Allegations emerge that novelist lifted material

January 10, 2008 8:07:40 AM PST
A popular romance novelist alleged to have lifted work from other texts acknowledged that she sometimes "takes" her material "from reference books," but added that she didn't know she was supposed to credit her sources.

"When you write historical romances, you're not asked to do that," Cassie Edwards told The Associated Press, speaking earlier this week from her home in Mattoon, Ill.

Edwards then asked her husband to get on the phone. He told the AP that his wife simply gets "ideas" from reference books.

"She doesn't lift passages," Charles Edwards said, adding that "you would have to draw your own conclusions" on how closely his wife's work resembles other sources.

A romance novel Web site, http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com, has posted numerous excerpts from Edwards' novels and placed them alongside passages from books and magazines that were found by using the Google search program.

One example compares a description of black-footed ferrets in "Shadow Bear," which came out last year, with text from a 2005 article in Defenders Magazine, a quarterly published by Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation organization.

From "Shadow Bear":

"While alone in my father's study one day, after seeing a family of ferrets from afar in the nearby woods, I took one of my father's books from his library and read up on them. They were an interesting study. I discovered they are related to minks and otters. It is said that their closest relations are European ferrets and Siberian polecats. Researchers theorize that polecats crossed the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska, to establish the New World population."

From Defenders Magazine:

"Related to mink and otters, they are North America's only native ferret (and a different species than the ferrets kept as pets). Their closest relatives are European ferrets and Siberian polecats. Researchers theorize polecats crossed the land bridge that once linked Siberia and Alaska to establish the New World population."

A prolific author, Edwards has written more than 100 novels in the last 25 years and has won several awards, including the Romantic Times Lifetime Achievement prize. She usually writes about Native Americans, but has also written about pirates and the Civil War.

Edwards' publisher, Signet, issued a statement Wednesday saying that it "takes plagiarism seriously, and would act swiftly were there justification for such allegations against one of its authors. But in this case Ms. Edwards has done nothing wrong."

"The copyright fair-use doctrine permits reasonable borrowing and paraphrasing of another author's words, especially for the purpose of creating something new and original," the statement reads. "Ms. Edwards' researched historical novels are precisely the kinds of original, creative works that this copyright policy promotes."

Signet is an imprint of Penguin Group (USA).

John M. Barrie, a plagiarism specialist who helped design detection software used widely on college campuses, told the AP that the author had indeed lifted material. The president of the Romance Writers of America, Sherry Lewis, believes the excerpts "raise some questions," but declined to say Edwards had acted improperly.

"It's not clear-cut to me," she said. "You can see similarities in the passages, but I'm not qualified to make that assertion."

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