, his publisher, or film company. Sorry.
posted by K.P. at 7:33 AM on May 27, 2010

Community ethical standards only work if people care about them. They are important. Please don't try to make fantine feel self-conscious for caring.

Fantine, thanks for caring.
posted by amtho at 7:38 AM on May 27, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think folks' point, Amtho, is that what Fantine has described doesn't actually violate those "community ethical standards." Plagiarism is not a sharply defined concept in American society. To paraphrase Justice Stewart: Most of us don't generally try to define the specific kinds of material embraced within the shorthand description "plagiarism," and we probably could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But we know it when we see it, and as you are hearing from the community in this thread, this isn't that.
posted by cribcage at 7:50 AM on May 27, 2010

I am an advocate of fair use principles and a strong believer in re-use. However, if you don't like what this author did, there is at least one other thing you can do.

You can search Google and Google Books for other instances of suspicious-looking text from the book. If you found more than a few telling instances of copying, that might be worth a long-form blog post explaining what you found and why you think it is inappropriate (which may be self-evident, depending on what you find).

Then, essentially, it is up to other people to decide if it is a problem they are interested in.
posted by fake at 7:54 AM on May 27, 2010

I'd be disturbed if I ran across something like that in a book - especially one I'd paid for. I'd probably work out that I paid X for book which works out to Y per page so therefore the author stole $ from me. Then I'd just drop the whole thing and NEVER read another word from that author for the rest of my life. (although I would be tempted to bill the author/publisher for that $. If I ever met said author in person, I would be even more tempted to harass the author over it)

Ever read WEB Griffith? I spent some time in the 90s being ticked off that Mr. G couldn't remember on which floor 2 main characters met. I probably wouldn't have cared too much if the (wrong) floor numbers hadn't been mentioned in the subsequent books but it was wrong 3 different ways! A couple of years ago, I asked another published author (Tony Hillerman I believe) why this wasn't caught and he suggested different editors for each book and an author who wrote really fast. Which is much more forgivable than lifting material wholesale from an email.

(yeah I take my reading material personally. You don't even want to hear about the Barbara Cartland brouhaha)
posted by jaimystery at 8:04 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree that there isn't much you can do other than publicize it, but I also agree that it should be made public. Perhaps it is plaigarism, perhaps it is laziness but it certainly isn't good writing.
As a reader, you are the injured party--the author owes it to you as a consumer to either acknowledge or avoid this kind of verbatim quoting in a fictional context. Letting other potential bookbuyers know about the issue is the just course of action.

When I read William Gibsons novel iIourdu years ago and found one of the main characters quoting a disposable heros of hyphopracy song as if it was his own, I was troubled. Perhaps that was fair use, perhaps not. But that's my least favorite William Gibson novel.

Anyway, please start your quest to raise this issue by posting the passages and author in this thread.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:08 AM on May 27, 2010

Mention it to Gawker or SBTB. They write about these kinds of things a lot.
posted by headspace at 8:24 AM on May 27, 2010

Fiction writing is an activity that's a bit misunderstood sometimes. Margaret Atwood said (anyone know the exact quote?) that a writer is that person who is starved for everything, a piece of garbage, a string on the floor, a word, a particle of dust, anything can end up in the book. Including those emails. If you study any novel in depth, you'll find so many of those instances that in the end it will become clear that creation is as much about invention as it is about collection ans selection.

As others in this thread said, the email had a totally different meaning in the context of the book. This new contextualization is the creation itself. All great authors do that. And finally, when the reader of a novel reads that, she creates an image in her mind that's completely different from the one evoked by the email. See this.

In practical terms, nothing can be done, since the original author, if there's a single one, doesn't seem to be available. Sure, you can try to ridicule them in the interwebs, but there's a risk that you'll end up being ridiculed for doing so.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 8:32 AM on May 27, 2010

There is a best-selling author who "plagiarized" a story from my life. She and I went to high-school together, where an incident happened to me. I told all my friends about it -- she being one of my friends -- and, years later, she published it on her blog, saying that it happened to her.

She didn't do anything illegal, but I was really pissed off. I wrote to her and told her so. She no longer speaks to me.

I could have gone further and publicly shamed her, I guess. But I'm not into publicly shaming people.

I think you have the same two recourses I did. (Well, three, if you count just dropping the whole thing.) It doesn't sound like the author broke the law. So you can write to him and tell him how you feel, or you can broadcast how you feel. There's no report-a-incidence-of-plagiarism hotline.

I recommend that you either drop it or write to the author. I think anything else will likely backfire on you. I know this really pisses you off, and I'm not saying you're wrong to be pissed (that would be hypocritical), but since you're talking about a minor character in the book, I think most people, if they read a rant by you about this, will think you're being petty. (And I think the publisher will be one of these people. He won't be angry at the author or choose to quit publishing his books.)

Similarly, if I'd publicly said, "This famous author stole a story from me and posted it on her blog, claiming it was something that happened to her," I would have come across like someone saying, "Oh, yeah! You think Abraham Lincoln was so honest? Well, I have it on good authority that he once left a restaurant without paying!"

