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text 2018-08-28 01:35
Would I do it again? Absolutely, even knowing the price. (very long rant)
The Hepburn - Jan Westcott

If you've been following the current brouhaha on Twitter regarding alleged plagiarism and dishonesty of promoting one's own books and what is or isn't ethical, you'll maybe recognize the source for this. 

 

One of the tweets this morning was about a perceived culture in which Romancelandia tends to overtly deplore dishonorable actions but maintains a telling silence when certain dishonorable actions are committed by certain untouchable writers.  If the accusation is made by a lesser light (or an Unknown!) of a Big Name Author, the accuser is automatically dismissed.  If the BNA is big in Romance Writers of America, the sweeping under the rug can be painfully obvious.

 

There is also a tendency for those who are the dismissed accusers to believe that they are alone, that no one ever comes to their defense. It's a horrible feeling, and I know because I've been there.  More than once.

 

The big example, the one I point to frequently, pertains to the linked novel, The Hepburn, written by Jan Westcott.  I happen to have two copies.  I read it for the first time in the mid-1960s, not long after I read Leslie Turner White's Lord Johnnie

 

The main character of The Hepburn is not Patrick Hepburn; it's Jane Gordon, who is given in marriage against her will to the eponymous hero.  Jane is "fiesty," and independent and not afraid to speak her mind or even physically confront this man she sees as her mortal enemy.  In a lot of ways, she's not much different from Leanna Somerset, the heroine of Lord Johnnie, or any of the other strong female characters in the historical romances written by men in the 1930s through 1960s.  But Jane is the main character.  Did Westcott's publisher require the book be titled after the male lead because of market expectations?  I don't know.  I just know that Jane is the main character; this is her story, not Patrick's.

 

This sidebar on The Hepburn is by way of explaining why it meant so much to me and therefore how I knew, that Sunday afternoon in 1990, something horrible had happened.

 

I was on my way to the airport after the 1990 RWA national conference in San Francisco.  Sharing the taxi with me were authors Connie Flynn and Pat Potter.  Connie was a friend from my local RWA chapter in Phoenix; I didn't know Pat at all.  But it was Pat who asked if we had heard the rumors going around about a major instance of plagiarism.  We hadn't, so she explained that apparently Zebra superstar author Sylvie Sommerfield had copied parts of some old book called . . . The Hepburn.

 

"The Hepburn?"  I gasped.  "By Jan Westcott?  That's one of my favorite books of all time!"

 

I bought a copy of Sommerfield's Fires of Surrender when I landed at the airport in Phoenix.  I recognized familiar passages immediately.  Not just here and there but throughout the book.  And that was before I got home and could compare it to the original.

 

When I did, I was horrified. 

 

Samples are here on my external blog; I'll try to get some better scans later and post them here.

 

There was no question that the Sommerfield book was an infringement.  The following Monday morning, I contacted Romantic Times magazine.  They were skeptical.  I mailed them photocopies of selected pages.

 

Eventually the stories came out from Sommerfield.  First it was that she had been under extreme deadline pressure and had hired an assistant to help her with research.  The assistant took notes and Sommerfield was so impressed that she incorporated those notes into her manuscript.  Then the story changed to the manuscript was written by a hired ghostwriter, and it was all the ghostwriter's fault.  None of that made any difference of course, because the infringement was just too obvious. 

 

And Westcott was still alive. 

 

Eventually a settlement was reached, though the details were never released to my knowledge.  The speculation was that Zebra/Kensington, who had published Fires of Surrender, turned over all the royalties to Westcott. 

 

Without digging into my personal archives, I'm not sure whether Sommerfield resigned from RWA at that time or not.  RWA did not have any means to expel members who committed plagiarism or infringement, but the Sommerfield event did prompt the organization to write expulsion terms into the RWA by-laws.

 

That was 1990.  I was a nobody.  I had published one book with Leisure, one with Pageant, and had just sold my first title to Zebra shortly before that 1990 conference.  No one knew who I was.  No one cared.

