Plagiarism - Kaavya Viswanathan Vs. William Swanson

May 08, 2006

OK. For those of you who haven't heard yet, Kaavya Viswanathan is the 19 year-old Indian author of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. She made news all over the world a couple of years back when she got picked up at 17 by publishing giant Little, Brown for about half a mill (dollars). This young Harvard student could do no wrong. That is until her book got published. Turns out Kavya is extremely good at using copy and paste on her keyboard. Yes, she plagiarized (that's "stole" for you non nerds) entire passages from Megan McCafferty's books.

This is just plain wrong and disturbing. Not only did she do a disservice to herself but to the entire community. This sets us Indians back a few years, but then we are pretty resilient people. We will bounce back.

Here is the more interesting parts of the fallout from dear Kaavya's story. Newscasters all over the world picked up the story and started banging on this. THAT is where my frustrations come in.

I saw a story on BBC USA and on a German channel that say that "stealing" is wrong.


Did I freaking miss something? Since when did the Brits start telling Indians that stealing is wrong? Did you guys give back the Mayurasana? You guys still owe us the receipt for the Kohinoor. What about all the spices that you borrowed from us? Do I even want to talk about how you fueled the Chinese opium dens with Indian labor thus destroying BOTH the awesome cultures? So excuse me when my blood boils when I hear an English accent go on and on about the sins of stealing.

All I have to say is "Hey Limey, practice what you preach or SHUT THE HELL UP."

Next are the Germans. Listen Gunter, give me the swastika back first. You guys as a race took what was a holy symbol of welcome in India and turned it into one of the MOST HATED symbols in the world. Listen Gerhard Scrotum, let us see you make an effort to replace the swastika with a smiley face - then, maybe then, would I take a page and write about Kaavya.

I am NOT defending Kaavya. What she did was wrong and hurtful. I bust my ass at a day job and try to do standup at night all the while trying to take care of my lovely wife and the child we are expecting. Try writing a joke at lunch when the supposed office clown tries to peer into your notebook and offer suggestions hoping for a wee bit of fame that escapes his pathetic lonely life. Try doing a controversial joke and see the audience wince as the filter of political correctness annihilates the funny. I work hard and I guess Kaavya did too.

I haven't personally read the book but I hear its 200 pages long. Not ALL of it could have been stolen. But will it matter? Sorry Kaavya baby, you have just above the required level of melanin content for it not to matter.

Compare Kaavya's case to the case of William Swanson, whose booklet, Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management, was also under the microscope during the same time on plagiarism charges. He admitted to using material from a book written 60 years ago without crediting that author.

Now here are the glaring dissimilarities in how the media treats people.

She - plagiarized passages from another author's work for her chicklit book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life.

He - plagiarized passages from another author's work for his booklet, Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management.

She - was 17 when she stole.

He - was 57 years old when he stole.

She - got her book pulled out of stores.

He - got NO raise this year and only 80% of his normal stock options. Poor little rich exec!!

She - is Kaavya Viswanathan, - a 19 year old girl of Indian descent.

He - is William Swanson - CEO of Raytheon.

Come on America!! Get off the hypocrisy!!

EVERYONE does stupid stuff when you are 17.

Are you really going to let Willam Swanson get away with his thing and tear Kaavya to pieces? Where is the 'Fair and Balanced' equation when dealing with this? Where is the fairness in there?

Tapan Trivedi is a standup comic and writer who is currently on the Gurus Of Comedy tour. Learn more about him at www.indiancomedian.com
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Plagiarism - Kaavya Viswanathan Vs. William Swanson


Author: Tapan


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May 8, 2006
12:26 AM

Sensationally well-put,Tapan, thanks and welcome

May 8, 2006
01:05 AM

Nice post Tapan,

we all have to pay the price for being brown!

after living in the US for a short period of time i have come to conclude that unless otherwise stated or knnown to me, the white guy/gal whom i am meeting is racist.

consider the death penality issue itself...McClesky Vs Kemp 481 U.S. 279 (1987)
One of the most (statistically) complicated legal proceedings which ultimately had the judge run away from exceedingly complicated statistical analysis, which btw conclusively prooved a jury bias in giving death penality based on melanine content. The judge said it proved nothing.... the bias exists still now.

Consider this case, where one brown retired Lt. Colonel from the US army was arrested on a flight because the air marshals did not like the way he looked at them when he requested a seat change because the airmarshalls were dealing with a disoriented passenger.

The site says

For the remainder of the flight, air marshals held passengers at gunpoint and refused to allow anyone to get up, even to use the bathroom, despite the fact that the disoriented passenger had been shackled to his seat.

The nightmare continued for Dr. Rajcoomar even after the flight landed. Air marshals handcuffed Dr. Rajcoomar without explanation and took him into the custody of Philadelphia police. His wife Dorothy, who was also on the flight, was given no information on what had happened to her husband. Because the authorities confiscated Dr. Rajcoomar's cellular phone, she had no way to contact him.

