Home » Books in General, Copyright/Intellectual Property, Legal Stuff, Plagiarism » Did Dave Eggers ‘Rewrite’ Kate Losse’s Book?

Did Dave Eggers ‘Rewrite’ Kate Losse’s Book?

2 October 2013

From The Atlantic Wire:

Kate Losse, the author of last year’s Boy Kings, which outlined the early culture at Facebook from her experiences as employee #51, has accused Dave Eggers of stealing her book idea for his novel The Circle. “Dave Eggers decided to rewrite my book as his own novel about a young woman working her way up through Facebook,” she writes on Medium today. “From all appearances, it is the same book, and I wrote it first (and I imagine mine is more authentic and better written, because I actually lived in this world and am also a good writer),” she adds. Losse, in an email to The Atlantic Wire, admits she has not read his book. “But if you look at the description/plot arc/main character name it is disturbingly similar,” she said.

Both books center around the the life of a woman working at a tech company. Losse’s book is about her experience at Facebook, where she worked for five years; Eggers’s is about the fictional experiences of Mae Holland, who works for a fictional tech company called The Circle, which The Wall Street Journal’s Dennis K. Berman describes as a “mashup of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and PayPal.” The names aren’t exactly the same, but Losse argues: “If you say ‘Mae Holland; out loud it sounds like the same phonetic structure as my name,” she told The Atlantic Wire. “Just similar enough to echo my name without using the same letters.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic Wire

We had a recent post about another instance of claimed plagiarism, but, for those who may have missed the discussion, here’s a refresher on copyright infringement vs. plagiarism from The University of Connecticut:

Copyright infringement is a violation of the exclusive rights of the copyright holder and may carry legal consequences. Copyright infringement can take many forms. Examples of copyright infringement may include borrowing significant portions of another’s work in the creation of a new work, making and distributing unauthorized copies of a sound recording or video, or publicly performing another’s work without permission from the copyright holder, even if the original work is cited.

The law identifies several exceptions and limitations to copyright that do not constitute infringement.

Plagiarism involves using another’s work without attribution, as if it were one’s own original work. It is considered an ethical offense and can be detrimental to one’s academic reputation and integrity.

It is possible to plagiarize without violating copyright, and it is possible to infringe on another’s copyright without plagiarizing. It is also possible to both plagiarize and violate copyright at the same time.

PG has no knowledge of the contents of either book, so he can’t comment about whether either copyright infringement or plagiarism has occurred. He would note that Ms. Losse told The Atlantic Wire that she had not read the book about which she was complaining.

PG would suggest making public claims implying plagiarism or copyright infringement without having read and carefully analyzed the offending work first is not a good idea.

Plots are not a protected expression. PG seems to remember that Shakespeare borrowed the plot for Romeo and Juliet. The plot of R&J has in turn been borrowed a zillion times since then. Jane Austen’s plots have been used over and over again. Every genre utilizes standard plots and plot devices. It’s the fresh twists on the old formulas that many genre readers appreciate.

Character archetypes are similarly not a protected expression. How many fantasies have old wizards? How many science fiction stories have robots like Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation? Nobody makes serious claims that use of these archetypes is plagiarism or copyright infringement.

Absent a trademark, character names are not protected.

Books in General, Copyright/Intellectual Property, Legal Stuff, Plagiarism

29 Comments to “Did Dave Eggers ‘Rewrite’ Kate Losse’s Book?”

  1. Okay, I’ve said “Mae Holland” out loud several times now and I can’t hear any resemblance to “Kate Losse”. I have been accused of being tone deaf, but I think Kate Losse had better see a doctor about her hearing or a speech therapist if those sound the same to her.

    • The only thing that’s the same about the names is the number of syllables and where you’d place the emphasis. Which is what I think she’s suggesting. But if that’s the best she can do, she’s got nothing.

  2. Imagine accusing someone of stealing your car, because it looks kind of like your car from a distance, but you haven’t actually bothered to really look at it up close.

    • Much more thoughtful and spot on than my initial response of “Um, what?”

      As someone who worked in tech for five years, I’d assume she’d be much savvier about internet culture. While plenty of people have opinions and spout them without a basis (such as reading the book), she should have known better and shouldn’t be surprised when she’s ripped to shreds.

      And the assumption that hers is better written than Dave Eggers…no, just no. Someone really wanted press.

      • At a minimum, before accusing someone of stealing your book, you ought to at least read their book. That is just good manners.

        Kate Losse should see that, as we all should.