 

That was 1990.  I was a nobody.  No one knew who I was.  No one cared.

 

And pretty much for most of the past 28 years, that's what I believed.  Until this morning.

 

This morning I remembered another instance when I had called out plagiarism/infringement.  And suddenly, for the first time in decades, some things made a little more sense.

 

In 1982, before I had ever even heard of RWA, I came across an article in The Writer magazine that really hit home with me.  It became my bible as a writer.  I shared it with my penpals.  When I did join RWA in 1984, I shared it with everyone I encountered.  I never claimed it as my own.  I gave the author full credit.

 

 

 

 

It's 2018 now.  I still have that February 1982 issue of The Writer.  I scanned these two pages (there are two more as well) this afternoon.

 

In March 1988, the following article appeared in the official RWA magazine, RWA Report.  Yes, I still have the magazine.  I scanned these two pages this afternoon.

 

 

 

 

For six years I had been promoting Shelly Lowenkopf's article, giving him 100% full credit for it.  I distilled a dozen points from it, printed them on a card, and pinned that card over my desk, but even that carried the appropriate attribution.

 

I was stunned by Ginna Gray's article.  Stunned, shocked, appalled.  I ran out of words.

 

I reported it.

 

Nothing happened.

 

I have a fat folder in the top drawer of my big filing cabinet. That folder contains all the documentation of my attempts to get to the bottom of Ginna Gray's copying from Shelly Lowenkopf's excellent article.  That fat folder contains the originals of the two magazines and the correspondence I undertook.  Some of my reporting was done by telephone, and I don't have recordings of those calls.  But I do still have the written correspondence, some of it printed on my first dot matrix printer.

 

 

 

 

 

A few days later, I got this reply:

 

 

 

Ms.Cresswell did call me regarding the official response to my communication, but I did not receive any further written notice from her.  She reported in her call that Ms. Gray was shocked and shamed and offered the excuse that she had received the information as a hand-out at another conference and incorporated it into her article.  Essentially, nothing was done.  Nothing.

 

That was 1988.  I was nobody.

 

In 1989, I brought the Ginna Gray episode up in a letter to another RWA official as part of longer letter on a variety of issues.  Again, I received a phone call, but nothing was put in writing to me.  According to my notes on this call, everything regarding Ginna Gray was discussed in secret RWA executive board session and special permission had been obtained to even give me what little bit of information I got.  Ultimately, however, the RWA board of directors did nothing.  No vague warnings were published in the RWR about not "borrowing" someone else's writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, without proper attribution.

 

So then came 1990 and the Sylvie Sommerfield mess, and I was right smack dab in the middle of that, too.  And I felt guilty.  I felt guilty about reporting Ginna Gray and I felt guilty about reporting Sylvie Sommerfield.  But no one else was.

 

By the summer of 1991, the Sommerfield thing had blown over or been settled, and I assumed the Ginna Gray thing had been dealt with, too.  I made plans to attend the national conference that summer, held in New Orleans.  When I saw that Ginna Gray was scheduled to deliver one of the workshops and that it was titled "Great Beginnings," I had a bad feeling in my gut.  I considered calling the conference chair about it, but I shrugged it off.  I was already in enough trouble with RWA.  So I said nothing.

 

But I did attend Ginna Gray's workshop.

 

This was 1991.  I was nobody.

 

Ginna Gray used even more of Shelly Lowenkopf's article, verbatim, in her 1991 workshop than she had in the 1988 article.  I purchased the official cassette recording of the workshop and transcribed it.  There was no doubt in my mind that she had copied.

 

Against my better judgment, I reported it again.  I included copies of previous correspondence as well as the transcript I had made of the tape.  Once again, nothing happened, other than I was told to stop harassing everyone.  I was told Ginna Gray had done nothing wrong.  I was told I was the one in trouble.

