In the news: Rowling THE PLAGIARIST and there’s no place to hide!

As a child I thought that the news was boring, but I’m a fairly keen observer of current affairs these days, which means I’ve grown old and boring or have come to realise how the stories in the news have a bearing on my own life. It’s not always the big headlines that are the most relevant or interesting to me – in fact, the opposite is true, and more often than not the real news is buried beneath the smokescreen that passes as news much of the time. In the past few days, I’ve uncovered a couple of particularly intriguing stories.

The first concerned me greatly as a blogger, a part-time corporate whore and a full-time fervent anti-corporate ranter who believes strongly in free speech and the individuals’ rights to privacy (something I’ve written on variously in the past in a number of different places so shan’t go over the same ground again here). Now, I’m not so blinkered in my anti-corporate / smash the system stance that I think employees have the right to disclose information that could compromise national security or would offer the possibility of insider dealing or other such illicit activity, and can appreciate that certain acts can constitute an abuse of power or position. Other than that, though, I say it’s open season.

The public has a right to know what (mal)practices go on and how customer or taxpayer money is spent. And so on.

So I’m rather pro-mole, and have posted a few articles that might not go down too well in certain quarters. But while ‘exposing’ overseas sweatshops and promoting fair trade is considered positive, speaking out against the erosion of workers rights at home is viewed as bad form in the days of the minimum wage. We’re supposed to be grateful for our statutory sick pay and not mind increasingly shit conditions, discrimination and our employees checking out our activities on Facebook and using them against us in the workplace.

Blogging, then, is a public, not a private pursuit in the eyes of the law, so publish and suffer the consequences. I can of course see where they’re coming from. But is posting a blog really all that different to talking in the pub? You may be seated around a table with a bunch of mates beefing about what a cunt the boss is, without realising that some members of senior management are at the next table (probably beefing about what a cunt his boss, or your boss is). Can such an eavesdrop be used against you? Thankfully not, at least not officially. But as in situations where the interviewer tells the black guy, the guy with the tattoos or the guy in the wheelchair that he’s not being offered the job because another guy with identical credentials or a girl with similar credentials and a big rack gave a better interview, there are ways round what’s strictly legal that make discrimination impossible to prove.

As such, a blog may be posted for an intended audience, but one accepts that there is a risk that unintended audience may also find it, which is why privacy settings exist and why many people write pseudonymously. That the safety of anonymous blogging has been removed by law is a concern because it represents a further erosion of privacy. So who’s being protected by such precedents? Not the individual, that’s for sure… what’snext? Monitoring of email? Cameras watching us at every turn? A DNA database? Oh yeah…

The other article that caught my eye relates to a lawsuit being filed against JK Rowling and her publishers, Bloomsbury.

Now, I’m not exactly entirely opposed to plagiarism, at least in certain (theoretical) contexts, and I think our litigious culture has gone beyond compensating injustices and has become a way of life for many. I strongly believe that claiming exclusive ownership of something as vague as an idea is iffy at best. I’m also of the opinion that there are only a finite number of plots when reduced to the most fundamental of fundamentals, and that no-one can really claim the ownership of words.

But I’m no fan of Rowling either. I’ll admit that I have managed to not read ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,’ and I’ve certainly not read ‘The Adventures of Willy the Wizard,’ so cannot comment on the alleged similarities.  Of course, very few people have read or even heard of the former, and this is why it’s an interesting case.

It could be that the late Adrian Jacobs’ son is simply after a spot of fame and out to make something from his father’s book when his father failed to do so. Whatever, I consider it unlikely that they’ll win the case, simply because it would be hard for an average Joe to be able to beat the battalion of top-flight lawyers Rowling and Bloomsbury will be able to draft in. To represent them, and moreover, proving that Rowling had any knowledge of Jacobs’ obscure text would be nigh on impossible. But it’s the relative obscurity of ‘Willy the Wizard, ’ even more than the connection between the two writers in the form of agent Christopher Little that makes me wonder if there might actually be something to the Jacobs estate’s claim. After all, if you’re stuck for ideas and running out of time to produce something and the pressure’s mounting, you’re not going to turn to a well-known source for inspiration are you?

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