By now, I'm sure you all have read about multi-selling romance-writer Cassie Edwards being accused of plagiarism by Smart Bitches who Love Trashy Books and other sources. It appears she crimped major research sections on Native American life from published, copy written nonfiction and even fiction.
If this is true (and it does look as though it is), it is bad. It is especially bad because it is lazy writing, and there is no excuse for laziness when you are being paid to write.
As I seem to say too often, publishing is not heart surgery. It usually takes nine months for a completed manuscript to go from type-written form to published book, so there is always ample time to make changes. And even if you are under deadline, if you need an extra 24 or 48 hours to put something in your own words, I can't imagine the circumstances under which your editor would put you so under the gun that she (it usually she, especially in romance writing) won't give you those extra days. You could always say something like "the section on ferrets will need some work, but you can read through the manuscript for plot and character as is."
So there is just no excuse.
One of my authors recently received an email from an editor we have a series of books with saying that some of the research information in a forth-coming nonficiton book is too close to the Wikipedia entry. They checked. They aways check. Or should. And you, as a writer, should always feel that you will be found out.
In my author's defense, Wikipedia had been cited in the footnotes, and had been cut out in editing.
I am not sure that all of you know that I was trained as a journalist, which means I have a degree in journalism from NYU, where I actually taught in the undergraduate program. I was the publisher of a Manhattan newspaper for 4 years. I have NO patience for plagiarism.
When I was teaching feature article writing to 20 odd-year olds in the late 80's, I had a fairly talented student from California who would cut class two out of three times but always hand in pretty good stuff. Before the end-term project of working with two or three other classmates and doing an investigative feature article, he would have received an A- if he had attended all classes. I thought he would get a B+ because I do not think it is fair to give a better grade if you don't put in the time like the rest of the students. So I already knew he was lazy.
When the papers were handed in, he did not work with the team he was assigned to. Instead, he wrote a near-brilliant article about the border patrol in San Diego. It was so good it could have run in The New York Times. So I checked. It did run in the New York Times (and those were the days when I had to go to the big public library and research back articles on film). I failed him.
That was not the end of it.
He called me at home and told me his mother was a 4th grade teacher and would never have failed her students for "copying." I explained that a Junior in NYU's journalism program was doing a lot more than copying, and that he should have learned about plagiarism by now, but that if he hadn't, I was hoping that this would be a memorable lesson.
He came to my job and tried to talk to me.
I called the head of the journalism department and had him removed from the journalism program. He had to choose another major to get his BA.
I have no idea what happened to him, but I also have no regrets on how this played out.
Plagiarism is stealing.