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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Quentin Rowan - A Literary Thief

Today I have been reading about an astounding example of plagiarism by Quentin Rowan, writing as Q.R. Markham. His novel, Assassin of Secrets, did not merely plagiarize one source but stole from many sources.


I came across the story in John's blog Pretty Sinister Books and thank him for a post about plagiarism of which I was unaware.


It was striking to read Edward Cameron's post exposing the depths of the plagiarism.


Lastly, it was hard to read Jeremy Duns on the pain of being duped.


A few years ago I read a book called The Spinster and the Prophet. A single Toronto woman wrote a history of the world during WW I. It was sent to a publisher and rejected. Subsequently H.G. Wells wrote his own history of the world. It was clear from her subsequent unsuccessful court case that Wells engaged in literary theft but the establishment of the time was not interested in having such a prominent author exposed.


I had thought it would be much harder for a "Wells" of today to achieve such a theft but after reading of Rowan's deception am less certain.


It appears to me Rowan was partially successful because he was so brazen who would expect such blatant thievery.


In an interview with The New York Daily News he revealed his motivation for writing the book:


    Rowan was frank about his intention to for the money.


   With the economy so bad, there's no room for a writer to worry   
   about selling out, he said. "People who were writing thoughtful 
   short stories about suburban malaise are now writing vampire 
   stories." 


Everyone who writes is inspired by others. Fortunately most authors use their own imagination to develop their ideas into fiction of their own.


His circumstances are far different from the lawsuit by the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail suing Random House that The Da Vinci Code infringed their copyright. The trial decision clearly set out there may have been use of ideas but there was no infringement and the ideas were not new. As well Dan Brown listed The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail as a source. The authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail underwent a painful cross-examination about their sources. What was most unique about the judgment was the embedding of a message by the judge in code in his judgment.


The Court of Appeal, while not amused by the trial judge's code found no merit in the appeal. They unanimously dismissed the appeal in their judgment.


In the appeal judgment Lord Justice Lloyd provided a definition of copyright:


    Copyright does not subsist in ideas; it protects the expression of 
    ideas, not the ideas themselves. No clear principle is or could be
    laid down in the cases in order to tell whether what is sought to be
    protected is on the ideas side of the dividing line, or on the
    expression side.


There is no "gray" about Rowan, a Brooklyn bookseller. He was a carefully calculating plagiarist whose actions have been justly condemned by most commentators. He deserves to be remembered as a thief.



10 comments:

  1. H.G. Wells stole, too? I'm sick.

    Thanks, Bill, for your insights on plagiarism in the publishing industry and this astounding con. When Jeremy Duns found six entire pages (!) lifted from a John Gardner novel in Assassin of Secrets that sealed Rowan's fate in my book.

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  2. Then there's the exact opposite to plagiarism that happens sometime whereupon the UK's Ministry of Defence deleted 400 pages from my manuscript and then instructs that it be legally be called fiction. Welcome to the world of published books. - Nicholas Anderson, author of "NOC - Non-Official Cover: British Secret Operations"

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  3. John: Thanks for the comment. If not for your blog I would not have read about the scandal.

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  4. Anonymous: I can say no more than your comment is a long distance from the topic of the post.

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  5. Bill - What a thoughtful and interesting discussion of this sad case of plagiarism. I'm very glad the plagiarism was exposed and after reading what you've shared about this, I couldn't agree more about Rowan. And it's so sad to hear that Wells was a plagiarist, too...

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  6. He definitely is a thief. What makes me wonder is how on earth he believed he could get away with it these days.

    But when it comes to H.G. Wells I don´t know what the attitude and the limit was in his time. Back in the Renaissance Shakespeare stole lots of ideas and scenes like everybody else; he was just better at putting them together than most writers.

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  7. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I think it is especially sad for the people he duped in the process of publishing the book.

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  8. Dorte: Thanks for the comment. I encourage you to try to find The Spinster and the Prophet. It will show to you how Florence Deeks, a dedicated researcher, diligently put together her history of the world called "The Web" and how dismissively she was treated as a non-scholar against the eminent Wells. Most telling of his copying were the repetition of mistakes she made in her history. She was given little regard as she was a woman challenging the great Wells. It will make you grind your teeth in frustration.

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  9. I concur completely, Bill. As a writer of contemporary genre fiction (thrillers, under pen name Lior Samson), I have been objecting vociferously to those who would condone Rowan's calculated and cynical theft of the work of others by calling it a brilliant post-modern pastiche or a wry commentary on the state of genre fiction and publishing today. Stealing is stealing, whatever the excuses or explanations of the thief.

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

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  10. Larry: Thanks for the comment. Anyone misguided enough to think it was post-modern pastiche or wry commentary should read Rowan's emails to Jeremy Duns explaining it was no post-modern exercise and acknowledging his actions were outright theft of material from other authors. Any plagiarist thinking they can justify their actions by claiming post-mordern pastiche or wry commentary is going to experience a very expensive judgment in the courts.

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