Yes, stealing is stealing and plagiarizing is plagiarizing, but, unfortunately for moral absolutists, most people don't think of things that way. And, since they differentiate between minor infractions and major ones (e.g. a major one would be your author stealing the entire plot of his book), they will just see you, the whistle blower, as being a stuffed shirt who is making a fuss over nothing.
posted by grumblebee at 8:38 AM on May 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Maybe it is (or ought to be) mentioned in the book's acknowledgments?

If the text had been lifted, without credit, from another book, would people's opinions be different?

It may be legal, but copyright rules aren't always obvious and I commend the OP for wanting to get to the truth and wanting to protect the original creator of the document and for caring about creative ownership in general.
posted by amtho at 8:45 AM on May 27, 2010

(e.g. a major one would be your author stealing the entire plot of his book)

Not to be contrary, but plots (premises, ideas, concepts, themes) aren't copyrightable at all and are frequently borrowed, appropriated and re-used.

posted by applemeat at 8:52 AM on May 27, 2010

Community ethical standards only work if people care about them.

There isn't, and shouldn't be, a community standard in fiction against what would be plagiarism in nonfiction. You can have your character say something from the Iliad or a Shakespeare play or whatever, and as the character's own speech rather than the character quoting something, and you emphatically do not need to cite back to the original. Can you imagine how horrible fiction would be if any time someone made a direct allusion to earlier works, they had to cite them? Ugh.

There can certainly be copyright infringements for works with identifiable authors still in copyright, but those are a business matter of getting the right licenses, not a literary integrity matter.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:53 AM on May 27, 2010

but I would also like to know if there is an official course of action I can take.

Like reporting him or her to the Internet Email Police?

They didn't do anything particularly wrong, and there is no official course of action you can take. You are perfectly free to mock the author. Go for it. But, honestly, you seem to have a weird hangup about this.
posted by Justinian at 8:57 AM on May 27, 2010

Oh, is there some reason you didn't mention the novel? Can you tell us what novel you're talking about? I'd like to check it out for myself.
posted by Justinian at 8:58 AM on May 27, 2010

If the author's passing off this email as his own work it's plagiarism, but plagiarism isn't illegal, just wrong. Plagiarism is about community standards and expectations only. If you were the author of the email, this would be a violation of your copyright and you could take legal action; as a reader, the best you can hope for is to get the purchase price of your book back. If you can track down the original author and get them to complain about the violation of their copyright, they would have a case.

If the publisher and the author's fans don't care, there's very little you can do about it. The best you can hope for is to convince the publisher and fans that this is important, either on your own (letter to the publisher, incredibly well-written, readable, angry Amazon review?) or with the help of higher-profile people. If that happens, the author might be shamed into apologizing. Might.
posted by mskyle at 9:05 AM on May 27, 2010

Just a data point, but David Foster Wallace did this with a pre-email chain letter in Infinite Jest. The world did not end.

A lot of email forwards end up de facto (if not de jure) public domain, and an in that situation an author has no legal obligation to acknowledge that they did not write it themselves, so in that sense it's perfectly permissible. I would be staggered if the publisher was wet enough behind the ears to bat an eyelid (or even respond) to your discovery. If you really feel like hurting America by encouraging sites like Gawker to continue existing then feel free to forward this outrage to them ; )
posted by caek at 9:06 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Based on the text you've quoted from the book, I had a pretty easy time figuring out what book you are talking about.
posted by Xalf at 9:07 AM on May 27, 2010

If you can track down the original author and get them to complain about the violation of their copyright, they would have a case.

Not really. As caek touches upon above, the apparent fact that this email has been circulated for years (and no doubt in various forms with words tweaked here and there and the story's already sketchy providence further distorted by increment down the line) with no outcry from its original author(s) (this alleged "group of professional people") strongly suggests that this piece entered the public domain due to forfeiture.
posted by applemeat at 9:20 AM on May 27, 2010

Many have mentioned that you should check the acknowledgments. You should. In this case they describe the source material for the scene you're complaining about. There are surely different ways of interpreting the following, but it's highly relevant to deciding whether the author is a plagiarist.

"I want to thank the Metropolitan Community Church of Las Vegas for warmly welcoming me into their sanctuary. Although the sermon on pages 314-16 is inspired by one I heard there on December 18, 2005, the scene itself is fictitious and does not depict this actual church or anyone in its loving congregation."

