A 2001 Update in the Janet Dailey/Nora Roberts Plagiarism Case

(May 1, 2001)

It was announced late in April that Janet Dailey has signed a four-book deal with Kensington. This comes less than four years after author Dailey was sued for copyright infringement of the work of Nora Roberts. The suit was eventually settled, with author Roberts donating the settlement to literacy causes.

We posted about Dailey's new book deal on our Potpourri Message Board. In addition to the several readers who posted, author Roberts did as well. We've copied and pasted the thread below. We'll gladly add your comments if you have any to make in the near future.

Subject: Janet Dailey News
From: Anne M. Marble
To: All
Date Posted: Sat, Apr 28, 2001 at 00:27:49 (EDT)
Email Address: amarble@abs.net

Message:
Have you heard that Kensington has signed a new four-book deal with Janet Dailey? It's said to be a seven-figure deal.

What do you think about this? Do you think this is fair? Or do you wish this contract had gone to another writer instead? Would you considering buying a new book by Janet Dailey?

I'll admit that I really enjoyed some of her earlier romances. I stopped reading her when my tastes changed _and_ she started writing a different type of book. And of course, I know that while she still has fans, many readers lost faith after the plagiarism incident.

Interestingly, according to the Publisher's Weekly article, Kensington's editorial director used to work at Silhouette and Pocket, JD's former publishers in her early days.

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: Phyllis
To: Anne M. Marble
Date Posted: Sat, Apr 28, 2001 at 09:01:22 (EDT)
Email Address: Not Provided

Message:
Anne, while I really can't comment on your question because I don't know enough about it, I thought that it was interesting that Janet Dailey was mentioned since I am almost halfway through 'Notorious' (1996). I know that she must be a popular author but apparently not here at AAR since she is never spoken about. Plus, this particular book is a western and I know that not many like westerns.

This book, so far, is a standard, unremarkable western that is easy to read. The opening page gives a wonderful description of a small Nevada town. It was so well written that I could almost smell the dust and the heat as I was reading.

I don't remember much of the details about the unfortunate incident that involved a law suit but hopefully all participants have been able to put it behind them and so continue with their lives.

Hopefully, more people will respond with their 2 and answer your question.

Phyllis

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: LLB
To: Phyllis
Date Posted: Sat, Apr 28, 2001 at 10:08:54 (EDT)
Email Address: laurie@likesbooks.com

Message:
Well, I know that when people to go jail, they go for punishment. A secondary goal is rehabilitation. So, since what Janet did was stealing the work of another, my thoughts are - was she punished sufficiently, and has she been rehabilitated? Personally, I couldn't answer the former although my sense is that she never fully owned up to what she did. And, I don't know how any publisher would be able to trust that the words she writes are her own in the future.

Do I think this sends a bad message to other writers that plagiarism is not an important crime in the romance community, which furthers the idea that romance isn't as worthy a form of writing as other forms. That's the sense I got when another author pilfered the work of Gina Wilkins.

As for me, I never read Janet Dailey before, and certainly don't plan to read her again - the effects of her crime on Nora Roberts were devastating. And, I think it's telling that Kensington is the publisher that took that second chance on her. Only time will tell if this was a smart business decision, stunt promotion, or a bad idea.

TTFN, LLB

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: KimA
To: LLB
Date Posted: Sat, Apr 28, 2001 at 13:38:19 (EDT)
Email Address: Not Provided

Message:
I read Janet Dailey when she was writing for harlequin and silhouette and enjoyed her books at the time, although my tastes have changed and the stereotypes of characters back then are not ones I tend to find acceptable now. I also enjoyed her Calder series. But, I have to agree with LLB -- I read her apologies, etc. and I never quite got the feeling she completely understood what she did and that it was seriously wrong. I admire Nora Roberts for persuing the issue because it does make a statement -- plagarism is wrong, even in romance novels and formula fiction.

I honestly don't know as a reader if I could trust Janet Dailey to put out an original book -- I think I would constantly be looking for similarities to other authors work, and that would not be an enjoyable experience. That said, I don't know how a publishing company could be sure the work was original either -- you'd have to edit not only for grammar and blatant errors, but also for content.

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: Anne M. Marble
To: Phyllis
Date Posted: Sat, Apr 28, 2001 at 18:39:13 (EDT)
Email Address: amarble@abs.net

Message:
In 1997, Janet Dailey admitted to plagiarizing from Nora Roberts. :(

Passages in the books 'Aspen Gold' and 'Notorious' were lifted from some of Nora Roberts' novels. The truth came out when several fans discovered the similarity and started discussing it on-line.

As others have said, while Janet Dailey apologized for what she did, I don't think she really 'owned up' to her actions. She blamed it on stress and the loss of family members.

