Sunday, September 06, 2009

What French Women Know: Part One

Wow. French epistolary literature is beginning a new era. I bring you the first chapter: What French Women Know.

August 14, 2009

Dear Polly,

I finally found you! I'm an author with a new book coming out next month about French women ("What French Women Know: About Love, Sex, and Other Matters of the Heart and Mind"). A few years ago, while I was writing the book and talking to countless French women, someone sent me a copy of a blog post about flirting in France. It was a personal anecdote. The post didn't have a source. I thought it was a perfect representation of a fleeting moment of French flirtation (experienced by an American), and I quoted it in my manuscript. When it got time for serious copy-editing, no one (not me, not my editor) could find the source of the anecdote, and it was deemed officially off-line. (This is a windy road getting to my point...bear w/me!) Then just last month I was in Paris, met [
name of Parisian blogger], she sent me a post she'd written about lingerie, which had a reference to a piece you'd written, which lead me to your blog, which led me to... the anecdote above.

All this to say, first, bonjour. Am very glad to have finally "met/found" you. I'd love to send you a galley of my new book, and also tip my hat to you in my blog. I finally got a new web site up ( which will soon have a blog, though -- full disclosure -- I'm not much of a blogger. It will probably be more random/impressionistic than journal-ish. Still, I'll find a place to salute you.

If you sent me your snail mail address, I'll make sure you get a galley asap. In the meantime, hope you're doing well wherever you are. Perhaps one day our paths will cross in France.


Debra (Ollivier)

Same day, reply. Blogger fawning over published author:

Hi Debra!

So good to hear from you. Your first book was kind of a bible of mine, so I may be a little biased when I read the next one. I think you won't mind... Sorry I never wrote you any fan mail -- I may have mentioned it in the blog.

I would love to read a galley proof of your book. So happy you have another one soon to be published
. [here I inserted my snail mail address].

And let me know if you need any help with your blog. They're not obvious, and I spent my first two years in Paris going from zero to sixty on the blog learning-curve. At least I now have an extra transferable skill.

Keep in touch.


A full two weeks later. Too late to correct galleys? Bound book (not galleys) received chez moi August 27, with concomitant outraged What?! You Forgot to Credit my Blog!? post published. After twenty-four hours attempting to calm my rattled nerves, I wrote this:

August 28, 2009:

Dear Victoria [publicist at G.P. Putnam; cc'd to Debra Ollivier]

Yesterday I received an advance copy of "What French Women Know," published by G.P. Putnam and with an anticipated sale date of September 3, 2009.

And while I was pleased to start reading it and found the book had great merit, I was startled and upset to find that a long passage of my original work was printed therein without permission or attribution. I am the proprietor of all copyright in a literary/artistic work entitled "Polly-Vous Francais?", which I began writing in May 2006.

The text on pages 25-26 of "What French Women Know" is identical to my copyrighted work. Since permission to use my work was not granted it therefore legally constitutes infringement of my rights.

In normal circumstances, an infringement of copyrighted material would bring demand that you immediately do one or more of the following.
1. remove all infringing content and notify me in writing that you have done so;
2. credit all infringing content to myself in a manner to be deemed appropriate;
3. immediately cease the use and distribution of copyrighted material;
4. undertake in writing to desist from using any of my copyrighted Work in future without prior written authority from me.

Not being litigious by nature, however, I would prefer as a first step to discuss with you and the editorial department at G.P. Putnam some positive and appropriate way to correct this ethical and legal wrong.

I await to hear from you at your earliest convenience, but by no later than close of business on Tuesday September 1, 2009.

Yours truly,

[Polly etc.]

Received Tuesday evening, September 1

Dear [Polly-Vous Francais]

I received your e-mail last Friday, August 28. It was my intention from the start to fully credit the passage that I used from your blog; as you know, I was unsuccessful at locating your blog in order to specifically attribute the passage at the time I was writing the book. I am pleased that I now have the opportunity to do so.

I have spoken with my publisher and they will include the name of your blog in future reprints of my book as well as in the paperback edition. So please let me know how you would like your blog credited; I will then pass that information on to my publisher. Thanks very much.


Debra Ollivier


Hmm. Of course, reprints and paperback rights are an interesting offer, assuming the book gets to that point. But what about the current audio-book versions, e-book versions, and foreign rights, such as China? Methinks we need to reconsider.

I've been so touched that friends, colleagues, and peers -- including my wonderful readers -- have sent kind words of support. Some have sent reviews to Amazon mentioning the copyright flap. Curiously, all of those reviews seem to have been yanked by unknown powers. Keep trying!