 

It didn't take long for me to locate Shelly Lowenkopf.  I took the drastic step of contacting him and giving him the details.  We had a long phone conversation, and then I received the following letter from him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing happened.  RWA did nothing.  When Janet Dailey infringed on her friend Nora Roberts in 1995 or so, RWA did nothing.  (Dailey was not a current member at the time, so there wasn't much they could do other than decline to continue to grant her "Janet Dailey" award.)

 

I have other documents in my fat file folder that take the issue into the late 1990s and my departure from RWA.  Those documents aren't quite as relevant, but I have them.

 

Why did I keep all of it for well over 30 years?  I'm not sure.  I guess it's because I'm a mean person, maybe vindictive and vicious.  I've never denied that I can be self-righteous, and I can certainly be stubborn.

 

But this latest bullshit with authors "lifting" from other authors and lying about it and shrugging it off as nothing, and then other authors coming along and shrugging it off because it's not really, technically, precisely plagiarism because it's just common tropes and blah, blah, blah, well, that just got to me.  And it reminded me this morning that maybe my persistence over Ginna Gray -- who I believe is a charter member of RWA, one of the original group that met in the bank basement in Houston and formed the organization -- played a larger part in my being a kind of persona non grata in the organization.  Because the vaunted sisterhood of romance writers is, after all, bullshit.

 

I offer no apologies.  I offer only the evidence.

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text 2018-01-01 18:28
Happy New Year

My resolutions for New Year's Eve fell by the wayside due to exhaustion.  It was physical exhaustion brought about by mental/emotional exhaustion, so although I did accomplish some of what I wanted to do, I didn't get to all of it.

 

I cleaned up several hundred accumulated emails from the backlog, though that is barely a drop in the very large bucket.

 

I reviewed/recorded most of my Festive Season tasks and reading, leaving only two or possibly three to go.  The final tally was a disappointing 19 points, but I read three VERY LONG books in the mix, and I'm patting myself on the back for them regardless of "points."

 

During the gaming time, I also made significant progress on one of my long-term, ongoing personal projects: the transcription of all those spiral notebook diaries.  Yesterday morning I reached January 2017, so I am just a few days less than a year behind!

 

This coming week-end is the Flagg Gem and Mineral Show held at Mesa Community College.  Though not nearly as big as either the Quartzsite or Tucson extravaganzas, the Flagg show is close to home and convenient, with free parking and admission, and more than enough goodies for me to ogle.  It's not that I need any more rocks, but, well, a girl can't have too many!  The weather forecast as of last week was not promising, but it has improved steadily the closer we get to the show.  Friday looks like the best day, with mostly sunny skies and a high around 75.

 

The following week-end is the two-day Heritage Days celebration at our local Superstition Mountain Museum.  I'll be setting up there to (try to) sell some of my jewelry and other hand-made goodies.  Last year we had horrible weather, with powerful storms that destroyed several vendors' canopies and kept visitor attendance way down.  The forecast looks much, much better for 2018, with mostly sunny skies, high temperatures around 70, and neither rain nor wind predicted for either Saturday or Sunday.

 

There's one part of Heritage Days that I am very much NOT looking forward to.

 

One of the entertainment acts scheduled is singer Paula Erlene, "America's Yodeling Sweetheart," and her husband Ermal Williamson, who does a John Wayne impersonation.  At last year's Heritage Days, Paula debuted her new, original patriotic song, "We Are One," which Ermal (as MC) touted as "the next God Bless America."  He further exclaimed that Paula was writing new verses almost literally while rehearsing. 

 

As I sat under my little rain-drenched canopy and tried to smile through the yodeling, I realized I had heard Paula's "new" song before.  The tune was completely familiar, and even over the noise of the wind in the cactus, the murmurings of the appreciative crowd, and the tramp of footsteps in the muddy ground, even with the terrible outdoor acoustics, I knew the words to this song she claimed to have written herself.