Also, as if that weren't enough, the media coverage was absolutely hideous. One article started out with the line 'There IS a reason romance novels all seem to read alike.' Or 'It's hard to steal ideas for those things. All the story lines are the same. Only the names are different.' Ugh.

There's a great issue of Laurie's News and Views (the precursor to At the Back Fence) that addresses the case. http://www.likesbooks.com/30.html

Some fans continue to support Janet Dailey in spite of this. I can understand their loyalty because she was one of the pioneers in the field. Still, I could never understand the fans who defended her by making digs at Nora Roberts!

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: LFL
To: Anne M. Marble
Date Posted: Sat, Apr 28, 2001 at 20:13:39 (EDT)
Email Address: Not Provided

Message:
Does anyone else ever wonder if she is not quite rational? What amazes me is that she thought she could steal in broad daylight from an author as popular and widely read as Nora Roberts without getting caught. If she'd plagiarized some obscure, unknown writer, her crime would have been just as serious, but she might have gotten away with it. But how could she think no one would spot her plagiarism when she was plagiarizing an author who has so many readers and is so popular? In addition to finding it offensive and wrong, I also have to wonder what in the world she was thinking.

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: Ruby
To: Anne M. Marble
Date Posted: Sat, Apr 28, 2001 at 22:16:43 (EDT)
Email Address: Not Provided

Message:
If her new stuff is as good as her older stuff (which I loved, loved, loved) then I'm there.

Has AAR decided to stop reviewing her books? Just curious.

Ruby

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: Phyllis
To: Anne M. Marble
Date Posted: Sun, Apr 29, 2001 at 06:00:54 (EDT)
Email Address: Not Provided

Message:
Anne, I didn't know that the book that I'm currently reading was involved in that lawsuit. I have not read 'Aspen Gold'. Nor have I read any books by Nora Roberts (sorry Sandy C). However, I do have 33 TBR. I'm still gathering related books of series that she has written.

Thank you for explaining the matter to me.

Phyllis

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: Phyllis
To: LLB
Date Posted: Sun, Apr 29, 2001 at 06:22:51 (EDT)
Email Address: Not Provided

Message:
Did she go to jail, Laurie? I didn't know that. Well, she hasn't profited (sp.?) from the few books that I read by her, since I got them second hand.

I agree that plagiarism is stealing and should not be tolerated. What I'm surprised at is the fact that I have heard a number of times on these boards about how one book very closely resembles another one and yet few people are ever brought up on charges.

Well, I hope that J. Dailey has been rehabilitated. She has certainly paid with a loss of her reputation because I assume that no matter how well she conducts herself from now on, there are people who would not consider reading any of her books. It's what I call the 'off with her head' syndrome that I see quite often in public life. :)

Phyllis

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: LLB
To: Phyllis
Date Posted: Sun, Apr 29, 2001 at 09:53:25 (EDT)
Email Address: laurie@likesbooks.com

Message:
Phyllis - No, she did not go to jail; as far as I know only civil charges were made against her. The point is, if you do something illegal, rehabilitation is only a secondary concern. The primary concern is punishment.

TTFN, LLB

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: LLB
To: Ruby
Date Posted: Sun, Apr 29, 2001 at 12:16:00 (EDT)
Email Address: laurie@likesbooks.com

Message:
If Kensington sends us her new books to review when they are published, they will be available to review. Our reviewers will then have the option to review or not, or, if the book is considered major enough, it can be assigned regardless. That should be a year or so (at least) down the road, though.

Of course, if we did do any review of her upcoming releases, it would, by necessity, have to include mention of her publishing history.

TTFN, LLB

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: LFL
To: Phyllis
Date Posted: Sun, Apr 29, 2001 at 13:30:25 (EDT)
Email Address: Not Provided

Message:
Phyllis, we are not talking about a borrowed plot, which is perfectly legal (since there is no plot that has never been done before -- and even Shakespeare borrowed his plots), what Dailey did was copy certain sections into the books -- which BTW had different plots -- word for word from Roberts' books without using quotation marks or attributing them to Roberts. That is a totally differnet matter IMO.

One of the books she plagiarized from is SWEET REVENGE, which happens to be my favorite Roberts keeper and one of my favorite contemporaries, so I actually looked in the library for the scene she had copied, and if I recall correctly, it was a paragraph or two out of a love scene. In the Roberts books the characters were jewel thieves and I think the hero is comparing the heroine's to holding jewels in his hand in the plagiarized section. Since I haven't read the Dailey book I don't know with certainty, but the plot there seemed to have nothing to do with jewels, so I find it odd that she would want to copy that part.