This is racism, there is no other word for it.

Are these isolated incidents, think again: Remember the brazilian brown guy who had seven bullets injected into his brain just because he ran from plain clothed policemen who were chasing him right after the London Bombings.

I mean, I would run if seven plain clothed white guys start chasing me on the streets!! Any brown guy could have been killed that day.

Another 'Isolated incident' is when they shot 41 bullets into Amadou Diallo, just as he ran from them (this is a tragic story which inspired Bruce Springstien's song American Skin (41 Shots) .. google for it).

Yet another was the case of Johhny Gamage....

Did you know that postcards of lynchings were a big business in the US, only a few years ago?

I can go on and on and on!!

The point is... i am scared of the white man. He has done much harm to my tribe in the past... and i doubt that he will ever change.

May 8, 2006
01:07 AM

another example... google for the term 'white flight'

May 8, 2006
01:13 AM

"I haven't personally read the book but I hear its 200 pages long."

There is some difference between honesty , Smartness and over smartness.
As per me, she should have given some credit to the orginal writer, just by mentioning, as per William Swanson this is the view and my view as under.
Any way we learn from our mistake, and hope the necessary correction to be done in future by others.

At last i will be wonder, the story of Indian writer's like Rabindra Nath Tagor, Sharath Chandra Bose..etc also had been copied by a lot of forigen writer's and movie makers , but with some normal smartness , not by over smartness by the Non-Indian Writter's.

After it all about the game for money.....

May 8, 2006
01:36 AM

Tapan - Didn't know about William Swanson. Interesting. People might not have objected to his copying bcos only about 20 people might have been read the book anyway. Probably the copied sections were the liveliest bits.

I dont think the Kaavya experience will turn people off Indian authors. They might just run a check whether she is from Harvard and nubile and but beyond that should be ok.

May 8, 2006
01:44 AM

Tapan - Didn't know about William Swanson. Interesting. People might not have objected to his copying bcos only 20 people might have read the book anyway. Probably the copied sections were the liveliest bits.

I dont think the Kaavya experience will turn people off Indian authors. Most authors seem Indian nowadays. They might just get a wary look in their eye if she turns out to be from Harvard and nubile and hot but if not should be ok.

May 8, 2006
04:44 AM

Tapan, the way you've written it, I would love to hear it live in one of your stand-up routines. As you say, the Swanson episode has largely been ignored by the MSM. Thanks for bringing out this issue and contrasting it so vividly.

May 8, 2006
05:43 AM

I just sat up last night reading the book (got it from a roadside stall for 50 bucks, but hey i am a student and am usually broke!!!), and it's a crazy book. She writes bloody well. it's not like she plagiarised the entire thing. Great sense of humour.

You should read the book. Get it from anywhere and read it.

May 8, 2006
09:05 AM



Where is the fairness in there?

what bird is that?

deepti lamba
May 8, 2006
09:27 AM

t, fair is where we take our hogs to win blue ribbons.

There is no such thing as a white lie or a little pregnant. The babe refuted any act of filching till it was pointed out to her, even her first book was plagiarized. She seems to be a chronic filcher.

As far as her being a bad reflection on our community, well there will always be rotten apples in every race , cant judge them all by the acts of one orlese the one who makes these generalized judgement would be called a racist.

Shweta Patel
May 8, 2006
12:57 PM

Your favorite fan here. Remember me from Zanies in Chicago. Dude, you do standup and you can write !! I can't wait to see you do this rant on stage. I told a few of my friends to come see the Gurus in D.C.
Regarding the article, What is the Kohinoor ? Is that the diamond you are talking about ? Keep this up.

Shweta Patel

Anil Menon
May 8, 2006
01:13 PM

Tapan: William Swanson's case was hardly ignored. The NY Times ran a story, Raytheon withdrew his book and he was reprimanded by its board. They docked a million dollars from his compensation. Yeah, it's a slap on the wrist, but Swanson's a CEO, not a writer. The board didn't give a damn because they thought Swanson's good at what he's supposed to be good at. And Swanson's on Wikipedia's list of famous plagiarists. I'm sure his kids must be real proud of pops.

As for Kavya, a Booker might be ruled out, but she's going to be back on the shelves with a chest-beating confessional in, say, a year's time. There's no such thing as bad publicity in the book business.

And what's all that stuff about Swastikas and the Kohinoor diamond? If whitey's ancestor did X, how is whitey guilty? Like Mrs. Valmiki told her hubby, karma's neither shared nor inherited.

May 9, 2006
05:18 PM

I don't see how anyone can make the case that Kavvya is in trouble because of her ancestry or her skin color. Plagiarism IS a big deal in literary circles. Notice how Stephen Fry was pilloried for merely claiming that event in his book actually happened when in reality they didn't. So when BBC, NBC or some German channel publish this story, it is not because they are mocking India or Indians. It is because they think that there is enough public interest in this story that it deserves metntion. And, come on, scandals always sell very well. And this is quite a big scandal considering the reputation of the publishing house and the writing advance that Kavvya got.

