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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Literary Lynching of Brad Vice
The CLMP litmags listserv is abuzz about the Brad Vice/U. of Georgia Press situation, which I hadn't heard about until getting the first email on the subject yesterday. (Vice is the writer who recently had his Flannery O'Connor award stripped from him and all remaining copies of the book destroyed because of rather shaky allegations of plagiarism.) In StorySouth Jason Sanford calls bullshit:
To me, though, the fact that Vice titled his story as an obvious play on Carmer’s original chapter title, and the fact that he acknowledged in interviews that the story was in homage to Carmer’s, shows that this was not an attempt to plagiarize the original story. Instead, Carmer was taking the time-honored route of updating and commenting upon a classic literary story. This is the same path recently taken by Pulitzer Prize winning author Suzan-Lori Parks when she wrote Getting Mother's Body, which is an updated version of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

Carl Carmer’s book is an American, and Southern, literary classic, and the section that Vice based his story on is the most famous part in the book. What Vice did is similar to someone writing a story based on William Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy—i.e., the source material of the story should be well-known to his audience (such as readers of southern literature). If I wrote a short story based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet (as author Tom Stoppard did with his famous book Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead), no one would question the validity of my story.

The problem, of course, is that even though Carmer’s book came out more than six decades ago, it is still under copyright...
I'm something of an absolutist on fair use, and from Sanford's description the story (which I haven't read) seems to clearly fall on the good side of the fair-use line. U of GA should probably rethink their decision -- but of course they won't. As such, Sanford goes on to more-or-less nail their balls to the wall:
Yes, Vice should have included a small acknowledgement in the front of the book about how the story was based on Carmer’s work, but he is a young author and thought 1) He was covered by fair use; and 2) That the source material would be evident to anyone familiar with southern literature.

This brings me to what really infuriates me about this case: How Brad Vice was let down by the University of Georgia Press. Vice is a young writer who forgot to acknowledge his story’s inspiration source. However, the University of Georgia Press has no excuse. (For a short version of the Press’s response, go here.) The Press could have found other ways to fix this situation instead of simply revoking Vice's prize and destroying his book and reputation.
StorySouth has another very good followup article specifically about the copyright issues involved.

What a nightmare. What a shame.

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