Plagiarism has been a subject of particular interest to me ever since Mr. Gale, my eleventh grade history teacher, gave the class a talk on plagiarism that scared the bejesus out of me. If you've read My Life Among the Aliens and Club Earth, you know that I also have turned my eye to the subject of feeding kids once or twice.
So perhaps you'll understand why the plagiarism complaint and now lawsuit relating to Jessica Seinfeld's book draws me like a magnet.
Slate has reprinted an article from last October called Not That There's Anything Wrong With That discussing copyright infringement and plagiarism, particularly as it pertains to cookbooks and this case. The author, Steven A. Shaw, agrees with me that neither book was very original. (I would think any mom with kids more than a year old would realize that.) He also makes the case that Seinfeld didn't plagiarize anything. But, of course, now I guess that's up to a court to decide.
Perhaps I'm being an alarmist here or ignorant of the law or ignorant about publishing or all of the above. Nonetheless, I wonder if this case could end up having a chilling effect on writing and publishing because it's not all that unusual for more than one writer to write about a subject even in the same calendar year. It takes so long to write a book and go through the publishing process that many writers (and their publishers) may not even know they have some competition for the same turf. This whole thing is causing me to suffer flashbacks to that eleventh grade plagiarism talk.
Fortunately, this case has a high enough profile that we can probably look forward to hearing all about what happens with it.
What makes this legal dispute unusual isn't the charge of plagiarism, but the additional charge of defamation. Jerry Seinfeld told jokes about the plaintiff on one of the talk shows that he's in a position to get on but she's not. Specifically, he drew a parallel between her use of three names and the three names of killers like James Earl Ray and Lee Harvey Oswald. She took offense.
I'm not clear on whether she is filing two separate suits, one against her for copyright infringement and one against him for defamation, or if they're being sued together somehow. What will be really interesting is if she loses the copyright infringement suit but wins the one regarding defamation.
I'm not touching the defamation thing, except to say I'm always uncomfortable when a husband gets involved with his wife's professional disputes. It suggests she can't fight her own battles.
Speaking of a husband coming to his wife's defense.
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