Meanwhile I find myself in a bizarre David vs. Goliath pseudo-battle that I never wanted or anticipated.

My question is now: am I sabotaging my own efforts to some day get my own book published if I make a stink out of this? If so, that's my loss, I guess. But I believe it's the right thing to do.

I'm no Donna Quixote, but I just call it as I see it.


Ksam said...

I say Good for you. As you said before, any idiot with access to Google could've found you in a heartbeat by typing in a portion of the text and pressing search. College professors do it all the time!

In today's day and age, it's not at all acceptable for them to plagiarize someone else's words like that with the excuse 'oh, well I couldn't figure out who wrote it, but I just decided to go ahead and use it anyway'.

Unknown said...

There's no such thing as bad publicity, right? Keep trying.

As ksam said, any one could easily find your blog with a quick search, so the author's claim that she could not find it is absolutely bogus. She clearly does not care about properly crediting/citing her material if she let it go to print knowing it belonged to someone else. And her editor and publisher were equally, or perhaps moreso, shamefully negligent and at fault.

M said...

Good for you. Don't let it go. Sabotaging your own opportunities I would think unlikely. But regardless, I think in your shoes I'd have done the same.

Unknown said...

That's pretty outrageous. If in editing the book, they "couldn't find a source" the right thing to do would have been to drop the passage (disappointing in its own way), or find another true anecdote with an appropriate credit. Sounds like laziness to me, however. Even if they couldn't find through Google, the Paris blogging network is fairly connected. A few e-mails to fellow Paris bloggers could have probably led them to you. It's a real dommage.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

An article about this in today's Daily Telegraph

I can't presume to know what her intention was -- all I can gauge is what she published. But I have my theories. Heh. Stay tuned!

Who is Mary Blake? said...

There is no justice, but, no one can French flirt like you.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Haha Mary, thanks for making me laugh! I haven't been doing that much since this saga all began.

And ksam, craig, and leonora: yeah, try typing the phrase "Mr. Tousled Hair" into google, or even half of the first line "last month at the Carrefour at Auteuil" and my blog post pops up immediately.

materfamilias said...

if one of my students did this -- and I could discover it simply by typing a random phrase into Google and hitting "search," just as Ksam says -- I would have to fail their paper AND put their name on the Dean's list (Not the good one!) And fill out a lot of paperwork. Before doing that, we always have a little chat first and I try to gauge intentionality, etc. At this point, honesty, perhaps even a tear or two, always helps. Breezy disingenuous declarations akin to the ones you received from author and publisher don't cut it. At all. I'm not buying -- excuses OR book!

Canedolia said...

Having read both your blog and one of her books, I can see why she was the one who was plagiarising you!

Starman said...

I think the whole episode will make an interesting chapter in your book. And what publisher in his/her right mind would object to all the publicity?

S. Shoemaker said...

I agree with several of the above comments, in that it is blatant plagiarism! I am now beginning my MA in Communication at SDSU and on the first day of class we get this intense lecture regarding plagiarism. Whether intentional or accidental, word-for-word copying or the pilfering of ideas, it is still plagiarism! A stunt like this would get me kicked out of my masters program and I think that is is absolutely unacceptable how the publisher and the author are responding to you! Financially speaking, I understand if they don't want to reprint every copy that has been printed thus far, but ethically speaking that would be the right thing to do. Maybe I don't know enough about publishing, but is is possible to put in a small piece of paper into each copy regarding the missing credit, kind of like if you go to see a stage production and the main actor/actress is sick and the understudy isn't credited on the original playbill? I will keep reading your blog for updates on the situation and Lord knows I will not buy the book unless this is duly resolved! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Oh my...the intrigue! Here's my perspective as a student, editor, and lawyer-in-training (not to be construed as legal advice, blah blah you get the drill).

First off, as the previous commenters have said already, there is really no excuse for not attributing an internet source, at least not in the days of the Almighty Google. I'm a research editor for a peer-reviewed, peer-edited academic journal. All that to say that the ethical integrity of the works we publish is HIGH on our priority list. I spend days driving around from library to library to find books to make sure not so much as a semi-colon is out of place in a direct quote. I read paragraph after paragraph of the prose to make sure that authors don't (un)intentionally lift ideas from other works, ideas that should be attributed with a footnote even when they are not a DIRECT quotation. That is how it works. Are there mistakes? Sure...but the effort is intense to make sure they are few and far between. There seems to be just a complete lack of effort to authenticate the source of the material the author was so set on using in their book. Why? It's not that hard!

The evils, and drastic consequences, of plagiarism are drilled into our heads from the time we write our first grade-school essays. As the others said, in an academic setting this (or situations similar) could ruin your reputation.

