Cryptomnesia 201. Plagiarism 101


Cryptomnesia is a disorder (see my previous post Cryptomnesia 101.)  It is characterized by forgetting about the real source of information, difficulty discerning whether the event is a reality or a figment of the imagination. Among the main symptoms of this disorder are the following:

  • difficulty in differentiating between dream and reality, hallucinations;
  • confusing own thoughts and beliefs with those the once read or heard;
  • confusing events of own life with lives of other people, either real or fictional (books,movies).

    Roswita Szyszka. Confusion.

    British scientists M. Howe and M. Debish investigated the causes of false memories and concluded that the occurrence of sensations similar to déjà vu, the most frequently found in people with the following features:

    • high IQ;
    • emotionality, sensitivity,
    • competence in a particular area of expertise;
    • communicative, friendly  personality;
    • good memory;
    • creative thinking.mod1

    Cryptomnesia can give rise to unintended plagiarism, especially when logical memories are no longer recognized as memories, but are experienced as newly created ideas. In the field of literature, the characteristics of this kind of plagiarism are, according to Jung, repetition of the general trend of a story, including some unimportant details, but in phrases which differ from the original ones.

    Unintended verbatim plagiarism is a rare occurrence. It could be caused by cryptomnesia in persons with an excellent verbal rote memory. Two possible instances are described in detail. Cryptomnesia may have been responsible in one case, but careless filing of a copied poem is the more likely explanation in the other. (Cryptomnesia and Plagiarism, F. KRÄUPL TAYLOR, 

    Cryptomnesia may  explain how the apparent plagiarism of such people as Helen Keller or George Harrison of the Beatles might actually be cases of hidden memory.

    In the 1970s, George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” was at the center of a heavily publicized copyright infringement suit, due to its similarity to the Ronnie Mack song “He’s So Fine“, a 1963 hit for the New York girl group the Chiffons. In 1976, Harrison was found to have subconsciously plagiarized the earlier tune.

    Helen Keller’s  The Frost King is a dead ringer of Margaret Canby’s  The Frost Fairies.

    Both may simply be cases of not having a conscious memory of their experiences of the works in question, thus cryptomnesia.

    howIn 2006, Kaavya Viswanathan, a Harvard University student, seemed to have scored about as big as a college sophomore possibly could. Not only was her novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got A Life, being published by Little, Brown, but she had also secured a movie deal for an adaptation of the book. But the Harvard Crimson reported after its release that several passages bore suspicious similarities to parts of the young adult novels “Sloppy Firsts” and “Second Helpings” by Megan McCafferty.

    Viswanathan released a statement citing her “photographic memory” as the problem, saying that “any phrasing similarities between (McCafferty’s) works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious.”  Yet another case of cryptomnesia?

    nitАllegedly, Friedrich Nietzschе was a cryptomnesiac.  As a result of traumatic brain injury, philosopher periodically suffered from depression and even psychotic episodes.   The Thinker often confused reality with fantasy and often appropriated other peoples words and ideas.  Many of his philosophical concepts were later interpreted as plagiarism. Go and figure.



    The Dumas’ Musketeers got their start when Dumas read the first volume of the Memoirs of Monsieur D’Artagnan written by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras.  It is also said that he had never read past the first volume. Dumas almost duplicated the beginning/opening of the work. He also borrowed a few details from the Memoires M. le Comte de Rochefort, notably the branding of M’Lady. Alexander Dumas, was repeatedly accuses of plagiarism. He didn’t contesty this claim, what he did not argue, looking at the problem philosophically: “Everything in this world is a rip-off. Even the Lord God created Adam in His own image and likeness.

    When Shakespeare was accused of stealing someone else’s text, he reportedly said: “The text was as a girl, which I found in the mud and introduced into high society.”

    Neither Shakespeare nor Dumas were cryptomaniacs…

    I’m thinking of writing a novel. It’ll be a historical fiction focusing on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg, Russia, Raskolnikov — that’ll be his name — is tormented by his own nihilism, and the struggle between good and evil. Believing that he is above the law, and convinced that humanitarian ends justify vile means, he brutally murders an old woman — a pawnbroker whom he regards as “stupid, ailing, greedy…good for nothing.” Overwhelmed afterwards by feelings of guilt and terror, Raskolnikov confesses to the crime and goes to prison. There he realizes that happiness and redemption can only be achieved through suffering. Something to this effect.

Here I go:

On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. bridge…

Igor Ivanov. Raskolnikov

What? CRIME AND PUNISHMENT? By Fyodor Dostoevsky? Translated by Constance Garnett?  Plagiarism? Oh, no! I must be a cryptomaniac.

Let me try again. Something entirely different. How’s this for the first line: It was a dark and stormy night…? Ah, well…

Plagiarism: How To Make Her Story Yours

plagiatFirst, let me plagiarize a few passages about plagiarism and make it sound fresh and original — in a word, MINE.

