IP and Law

Plagiarism, apologies, and circulation numbers

JDM060626guojingming.jpg
Is this the face of a compulsive plagiarist?

Guo Jingming's refusal to issue a court-ordered apology for plagiarism may end up further harming his reputation.

In May, a lengthy civil case finally reached closure, deciding after a lengthy appeals process that Guo had plagiarised Never-Flowers in Never-Summer (梦里花落知多少) from Zhuang Yu's novel In and Out of the Circle (圈里圈外). According to the court, Never-Flowers shared 15 major plot elements and 57 similarities of plot and sentence structure with Circle, more than mere coincidence. Guo was ordered to pay 210,000 yuan compensation, which he did, and to apologize, which he did not. His reasoning:

If I don't agree with something, even if everyone in the world believes it, I won't just go along with it. So I'll carry out the court's verdict to pay compensation and halt publication out of my respect for the law. But I won't apologize! Money, reputation - these things aren't important, and I'll willingly give them over. But an apology, even a single sentence - I won't be forced into throwing away my principles, throwing away my creative efforts, throwing away the wishes of all those people who still enjoy my writing.

Guo may have to face this choice once again - in the wake of the post-trial reporting, Chinese print media has picked up allegations that his Rush to the Dead Summer (1995-2005夏至未至) resembles the Japanese graphic novel Nana. These accusations have been circulating for some time - last November, a Baidu forums commenter by the name of "jazz a go go" summarized 21 similarities between the main characters (each was abandoned by her parents to live with her grandmother in poor circumstances, sings punk songs at a bar, has a bass-player boyfriend whom she dumps to develop her career, has happy memories of a Christmas spent with her boyfriend, and so forth), and various other similar plot details.

More interesting fallout from the Guo-Zhuang plagiarism case touches on the shady business of calculating book sales numbers, says a report in BQ. Ten-thousand yuan of the 210,000 yuan judgment was awarded for emotional compensation, while the remainder was compensation for actual IP losses (Zhuang Yu had sought 500,000). Was this award fair?

First published in 2002 by China Writer's Association Press, Zhuang Yu's Circle listed a first printing of 6000 copies and had average sales. At the beginning of 2004, two months before the Zhuang-Guo dustup, the 21st Century Publishing House released a new printing of 50,000 copies. According to Zhuang, this figure is incorrect.

Guo's novel came out at the end of 2003, with a first printing listed at 100,000 on the copyright page but promoted as 300,000 by the publisher. At a suppliers conference, the editor in charge of Never-Flowers claimed that all of Guo's books had sold more than 1 million copies, and Never-Flowers in particular had sold 1.1 million at that time. On a book priced at more than 20 yuan a copy, Guo's royalties are far beyond the 200,000 yuan he had to pay out for losing the case. On the other hand, Zhuang's novel has seen its sales boosted by the case, leading Guo's fans to accuse her of attacking Guo merely to raise her own profile.

Y Weekend contrasts this drawn-out episode with the way things played out for the "American Guo Jingming" - Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard student whose debut novel was busted for plagiarism in May:

Zhuang Yu accused Guo Jingming of plagiarism, Guo Jingming maintains that he "didn't copy"; the Harvard girl was suspected of plagiarism, and she immediately admitted her mistake. Guo Jingming "plagiarised" Zhuang Yu, Zhuang Yu was criticized; the Harvard girl apologized, neither the public nor her opponent showed leniency. Whether Guo Jingming plagiarized or not, the publisher cared not a bit; when the Harvard girl's plagiarism incident erupted, the novel was recalled.

An apology - admitting to the plagiarism rather than just blaming the court decision on a busy writing schedule that kept him otherwise occupied - would go a long way toward closing this chapter in Guo's career, say many voices, possibly the same ones that prescribed apologies for the exam essay plagiarists, or the Flowers, or Baby Zhang, or all those academics, or the China Daily, or.....

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There are currently 3 Comments for Plagiarism, apologies, and circulation numbers.

Comments on Plagiarism, apologies, and circulation numbers

Just by visual observation of Guo Jingming's appearance, one gets the sense of a narcisstic, shrewd, self-promoter, and now, convicted plagiarist. Theft of another artist's work, is bad already, but he takes it a step further when he tries to lay claim to the work as his own - that's the worst. Guo Jingming is no better than a "grade-C-knockoff" of an "LV Bag" - which is also found in China.

Just a small translation question, would: 梦里花落知多少 not be more accurately translated as: How many flowers have fallen in your dreams, reference ancient chinese poem. Just curious.

Certainly, A. However, the titles given for Guo Jingming's novels here are those printed on the covers of his books, and the publishers didn't consult me before going to print.

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