So, at the least, it's "bad form" not just for the author, but also for the publisher.

However, as your blog is copyrighted it brings a whole new light to this. I know next to nothing about IP, but I do know that even a whiff of potential legal action makes people nervous. This isn't frivolous, it's the kind of situation copyright laws are designed to guard against. Given that you didn't even receive a response within the time frame you indicated...sheesh.

So sorry you have to deal with this drama and hoping it all works out for the best! By the way, that French Flirting post is one of my favorite of yours :)

M said...

Women so often back down out of fear. Please, please keep pursuing what is yours legally to pursue. Notice, I didn't say "keep fighting."

It's not about a fight but simply noting the legal boundaries you carefully established (via copyright) for your work. And your book will be published based on its own merits (and charms). Period.

I bought and read "Entre Nous" but I can tell you that I won't buy her next book based on this story because I just can't financially support a writer who lacks integrity.

Attribution is a basic task in professional writing. Maureen Dowd's lame excuse didn't fool anyone either. (She may write for the NYT but her influence is non-existent except in her own mind.)

LA Frog said...

The author's excuse that neither she nor her editors could trace you is disingenuous. As you and some of your readers have pointed out, all they had to do was to Google a few words from the text they "borrowed" from you, and your blog post would come on top (you're on Blogger = Google!)

Also, the author writes in her August 14 email to you that "someone sent me a copy of a blog post about flirting in France." In what form? Presumably email = link to your post; even if in print only, would the "someone" have erased all references to your blog or post title? Hard to believe.

Beyond the lack of professionalism from the editors (it's their job to check all loose ends,) such a cavalier attitude is indicative of the low esteem in which Big Media and publishers hold the blogosphere, and the online world in general. It is ironic, too, since they are the first to complain about their content being reproduced online.

Since your blog is copyrighted, and after your recent exchange of emails with the author and Putnam, my advice would be that you seek legal counsel to weigh your options, but keep them confidential until you have resolved the matter with the publishers in a satisfactory matter. (You may want to seek publication in the future and keep your options open.)

Kudos for making Newsweek's Top 10 Paris Expat Blogs. You deserve it; not such an obscure blogger, after all ;)

Sigrid said...

F**k, just lost two pages of comment.

Okay, once again in short: Don't you dare back off! Including the correct credit is not a gift or a compensation for their glitch but the effing proper way to do! Which they should have already done for the first edition, so: No thanks there!

Tell her that you are interested to learn what they intend to do with the current edition. A piece of paper added to each copy would be the least they could do. Costly, sure, but it's nobody else's fault than their's and that of their beloved author.

Tell them that if they don't come up with a real satisfying solution that you WILL seek legal action. This could result in more damage (financial and reputational) for them than just printing 3000 notes.

On the plus side: I could imagine that this could even help you find a publisher. You get a lot of positive PR at the moment. And sometimes it just needs something like this to atract someone's attention. And you are not being a pain in the neck but just behaving like a serious author. Anybody would behave like you do - and more. And without asking politely beforehand.

So do stay firm, will you? What do you have to lose? No, not your reputation or your chance of being published, on the contrary.

And maybe try to find similar cases and look what they did to compensate the mistake. I would kick their asses until they retrain to become supermarket-cashiers! (and yes, I will have a café now to calm my nerves ...)

Maria said...

if the situation was the other way around, you know they would have been on you like bees on honey. could not find the "source" is bull merde...hell i could find you, me who doesn't know how to text, just got a cell phone a few months ago, have call waiting on my home phone and don't know how to switch the line and keep hanging up on everyone - I FOUND YOU!!!! bon courage ma belle.

Jennifer said...

"no one...could find the source of the anecdote..."
What utter crap!

Stay strong. I think you're definitely in the right here and will come out on top.
Good luck Polly!

arabesque said...

well said... been silently following your blog for sometimne and i hate it when copyright issues come in... attacking you from behind... tsk,tsk... good of you to confront the situation... more power to your ramblings and your just rights! ^-^

Polly-Vous Francais said...

You all bolster me up so much! Thank you. Thank you!

And yes, a piece of paper in the book -- called an errata slip -- would be a good start. A bare minimum. Perhaps reprinting dust jackets with a quote from me? But it seems that the e-book could be edited immediately, no? Anyway, all to be seen. I don't think it has to be David vs Goliath unless the publishers choose to do so.

And btw, the French media is picking up on the saga, too.

They think I'm English, so I'll have to polish up my accent! :)

Eli said...

a little late here! When she sent you the galleys to review there was plenty of time to attribute the quote in this day and age of instant amendments (20 years ago with hand setting maybe not).

