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Art Buchwald

Tips From a Plagiarism Victim: Take the Hush Money and Run

April 16, 2002

Gregory Westin Wendt, a history writer, and I were talking about plagiarism. He said, "I don't trust a writer who will steal another person's work, because the next thing you know, he'll steal my girl."

"It's probably so, but a woman wouldn't steal your girl."

"Yes, but her male researcher might. Don't get me wrong, I can go either way on plagiarism. My last book, 'Teddy Roosevelt and His Other Women,' sold 3,000 copies. It was a flop in every respect, and I was in despair until a writer named Rose Abel Jackson wrote 'Teddy Roosevelt and the Other Women He Had Known.' Hers was a smash hit, selling 400,000 copies. Out of curiosity, I bought a copy. The only thing she changed was the dedication. I dedicated my book to my daughter, Angel, and she changed the name of the dedication to her daughter, Agatha.

"There were no footnotes to acknowledge anybody else's work. I thought about it for a while (for four minutes) and then I decided to sue."

Gregory then described his visit to the publisher, who when he discovered Greg was an unsuccessful writer, made him wait three hours. This is what happened next:

The publisher finally let Gregory in. He said, "I'm sorry, we don't buy works by writers who look like they have no talent."

Gregory said, "This one is about Teddy Roosevelt and how he was a Rough Rider in the house as well as on his horse."

The publisher replied, "We've done that. Rose Abel won the Pulitzer Prize for it, and she is scheduled to be on Larry King's show next week. Now get out of here."

Greg told him, "I am going to read from her book and then mine." Before the publisher could stop him, Gregory began to read, "'Teddy went into the woodshed with his secretary, Candy. He described to her as they rolled in the hay, how he fell off his horse on San Juan Hill.'"

The publisher said, "So what? That's beautiful writing."

"I will read from my book," Gregory told him. "'Teddy went into the stable with his secretary, Candy. He described to her how he fell off his horse on San Juan Hill.' Do they sound alike to you?"

"Hardly at all," the publisher said.

"Her book is full of similarities to mine. Every page of hers has four or five paragraphs exactly like mine. I don't like to call another writer names, but she is a plagiarist."

The publisher was furious. "No one ever calls one of our writers a plagiarist." He paced up and down the office. "Every day an extortionist comes in here and threatens me." Then he said, "How much do you want to remain silent?"

"I was thinking of maybe $150,000."

The publisher replied, "That's ridiculous. Whoever heard of a publisher settling for $150,000 over a few lousy words? I'll give you a hundred thousand if you sign a confidentiality pact promising never to talk to anyone about this case forever."

When George finished his story, I asked him, "You took the money?"

"Of course I did. Having someone steal your stuff pays much better than trying to sell your own book."

"But if you signed a confidentiality agreement, why did you tell me the whole story?"

"I had to tell someone. And I know you won't put it in the papers."

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