She's written so many books and love scenes in the past, that the whole thing seems very odd to me. It's kind of like millionaire's wife who gets caught shoplifting a tube of toothpaste when there is a thousand dollars in cash in her purse. It seems to me (though of course this is pure specualtion and I have no way of knowing) like self-sabotage of some kind.

As for whether people will buy her books or not, well, I think it depends on how good they are and how known and loved her past writing was. If J.D. Salinger, who was in the news a couple years ago for love letters that he wrote to an 18 year old (whom he later seduced) when he was in his fifties, were to come out with a new book, you can bet that very few people would even ask themselves if they should buy it. And even if he'd been caught plagiarizing, I think that would be true. There was something in the news a while back about allegations that Joseph Heller plagiarized in CATCH-22, but I don't see anyone rushing to pull that book off of high school reading lists. Ditto people like the poet Ezra Pound, who was a Nazi sympathizer.

For myself, I didn't have much interest in most of Dailey's books before, and I don't now. When the movie POWDER came out, and a lot of my friends wanted to see it, I simply could not make myself go because the director had admitted to molesting a boy who had been in one of his earlier movies. But a lot of other people didn't feel that way. I guess it is up to the individual in the end, and I'm sure it will hurt her some, but I'm also sure there will be some people who know about it who will buy the book anyway.

Subject: The off with her head syndrome
From: LynnO
To: LFL
Date Posted: Sun, Apr 29, 2001 at 13:56:03 (EDT)
Email Address: np

Message:
Well, I think its interesting that people think we should just forgive and move on. I will never buy another of her books for two reasons - 1) I think the fact that she blamed it on everyone but herself quite repulsive, and shows that she isn't really sorry for what she did, after all, it wasn't her fault.

And second, I wouldn't hesitate to buy a shirt from her if she was working in a clothing store, and I think she deserves to make a living. Just not writing books. After all, would you want an accountant who embezzled, a disbarred lawyer or another professional who admitted guilt in a crime associated with their profession to take care of you? You may, but not me. I really think this thinking goes along with the whole argument about criticizing authors. Are they or aren't they professionals with the same rights and perils afforded other professionals?

Subject: Re: The off with her head syndrome
From: LLB
To: LynnO
Date Posted: Sun, Apr 29, 2001 at 14:44:49 (EDT)
Email Address: laurie@likesbooks.com

Message:
Some people do think it's okay to forgive and forget, but others of us have longer memories. Again, I look at punishment and rehabilitation. Included in both those is whether or not I feel the person took responsibility for his or her actions. My recollection of the Dailey/Roberts incident is that she really never took full responsibility and blamed the situation rather than admitting everything. So, personally, if I ever had any inclination to read anything by her, after this incident, I never would.

After interviewing both Nora Roberts and Gina Wilkins about this, as they call it, 'mind rape,' I realized that the effects are devastating. Both these authors were put through the ringer over these incidents, and I don't think either felt justice was ever completely served. That's enough for me.

TTFN, LLB

Subject: Re: The off with her head syndrome
From: LFL
To: LynnO
Date Posted: Sun, Apr 29, 2001 at 15:37:58 (EDT)
Email Address: Not Provided

Message:
I never said this. Go back and reread my post. What I said was that different individuals will make different decisions about this, and that to some degree the outcome depends on the significance of the person's work.

For example, Wagner's Ring compostion is played by a lot of orchestras, despite being an ode to the master race, because he is so well known. But some orchestras refuse on principle to play him. Where great art is involved, it becomes a tricky question, to judge the value of art to society, versus the punishment the artist deserves. If Shakespeare or Mozart suddenly turned out to be a mass murderer, I am sure their works would still be performed today. On the other hand Leni Riefenstahl (sic?), who directed the Nazi war propaganda movies, was blacklisted from working in the film industry after World War II, even though she is considered a very influential artist.

Janet Dailey, however, is not a great artist IMO, so then it's just a question of entertainment value, and what it's worth to people. For me, it is not worth much, and what she did is a big turn off. Other people's mileage may vary.

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: Joan
To: Phyllis
Date Posted: Mon, Apr 30, 2001 at 09:58:07 (EDT)
Email Address: Not Provided

Message:
I don't think she could go to jail because the incident was civil in nature, not criminal. It's sort of like Napster -- you are stealing, but there is not crime for lifting intellectual property. Roberts could have sued for damages. I think they made a settlement werein Dailey made a big donation to literacy causes in Nora Roberts's name.

In answer to LFL's comment above, I suspect that Dailey lifted from Roberts's work because she wanted to get caught. As I remember reading in the popular press [NY Times], her friends intimated that she had been having some trouble with her spouse.

