Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Kaavya Viswanathan Acknowledges Using Portions of Another Author's Book

Kaavya Viswanathan, the 19 year-old Harvard student who made headlines as one of the youngest authors to be signed on by Little, Brown & Co., ($500,000 for a two-book deal) after they published her debut novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, faced plagiarism charges over the weekend.

The similarities between How Opal and Megan McCafferty's novels, Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings (both published by Random House) were first reported in The Harvard Crimson this past Sunday.

The Boston Globe reports today that Ms Viswanathan "acknowledged yesterday that she used portions of another writer's book, but insisted the act was unconscious and unintentional."

The Globe article reporoduces portions of Ms Viswanathan's statement released by her publisher, Little, Brown,
''When I was in high school," Viswanathan said in her statement, ''I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty, 'Sloppy Firsts' and 'Second Helpings,' which spoke to me in a way few other books did. Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel, 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life,' and passages in these books."

The Harvard Crimson also reports today that Random House lawyer, Min Jung Lee, in a letter to Little, Brown, stated that Random House "is confident that "literal copying" occurred in Viswanathan's book".
"We are continuing to investigate this matter, but, given the alarming similarities in the language, structure and characters already found in these works, we are certain that some literal copying actually occurred here," read the letter, which is dated April 22 and was signed by Random House lawyer Min Jung Lee. "As such, we would appreciate your prompt and serious attention to this matter."

Little, Brown, in a separate statement through Micheal Pietsch, VP and Publisher, described Ms Viswanathan as a "a decent, serious, and incredibly hard-working writer and student, and I am confident that we will learn that any similarities in phrasings were unintentional."

The movie rights to How Opal has been purchased by Dream Works.

This past weekend, The Hindu carried an interview with the author.


Kush Tandon points to this Language Log defense of Kaavya Viswanathan. Kush notes, though, that he's just pointing to it and not endorsing it.

Update 2:

The NY Times reports
today (April 28, 2006),
"Little, Brown today sent a notice to retail and wholesale accounts asking them to stop selling copies of the book and to return unsold inventory to the publisher for full credit," said Michael Pietsch, senior vice president and publisher of Little, Brown.
Crossposted on Desicritics.


ரவி ஸ்ரீநிவாஸ் said...

The problem is this cant be defended as fair use .If she has
literally copied some passages
and sentences she is in trobule.
Copyright covers not ideas per se
but expressions of ideas.
'the act was unconscious and unintentional' is no defense.
Anyway she will continue in limelight for right or wrong reasons.

Anonymous said...

Saw this in the morning, on channel 4. They even showed the paragraphs which were identical.
It does not look good for the author.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Ravi, "Anyway she will continue in limelight for right or wrong reasons." That's exactly my concern as well, and her book may even see a rise in sales because of this. If that happens, the Publishers may be reluctant to fix their ways.

Rajeshwari, you're right, everything points to things not looking good for the author.

remainconnected said...


Kaavya,confessed to "unintentionally" plagiarizing passages from another famous author. However, I find this story really funny as Kaavya notes that she must have "internalized" the other book, which she read as a high school student. Therefore, resulting in not simply having a similar story outline, but having nearly 29 identical passages. (I am not sure about the number,but read so in news.).

But having something of a number this big, does it really sound un-intentional. I read “The Hindu” newspaper and in that a short example was mentioned from Kaavya’s book and the original from Megan McCafferty. To me it sounded just fine replacement of words.How can Harvard grad do that ? As far as I know in US schools even when you take an idea or a short passage from some other author’s writings or publications,you are supposed to respectfully supposed mention the source for the same. I do that in my blogs,when I read something and I link that to my blog,I clearly mention the source as it’s the authentic author’s creation/idea/view. I appreciate that so I link it, I don’t copy that.

(Sujatha : Your crossposting click on your blog links to the main page of desicrtics.org site ,instead of taking one to your post.Feel that there was some typo error is mentioning the http link path.)


Mallik said...

I disagree with everything that says positive about this girl, as far as this plagiarised texts are concerned. Being in limelight for false reasons is no good for the girl. It even affect the chances of getting into Harvard or its peer institutions for other Indian or Indian-origin aspirants. They consider hell lot of things before you go to such schools, and people like this girl if they make this kind of nuisance, they keep suspecting the new aspirants about their being genuine. "unintentional", and "unconscious" wont qualify her to escape from already resenting natives. They may even sue, or ask a share in the money.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Hi Tanay, thanks for the thoughtful comment. Yeah, it does seem like a pretty lame explanation, doesn't it?

I did mean for the link to be for the main Desicritics page. :)

Thanks also for your e-mail. Just have been very busy. Hopefully will get to post more often!

Mallik, thanks for your comment. Apparently she was the target of racial attacks at Harvard. Her success must have given rise to a lot of jealousies. ALthough this may not serve to stereotype all aspirants, I do hope that this episode does make the publishers more vigilant.

Anonymous said...

After all said and done about Ms Kaavya Viswanathan's plagiarism, I dare say what happened is the natural outcome of laying too much responsibilities on our youngsters.
Pray, what experience has this girl had that actually qualified her to write a so-called best seller, apart from her otherworldly zeal--and that of the people around her--to secure college admission at all costs.
America should learn to let her young grow at their own pace.
The rate of teen suicide as a result of their inability to meet the unusually high expectations of their society is enough reason why the unnecessarily high stakes of American institutions should be addressed.
As for the young wannabe author, I advise her to be more realistic about life, instead of chasing the shadows that Harvard and America have placed on her path.
Adesola Ayo-Aderele,
Lagos, Nigeria.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Adesola, thank you for visiting my blog and for your thoughtful comment.

I dare say what happened is the natural outcome of laying too much responsibilities on our youngsters.

I agree. I would go further and replace the word "responsibilities" with "demands".