CopyKaavya: More plagiarism at 17th Street?

By Carmen Comment

The Harvard Independent just keeps finding new angles to this story, uncovering court documents that a book published by Random House — delivered by 17th Street/Alloy Entertainment — willfully plagiarized a text belonging to Susan Daitch, author of BLACKWELL’S ISLAND. But this case is a bit different from that of Kaavya Viswanathan and Meg McCafferty, because the dispute involved two drafts of Daitch’s novel. The case was settled out of court in February 2006.

Daitch, who had previously written two books for adults, went to 17th Street with her YA novel “for a steadier paycheck.” After an initial meeting in 2003, according to Daitch’s legal complaint, “17th Street had prepared two draft chapters of the potential book and a rough outline of the remainder.” 17th Street contended that it also supplied Daitch with “character sketches” and historical reference materials. After Random House accepted the proposal, Daitch (paid $12,500) wrote the novel — which was then rejected, and the publishing house demanded a new draft with a new writer.

Daitch’s agent informed her that 17th Street that Daitch’s manuscript of Blackwell’s Island belonged to Daitch and that the packager would have to “consult” with her before using any of the original material that she created, and to protect herself she registered her copyright. And along comes the finished manuscript — bearing suspicious resemblance to the one turned in by Daitch.

And so, as the Independent puts it, “did the Opal Mehta packager unscrupulously, if not illegally, copy extensive portions of a manuscript that belonged, whether by right or by copyright, to Susan Daitch? The court records cannot conclusively answer that question, and in light of the confidentiality clause attached to the settlement, none of the parties involved can discuss the case. But while two hazy instances of alleged copying in books packaged by 17th Street cannot convict the company of serial plagiarism in the courts of law or public opinion, they can and do suggest probable cause for suspicion.”