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Plagiarism has long been the bane of college professors. Under the pressure (generally self-imposed by procrastination) of approaching deadlines, college students too frequently “write” term papers by “borrowing” from myriad sources—whether intentionally or unintentionally is sometimes difficult to discern. And in today’s Internet environment, the sky’s the limit in finding usable content. Either way, the student has taken another author’s material and called it their own. Plagiarism is a fancy term for theft of intellectual property.

Not long ago we were treated to the spectacle of James Frey’s fall from grace on the Oprah Winfrey Show when he acknowledged that some—maybe a lot—of his supposed memoir was actually fiction.

Now we’re at it again. Harvard University sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan has been caught red handed. She’s now admitted that much of her novel (for which she was given a six figure advance), How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, was lifted from Megan McCafferty’s books, an author Viswanathan read (a long time ago?) as a high school student. Little, Brown and Co, Viswanathan’s publisher, has pulled her book from stores and is feverishly attempting to revise it as fast as possible—in the pursuit of truth or to take advantage of the “negative” publicity that will ultimately sell more books for Viswanathan as it did for Frey?

Truth will never go out of style, but at times it does seem like an endangered species. At least we can be grateful there’s enough “borrowed Christian values” (as the late Francis A. Schaeffer called them) left in our culture that people still yearn for something real, for integrity.

So, whether for principle or for profit, here’s to those who recognize that honesty is still the best policy. Ms. Viswanathan is very young. Hopefully she’s learned to apply her own talents, not make money via another person’s pen.


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

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