  3. Standard depictions of common themes are in the public domain. Scenes which are expected in the treatment of any given topic are not protected by copyright law. So, the common theme of how women are treated poorly in Silicon Valley will not be protected, for example. And scenes of computer geeks pulling all nighters in dormitory-style work environments with empty cans of Red Bull and bags of Funyuns strewn about won’t be protected.

    But I haven’t read the books either.

  4. I know nothing about her or her book aside from this and what I just picked up by reading some of the less than flattering reviews on Amazon, but I have to say she doesn’t come off too good here. Hard to imagine someone would make claims like that without actually reading the book they are claiming is a rip off of their own.

    As for the Mae Holland/Kate Locke soundalike … um, no. Not even close.

    And $15.29 for a Kindle book. Wow. That’s beyond excessive.

  5. I will actually give her the similar name thing. The vowels are the same, long a like lake and short o like ox. But the claim that someone stole her idea is absurd, until she goes through eggers’ book and shows that is it a scene by scene rewrite or that he actually lifted text from her work. Otherwise…welcome to the world of writing, hon, in which every idea has been used already. All you cam do is reuse them in a new way.

  6. I don’t get the similar name thing at all. I also don’t get not reading a book, but claiming it is your story. If she’d at least read it, I’d give her a lot more credit.

    Heck, I haven’t worked at Facebook, but I could claim that was my story, too, since I worked in tech as a woman.

    I suspect that she may just want the publicity for her book, but I suspect it may help Dave Eggers more (assuming he didn’t actually plagiarize and is revealed).

  7. As far as I know, Shakespeare stole plots and characters for 31 of his 32 plays. Many of the comedies were lifted from Italy (hence Two Gentlemen of Verona, Merchant of Venice, R and J); many tragedies were borrowed from the Holinshed Chronicles, a popular book of history at the time.

    The only one he didn’t steal was The Tempest. That was all his.

    • No, no — he lifted The Tempest from the movie Forbidden Planet.

    • Learning that Shakespeare borrowed stories for nearly every play was one of those “holy crap” moments in my college English lit classes. It meant that many people going to see his plays knew, more-or-less, what was probably going to happen. In other words, not all that different from going to a typical movie today. Except Shakespeare actually managed to use the borrowed structure to do something beautiful, whereas today … well, no.

  8. I just looked at the start of Losse’s book on Amazon, and can only hope that if Eggers really did plagiarize her work that he managed to improve it in the process.

  9. Isaac Asimov used to tell a story about how he once wrote an article explaining neutron stars and the environment around them. Shortly afterwards, Larry Niven used the same information to write an award-winning short story.
    Asimov, who hadn’t won that award (yet), congratulated Niven.
    (And kicked himself in semi-private. ;))
    That is how professionals behave.

    Fools, on the other hand…

    • Not quite adding insult to injury, Asimov’s rival Arthur C. Clarke also wrote a short story based on the idea, “Neutron Tide”, with a punch line (as Asimov’s short-shorts often did).

      The funny part of the Asimov-Niven story is that when he was congratulating Larry on his win, he mentioned that he’d written an article on the subject. Niven replied “I know, that’s what gave me the idea.”

      (I swiped an idea from one of Niven’s stories for my “Snowball”. He knows, he’s okay with it. Completely different stories. Heck, there’s an entire industry of anthologies built around giving different writers the same idea and seeing what they do with it. Or what they’ve already done with it and the story is in the trunk. 😉 )

  10. Sore Losser.

  11. Compare her cover art to ‘ Where the Wild Things Are’. Pot, allow me to introduce you to the kettle…

  12. Did she say where Dave Eggers saw her story, and was able to copy the story from? In a previous blogs I expressed my disbelief when I saw the stories I’ve written used in popular movies. Did they steal my ideas? Absolutely not. There are only so many ideas, and stories in the universal library available to humans. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

  13. ‘It’s like my book was wearing an Eggar suit…’

  14. Nope.

  15. This is newbie or one-book-wonder syndrome. When neophytes who know nothing about the publishing process assume that everyone’s out to steal their idea because it’s UNIQUE.

    She wrote a book so she’s special. No one ever wrote a book like hers and never, ever will again. It cannot possibly be a coincidence.

    Good grief, look at the dates. Her memoir was published in June of 2012. His book will be published October 8th and its 500 pages. It would have already had to have been written or close to completion, when hers was published.

    The stupidity of this astounds me. That and the fact that there aren’t more novels about social networks.

  16. You can take the girl out of the facebook, but you can’t take the facebook out of the girl.

    But what do I know? I haven’t read the facebook.

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