Since you seem to want to avoid naming the book, I'll respect that. Anyone curious can search Google Books like I did.
posted by Xalf at 9:32 AM on May 27, 2010

Response by poster: Yes, Xalf, fter the suggestion from several parties, I did read the acknowledgments. Though it does acknowledge the real-life church, no allusion was made to the original email -- whether in the context of its usage in the actual sermon or the author's usage of it in his fictional setting.
posted by fantine at 9:35 AM on May 27, 2010

As it turns out, I have a copy of that book, and reading the passage and the acknowledgment, I'd now say you're all bent out of shape over nothing. The acknowledgment acknowledges where the author found the source material. That it's also an internet meme may be completely unknown to him -- after all, the person who preached it probably didn't say that they stole it. At best, you're going to be able to demonstrate that it's accidental second hand plagiarism, and while possession of stolen goods may be a crime, possession of stolen words isn't.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:13 AM on May 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

This seems pretty much resolved but also consider that, in the general case, this is fiction so the intent may be simply to depict a character who says things they read over the internet (and all that implies about them) whether, over the course of the novel, they get caught doing so or not.
posted by juv3nal at 10:21 AM on May 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

My main question: what recourse do I have?

"Recourse" sounds like you have a claim on the author for this outrage. Not sure how, exactly.

Bottom line, what would be your happiest outcome? The book to be recalled? The author to be drummed out of polite society and blackballed from any further publishing? A public apology on Oprah? Comprehensive boycotting of the book and any further work?

(And just from curiosity, why are giving us the email but not the title or the author of the offending book?)

Writers filch. They get caught. People mock them, then forget about it.

Or how about this as an innocent explanation? The author intended the alert reader to recognize the character's plagiarizing, and thus see a sermon giver as a more dubious and deep fellow.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:25 AM on May 27, 2010

(Damn preview. What juv3nal said.)
posted by IndigoJones at 10:26 AM on May 27, 2010

Okay, it sounds like you're talking about David Ebershoff's The 19th Wife. Which sold rather a lot of copies. So this isn't a case of an obscure novel slipping something under the radar; lots of people undoubtedly know Ebershoff quoted a spammy email.

So I think the idea that you need to or can "blow the whistle" about this should be discarded. The only people to contact would be his publisher and they already know and would laugh at you.
posted by Justinian at 11:01 AM on May 27, 2010

Ah, glurge being reglurgified. And it makes perfect sense that the author heard it in a church...I think traditional churchlike atmospheres are hotbeds of passing on little morality tales told in first person, regardless of actual occurrence. I think it's kind of like when people tell jokes in the first person- the point is the funny, not that it actually happened. Still, glurge is annoying.
posted by redsparkler at 11:05 AM on May 27, 2010

I suspect the reason the OP hasn't told us the name of the novel is because she is still in freak-out OMG OMG OMG mode. Usually, when you're totally bent out of shape about something, it's the worst time to act because you're not thinking clearly. We all do this from time to time. Like I said, it's the worst time to act.

"My main question: what recourse do I have?"

By 'recourse,' surely you do not mean "the legal right to demand compensation or payment." Compensation for what, exactly? How were you harmed?

The proper answer to this question is: Do not buy any more books from authors or publishers you do not respect. I'd also recommend taking some time to figure out why something so trivial bothered you so much and why you assumed the worst.

"Yes, Xalf, fter the suggestion from several parties, I did read the acknowledgments."

Again, isn't it interesting that your first instinct was to assume something bad of an author you've never met while placing your faith in an internet meme whose source you know nothing about. You might want to take some time and think about that.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:10 AM on May 27, 2010

The Metropolitan Community Church of Las Vegas publishes text of past sermons on their website. (I think most church websites do this.) The December 18, 2005 sermon appears to be gone now. They only have sermons by their current minister posted. I'm willing to assume, though, that it was still up when the book was published.

Plagiarism is not the use of material derived from elsewhere. Writers do this all the time as others have said. It's the use of material written by others without acknowledgment. The author seems to have made a good faith effort at acknowledgment.

I'm willing to give the author some benefit of the doubt and guess the following:

- The sermon included text from the "Kids Define Love" email forward, possibly without acknowledgment.

- The author's source for this material was the sermon.

Assuming the author was aware that the sermon used text from an email forward, and assuming they realized that the church might drop the sermon if they got a new minister, they might have listed alternate sources in the acknowledgments. But it's not clear the author knew either of these things.
posted by nangar at 11:58 AM on May 27, 2010

If you hunt down the original authors of the Kids Define Love email forward, and let them know about this infringement, and they decide to seek compensation, and after months in the court they finally win, possibly in an out-of-court settlement, you may be entitled to either (a) a refund on your book, or (b) a finder's fee for alerting them to the infringement. Good luck,
posted by Sully at 10:28 PM on May 27, 2010

Just name the fucking book and author already. If you're so damned outraged, why the secrecy?
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:52 AM on May 28, 2010

Just name the fucking book and author already. If you're so damned outraged, why the secrecy?

Near as I can tell, it's considered kind of mildly uncouth for people to use Ask.Me questions to promote something or advance an agenda. It's fine to ask for information on promoting your new blog / getting your candidate elected / telling the world how you've been wronged, but unless the specifics of the situation are vital to the question, most people seem to leave them out in the interest of not having it appear that step one of their how-to plan was 'post it to Ask.Metafilter so lots of people will know about it.'

That said, usually once people specifically ask, it's okay to be specific in the thread. In this case, someone else already has been.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:50 AM on May 28, 2010

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