I would encourage you to stick to your guns and insist at the very least an errata slip plus compensation!

Should def be changed on reprints/paperback etc (I know of another English language book that is in its 5th reprint since launch in May so I am guessing hers must not be far behind!)

Keep strong

Linda said...

No, you are not sabotaging yourself! This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, this chick is very sneaky and if it happened to me, I'd be livid, too! You're right, mention in reprints is nice but right now you should receive credit, too. What have the guys from Putnam said to you? Keep up the fight and I will go to make a comment on Amazon too!

feasting-on-pixels (terrie) said...

Salut chêre Polly,
I am a French woman that had to live in the USA for a a years for family. Because I am a French-trained cook, I have found work here in food, but that is another story.

I have be reading you blog for a few months in preparation to get back home to Paris. (Looking at life there and expenses.)

A US blog person that I also have followed (Terrance Gelenter) has promoted Debra's strange book. I sent him a link to your posts to inform him of her theft. Sometimes I think he just promotes any book because there is the word "French" or "Paris" in the title.

Just wanted you to know that there are many French women in small corners of the USA on your side.
You please do fight hard on this as this Debra person is not a kind spirit. And she is not French...

A prochaine fois,

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Duchess said...

I applaud you for holding your ground on this, Polly, and I'm glad to see the media have picked up on it, highlighting the seriousness of it.

Unfortunately it will probably take dozens of cases like yours before serious thought is giving to the laws surrounding blogs and bloggers' rights.

Keep up the fight!

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Therese-Marie, Actually I do know Terrance, though not well. I had Christmas dinner with him, my first year in Paris! A story for another day.

And Duchess, I agree, this is not being taken as seriously as it would if the essay had been lifted from a traditional source. Chris Anderson copied a lot from Wikipedia in his new book "Free" but there was only ethical wrist-slapping, I think, bc wiki isn't a person? (I haven't really studied that issue.) This is a blogging issue, for sure.

And I am deleting the comment just before Duchess's only because it is an ad, and doesn't join in the discussion.

M.E. Greene said...

Oh boy...what a dilemma. I don't know what I would do if I were you, but I think it's good that you are making them think. In my opinion, if the author did not know the source of the work she should have left it OUT of the book altogether. Looking forward to seeing this resolved (in your favor). And I will show my support by *not* buying the book. So there!

Anonymous said...

You go girl!

I think the majority of bloggers remain quiet when their toes are trampled because they fear that making a stink will burn the bridges that lead to other writing opportunities.

But as far as "bad" publicity goes, we should remember the example of Petite Anglaise. She was fired for blogging, brought a lawsuit against her employer, caused a media storm, and got a two book deal in the process.

Keep at 'em,

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Thanks, Meg! Since my blog-toes were already smushed, I re-read the book to see how other bloggers were treated. Hmm. There is a section on p.65 translated from one of La Coquette's posts, but not Coquette's words, really, just a reference. Maybe with permission? I dunno.

And I sure hope that the French expat blogger "Cyril" gave her permission because she quotes him copiously, most likely translated from French.

This whole ordeal is a shame, really, because I otherwise enjoyed reading her well-written polemic on the superiority of French women.

Sigrid said...

Did you contact Cyril and la Coquette? Maybe they don't even know about this (you only know because she had the audacity to send you the galleys). The more the merrier the stronger.

Anonymous said...

You are fighting for a new cause célèbre, and your and other bloggers' stink about big media's disregard for online content will eventually shape the future copyright world. Hang in there!

Anonymous said...

I understand your upset. But please be clear: Plagiarism is when someone uses your words and says they belong to them. Ollivier did attribute the blog post to a blogger. Her unfortunate mistake was not attributing them to you personally. But she never said they were her words. *That* would be plagiarism, and it was not.

Polly-Vous Francais said...


Thanks for your clarification. Actually, in the comments of the earlier post ("What? You forgot to Credit My Blog?") I did say just that. It's a copyright issue. And I can't comment more than that right now.


Anonymous said...

It may not be plagiarism, but quoting extensively from a blogger without attributing full credit, then pretending that the source could not be traced (a blogger is by definition online,) is disingenuous at best.

The author's skills seem to be more as an aggregator of other people's ideas--to which she adds witty penmanship--than in her own understanding of What French Women Know. In this case, the real understanding of what French women (are supposed to) know is Polly's.

Anonymous said...

Debra Ollivier has spent half her time in France so let's not simply write her off. Again, I understand the upset.

x said...

Have no worries about sabotaging your career--you're right and no writer worth her fleur de sel would knowingly use another writer's words. Press on.

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