Subject: Crime and Punishment
From: Susan
To: Anne M. Marble
Date Posted: Mon, Apr 30, 2001 at 11:16:53 (EDT)
Email Address: Not Provided

Message:
Crime and Punishment is an interesting thing. I watched E! True Hollywood Story last night on the Menendez Brothers killing their parents and it reminded me of the more frequent theme in our society of 'well, I did it, but this is why, so it really doesn't count'. And how people can buy into that sympathy with the perpetrator when fame or good looks are involved.

I haven't seen anything on Robert Downey Jr. but that one too seems like a bizarre cry for something. Help, attention? I was skeptical when the Ally McBeal show put him on so quickly after the release, and then he did something last fall almost immediately and then again last week. I don't understand that at all!

With Janet Dailey, I enjoyed her HP books and I may still have all the Calders but I am not sure. What is very ironic is that she is a very talented writer in her own right and this did not need to happen. And to realize she did it to an author that would definitely make her get caught makes me also wonder what was going on in her head.

I wouldn't read her books for a couple reasons. Plagiarism - I agree that this is her crime and you don't know what reform/rehab has gone on. Therefore, did she really write it? I wouldn't want to read it or pay for it. It is my little way of punishing.

Also, her last books were not that good independent of any other issues. It is sad though! Unfortunately we are all human, even those of us that have great talent and go on to big things in life. I never saw any of her response but wish she had 'understood' what she had done.

Subject: Napster
From: Blythe
To: Joan
Date Posted: Mon, Apr 30, 2001 at 15:23:45 (EDT)
Email Address: blytheb@mindspring.com

Message:
I don't think it's really comparable to Napster. I download stuff from Napster all the time and don't consider it stealing. What Dailey did is like downloading a song from Napster from someone really popular, say, The Beastie Boys, and trying to sell a cd of her own with the song on it, and claim that she is the one who singing.

Blythe

Subject: Yikes a reference to the syndrome
From: LynnO
To: LFL
Date Posted: Mon, Apr 30, 2001 at 17:30:32 (EDT)
Email Address: np

Message:
Not you personally, jeez o man bite my head off. I'm sorry you thought I was only referring to your posts. This subject comes up every year or so, and in that time, people talk about how she paid for her crime etc. etc. etc. Since you were talking about a syndrome and not your personal opinion, THAT was what I was referring to. However, if people want to buy her books that is ok with me. Me, I'll save my money for someone who didn't plagiarize someone else's work.

Lynn

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: SydneyA
To: Anne M. Marble
Date Posted: Mon, Apr 30, 2001 at 18:55:09 (EDT)
Email Address: joebensara@aol.com

Message:
I am one of those who read early Janet Dailey religiously. Loved her stuff. Then, I kind of fell out of the romance reading community. When I came back in, I discovered Nora Roberts, and Dailey's books sort of bored me. I'm a library reader. I check out lots of books at a time, and read about half of them. To make a long story short, I was in the library this morning. Dailey's newest was on the 'new book' shelf. I thought of this thread and just went eeeuw. Off with her head. (I love saying that.)

Syd

Subject: Re: Janet Dailey News
From: Nora Roberts
To: Joan
Date Posted: Mon, Apr 30, 2001 at 19:43:03 (EDT)
Email Address: NoraRW@aol.com

Message:
Just FYI, Janet Dailey made no donation to anything. She made a settlement in the suit a brought against her, and I donated the amount to literacy and writers' organizations. This was my choice, my decision. She had no choice but to write me a check.

She did not steal from me because she wanted to get caught. This is simply absurd as she had been plagiarizing my work for what was discovered to be over seven years. It was not one incident, but several. Not one book, but several. Though one incident, one book, would certainly be enough.

However any individual feels about the situation, the outcome or the punishment--or lack thereof--it's easier to have an opinion if the facts are presented clearly. Which is the reason I've given them.

The earliest known instance of plagiarism was, if memory serves, with Aspen Gold, the last was Notorious. In none of the known cases was the copying one or two phrases. It was, particularly in the case of Notorious, several entire scenes and passages. It was not an isolated case, but a chronic one, spanning years and involving 13 of my books.

The matter took me over two years to resolve, cost a great deal of my time, energies and money. I would wish this experience on no one, and when Gina Wilkins went through a similar experience, offered her all my support.

Right now, Barbara Kingsolver is going through the same difficulties. And she has made clear, public statements regarding her anger and upset. She, too, has all my sympathies.

Plagiarism may not be considered a criminal offense, but take my word, it is NOT a victimless crime. Those who would steal another's words, another's work, call it their own and profit from it are thieves. There is no excuse, no rationalizing the behavior.

`Lifting' intellectual property is a crime--perhaps not a criminal one, but without question a moral one. If we, as writers and those who value books, don't take such acts seriously, who will?

Nora

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