Plagiarism charges regularly plague the book world, often resulting in tarnished reputations. For those accused, the allegations are humiliating, while the writers plagiarized often feel themselves to be the victims of a theft for which they are never fully compensated. In recent cases, plagiarism charges have swirled around a variety of different kinds of publications: an award-wining French novel, a 2006 congressional report, the memoir of former President George W. Bush, and the "Harry Potter" series.
For French author Michel Houellebecq, plagiarism charges and a major book award arrived in close proximity. Last month, the bestselling author was awarded the Prix Goncourt, France’s top literary prize, for his novel “La carte et le territoire” ("The Map and the Territory"), a satire of the Paris art world. Shortly before the award was announced, however, Slate magazine had accused Houellebecq of plagiarizing some passages of this book from the French Wikipedia. Houellebecq admitted to taking the passages, word for word, from Wikipedia, but denied that this was plagiarism.
The author says borrowing and reshaping define his writing style. “If these people really think that [this is plagiarism], they haven’t got the first notion of what literature is,” he said. “This approach, muddling real documents and fiction, has been used by many authors.”
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