In fact, only insecure indians think that every time an Indian is in the spotlight for the wrong reason, it reflects poorly on the whole India. It doesn't! As far as I can tell no one has made a case that Indians as a whole, or even majority of Indians are plagiarists. So let go of your insecurity and stop trying find sinister motives and agendas where none exist.

As far as Swanson is concerned, he runs the company he wrote the book for. What do you expect?

And all this knee jerk stuff about opium trade and kohinoor and mayur sinhasan etc. is just so much hot air. Don't get me wrong, I want those things back as much as the next Indian; but really, what is the connection between british stealing things from India and Kavvya trying to pass off someone else' work as her own?

As far as Laxmikanth's post (#2) is concerned, all these examples of racism are real, but they are in no wat relevant in THIS case.

May 9, 2006
05:21 PM

Also, Kavvya's young age, or the previous atrocities commited by colonial powers do not excuse what she did. In fact I am glad that she had to go through at such a young age. Plagiarism is wrong period. Better to nip it in the bud than to let it fester. If Kavvya learns from her lesson instead of whining about british stealing kohinoor from India and using it as an excuse, it will only make her a better writer. And a stronger person.

Jonah Swardson
May 9, 2006
05:35 PM

Hey guys,
I need to defend the writer of this post. I think what she is alluding to is that the media paid very little attention to the Swanson story and much more to Ms.Vishwanathans. As for the case that she makes etc I don't know what the 'mayurasana' is nor the diamond that she alludes to but I am pretty sure that they were spoils of war/colonialization. What she is referring to is that the press is the mouthpiece of a community and when the 'Brits ' - as she puts it - try to preach they should practice first.

I think she puts it quite emphatically at the end that the age should have been a mitigating factor rather than an incindiery factor in the press picking up the story when she says 'Everyone does stupid stuff when you are 17 '.


Tapan Trivedi
May 9, 2006
06:07 PM

Ok. Here is the connundrum that I am in. On one hand this dude understands what I am writing.
So lets make this official -

On the other hand :-
He thinks I am a chick.

I will gladly put a ghaghra/cholee and dance (notice not prance) around if the need be but I am NOT , repeat NOT having a surgery.

Tapan ( www.indiancomedian.com )

P.S. Thanks to the three people who forwarded me this comment. Now go back to work ya lazy ........

May 9, 2006
06:16 PM

Jonah -
Look at it this way - which scandal will get better ratings / sell more newspaper copies?

I agree that mainstream media in america is hardly a shining example of journalistic standards; but that still does not excuse plagiarism on part of Kavvya. I reall fail to see why are people getting so defensive about this.

May 9, 2006
06:29 PM

Tapan, firstly, there is a Difference between stealing and Taking. Stealing is a petty act, a sneaky act, where the thief knows what he/she is committing a wrong act, and hopes they will not get caught.

British did not steal in India. They took. They colonised our country. They Tamed all the 'men' in this country. And in the end we begged themra for our freedom, under Gandhi.

Don't get upset about white hypocrisy, for it's us who are the hypocrites - seeking fortune in white societies, and blaming them for treating us as outsiders. WE ARE outsiders. They just feel secure about us working the technical/dirty jobs they don't want to do.

I like the impotent, outraged Indian - the joke is on him.

Jatin Singh
May 9, 2006
07:14 PM

You have completely gone out of line here and have exposed your ignorance. Submitting to any kind of slavery is impotent as you have in this email. How are WE the outsiders ?
You separate technical and dirty with a slash ?
You take yourself as an outsider - I don't there is nothing wrong with immigration BUT when you succumb to racism - like you are - you are nothing but a wanna be whitey [EDITED]

Lastly the dig at Gandhi is nothing but inflammatory and pathetic.
Begged ? Free and begging are mutually exclusive words [EDITED]

And LASTLY do you agree with 'taking' as the English did ?

I invite you to take this discussion to a different forum as people here may or may not want to hear this or atleast give out your real contact information so that this cowardly retaliation against my country can stop.

May 9, 2006
08:11 PM

Jatin Singh, empty vessels make the most noise.

I am a proud Indian, who would rather have thrown the British out of our country using martial means and earned our place amongst nations - than have begged for it..

I do not agree with 'taking' you fool; get my drift, strong people never get taken from, and it is the weak who whimper/plead about being exploited.

And you would rather beg the white people for 'equality' in their country. How can beg for equality ? You lose dignity/self-respect/any chance at equality when you beg/ask anybody for anything.

And finally I love my country more than you can imagine, [EDITED]

May 11, 2006
07:27 PM

#20 Bose:

Project much?

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