 

We are one, but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We'll share a dream and sing with one voice,

"I am, you are, we are . . . ."

 

How was this possible???  I had never heard of Paula Erlene before in my life, but I knew the words to the song she bragged about having just written.

 

After the Saturday shows -- the entertainers each perform twice each day -- I hadn't pegged it down, and I was too cold and too tired by the bad weather to even think further once I got home.  But it nagged at me, so that when she took the stage for Sunday's performances, I listened more closely to the words . . . because I had  finally developed a very sneaking suspicion as to why this song was so familiar.

 

As Paula once more sang the chorus,

 

"I am, you are, we are Americans,"

 

I knew the last word was wrong.  And before she finished her new, original composition, I knew why it was so familiar.  There was nothing I could do while I was at the Museum, but as soon as I got home Sunday evening, I got on the computer and found confirmation of my absolute worst thoughts.

 

 

 

Some of you here may recognize the performers, though this YouTube screenshot is of a 1994 live (and farewell) performance.  Some of you may already have recognized the lyrics.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v22SPtCFck8

 

I broke into tears when I realized what Paula Erlene, "America's Yodeling Sweetheart," had done. 

 

She had stolen someone else's work and claimed it as her own.  (I played the video linked above just now and started crying again.)

 

Paula Erlene now has a CD out that appears to include the song.

 

 

 

Whether there is any credit given to the original composer and lyricist, I don't know.  

 

EDITED TO ADD: I was finally able to get a decent shot of the Facebook page on my other computer with larger monitor, and yes, it does state that "We Are One" is adapted from Woodley & Newton's "I Am Australian."  This is more than she and Ermal did at Heritage Days last year; it will be interesting to hear what they have to say this year.

 

 

But on her Facebook page -- or Ermal's, if you will -- she does claim to have written it herself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe it's just a nasty and shameful American habit of cultural appropriation.  "God Save the King" became "My Country 'Tis of Thee."  And "To Anacreon in Heaven" became "The Star-Spangled Banner" (minus, of course, its racist later verses).  Paula and Ermal performed in South Korea ahead of the recent visit by American "officials," and their political affiliation is apparent.  It's not likely that any public announcement of this infringement would be met with anything other than, well, approval.

 

After last year's discovery, I wrote to The Seekers, either via Facebook or email, regarding the situation.  I never heard anything back.  I don't have a recording of Paula's performance or her claim to have written the song herself.  I only found the above Facebook claim this morning.

 

I hate these people.  I hate them with a white hot passion.  I hate their supporters and defenders.  And I know America is better than this.

 

Australia certainly is.

 

 

Watch the views of the audience on this one

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOlPCmFG2pc

 

 

And from 2012, with verses not in the shorter versions, verses Paula Erlene also . . . used:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrLTe1_9zso

 

 

 

 

 

From Wikipedia:

 

It was often played at citizenship ceremonies from 2008 until 2012 when the Copyright Tribunal ruled that this was an infringement and ordered the Federal Government to pay Bruce Woodley $149,743.34 in compensation.[4]

 

In 2009 two additional verses were added to show remembrance during the official National Day of Mourning for the victims of the Black Saturday bushfires.[9] Woodley performed the song along with his daughter Clare and Kinglake fire survivors Merelyn and David Carter during the memorial service at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on 22 February.[10][11]

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url 2016-04-17 20:39
Copyright help for the self-published -- Bowker (ISBN agency) CopyrightsNow™ app
...“Since our recent introduction of the CopyrightsNow™ service, self-published authors and publishers have a new simplified tool for registering and enforcing copyrights for their creative works, protecting them from piracy and illegal copying,” said Beat Barblan, Director of Identifier Services at Bowker ...

-- http://www.bowker.com/news/2016/New-CopyrightsNow-App-provides-Copyright-Registration-and-Protection.html 

Source: www.bowker.com/news/2016/New-CopyrightsNow-App-provides-Copyright-Registration-and-Protection.html
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