I’ll take a phrase “Plagiarism is a species of intellectual fraud that an author claims is original but has been copied from another source without permission or acknowledgment, thus deceiving and harming the reader.” Never mind the source. In the best tradition of true plagiarism, no attribution is forthcoming. Here I go: Plagiarism is a fraud. In its most blatant form, plagiarism is nothing less than a theft of intellectual property. Have I plagiarized the original? Actually, no.  Although I lifted an idea from the source (plagiarism is theft), I hardly used the source verbatim. No copy-pasting here.


My bad. Let me try again. The original: Plagiarism is apparently so rife these days that it would not be surprising to discover that “The Little Book of Plagiarism,” by Richard A. Posner, has itself been plagiarized. Plagiarized version: These days, plagiarism is so rife that I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Little Book of Plagiarism,” by Richard A. Posner, has been plagiarized from some obscure blog buried in the backwaters of internet and show up on page 834,756 of Google search results.”

That’s better. Fresh and original, isn’t it? This time around, I used some of the verbiage of the source on top of copy-pasted original, which may or may not be plagiarized itself — one never knows unless one checks.

Creating this example, I march in step with the greats (and not-so-greats): Shakespeare stole the plot of Romeo and Juliet, Manet’s Olympia is a reworking of Titian’s Venus d’Urbino, Kaavya Viswanathan novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life  is lifted from Megan McCafferty, and numerous excerpts from Cassie Edwards’ novels generously borrowed from magazines and nonfiction books.


So? Writers of any genre, academics, bloggers, politicians, students and almost anyone who uses and publishes words — nearly everyone who writes, lectures and/or speaks — plagiarize sometimes. Those who don’t plagiarize like to have fun parsing published sentences, mining for word thieves. It’s easy — there is a software to do it, such as turnitin, widely used to detect heavy borrowing in student papers.

Is plagiarism a crime? Many authors who found themselves victims of thievery say a resounding yes.

Not so fast, says Richard A. Posner, a judge on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, expert on intellectual property, author of The Little Book of Plagiarism, mentioned above. Posner’s assessment of plagiarism is that it is an “embarrassingly second-rate” offense, “its practitioners… pathetic,” and that plagiarism should remain an ethical rather than a legal offense, punished by public shaming.  He dismisses the idea that good art must be totally original. Plagiarism? Wrong term, he says, although not in the same words, but I am done plagiarizing. Creative imitation is a more appropriate name for the phenomenon in question, says Posner.

Years ago, Ian McEwan was harshly criticized for filching details from another book in his 2002 bestseller Atonement. Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow, Against the Day) has defended McEwan in a letter to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, saying that if the writers of historical fiction were not present at the events described in their novels, they “must turn to those who were.” Richard A. Posner would’ve agreed — all power to creative imitation.


And now, a recent case in point. In August of this year, a Utah author, Rachel Ann Nunes of Orem, filed a federal lawsuit claiming that a Layton teacher, Tiffanie Rushton, cut and pasted large sections from an electronic copy of her book, plagiarizing her Christian romance novel, adding graphic sex scenes, and then passed it off as her own.

Nunes’ book Love to the Highest Bidder, published in 1998, came out as a slightly revised e-book, A Bid for Love, recently, is about two art dealers, one from New York and the other from California, who meet while competing for an Indian Buddha statue and fall in love.

Rushton’s manuscript, The Auction Deal, is about an art dealer who goes to Beverly Hills to bid on a rare sculpture and meets a successful gallery owner from Chicago. A true fit of creative imagination.

Here is an example from the case:

Nunes, the “source”, a sample line from chapter one: “For six years, he had put up with her overt stares and innuendos because she was not only his boss and sole owner of the gallery but also his friend.”

Rushton (writing under the pen name Sam Taylor Mullens), from chapter one: “For ten years, I’d tolerated her overt stares and innuendos because she was part owner of our gallery and always seemed to find opportunities with new clients that helped the gallery that I could not.”

Use your creative imagination, change names of characters and places (use replace all), infuse lots of graphic sex, then some more sex (it makes readers’ skirts fly up) and voila! — her book is your book. The niche Christian story Nunes wrote is recast into a sizzling book by Ms. Rushton with mass appeal (good Christians might read it under the blankets).

The case, Nunes hopes, would expose plagiarism as a plague of online self-publishing. It is unknown to what degree Ms. Nunes’ decision to pursue this matter was influenced by Ms. Rushton’s bizarre behavior — an unprecedented barrage of cyber-bulling. Speak of ethical rather than a legal offense! If interested in further details of this incident, read  UTAH SCHOOL TEACHER CHARGED WITH PLAGIARISM, CYBER-BULLYING.