Occupational Hazard

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The most dangerous street in Sydney is a quiet cul-de-sac. You’d walk past it without noticing. That’s because it isn’t there. It exists only on one particular street map. When the publishers – call them A – were preparing the map, they added this little item. Later, a competitor (B) brought out a rival town map, and guess what? It too showed the ghost street – clear evidence of copying. B got his comeuppance.

As the recent Da Vinci Code spat demonstrated, complaints of plagiarism reach far beyond Aussie mapmakers. When Arthur Halliwell created his hefty film guide, he added a non-existent movie which in due course trapped a rival directory of films. Justice was swift. When Nigel Rees – he of ‘Quote Unquote . . .’ – published his Dictionary of Twentieth Century Quotations, he slipped in a dummy quote credited to one Guy Simon (Rees’s pen name). Eventually HarperCollins bought the dummy and Guy Simon appeared in their Collins Dictionary of Quotations, a little bit of larceny for which they paid, in sterling. And when Antonia Fraser wrote her classic life of Mary, Queen of Scots, she thoughtfully inserted a burglar alarm. At Mary’s execution (Lady Antonia said) Lord Shrewsbury’s face was ‘wet with tears’. It was an invention. Later, James Mackay’s book on Mary copied it, and the alarm rang.

Those are obvious cases of literary light-fingering. Heavier charges of plagiarism are another story (and often another story of another story). Few writers are as careless as Llinos Dafydd, aged 20, who liked the stories of Heidwenn Thomas so much that she entered them as her own at a big Eisteddfod and won the crown. Further recognition came when one story was dramatized for television, where a surprised Thomas saw it. So ended Dafydd’s fifteen minutes of monarchy.

Copy the whole work and they’ve got you bang to rights. It rarely happens, although an American did clone a biography of Howard Hughes so f

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About the contributor

Derek Robinson is the third greatest cultural icon in Bristol. (The other two are Wallace and Gromit.) He writes gung-ho stuff about air combat and con artists. His latest novel, Red Rag Blues, features the conning of Senator Joe McCarthy, who was no joke.

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