[Editorial] Korea: republic of plagiarism

Posted on : 2007-01-08 15:03 KST Modified on : 2007-01-08 15:03 KST

The academic and publishing words were rocked by plagiarism scandals last year, but now it seems there has been another incident. The Seoul Central Prosecutor’s Office announced it has indicted the president of a publishing house for stealing a famous photographer’s work and using it on the cover of one of its books. The book in question, Insaeng Sueop ("Life Lessons"), continues to be a bestseller. The shock is even greater because the announcement comes right after it was revealed that poet and novelist Ma Kwang-soo, a professor at Yonsei University, included a former student’s poem as one of his own in his latest poetry collection.

You wonder who is going to trust in books and art anymore. You worry that if the situation continues, it is going to lead to a collapse in the whole foundation of Korea’s cultural activity. Even worse, the methods are becoming bolder. Until recently, the problem has mostly been confined to scholarly articles, but methods now at use in the publishing world defy the imagination. It turns out publishing companies have been touting their use of big-name translators while having the bulk of the work done by ghost translators. They have published works of poetry that might as well have been stolen. Now they have even stolen works of photography. It would be safe to say at this point that they’ve tried everything.

Academic articles and the publication of general titles are the two pillars that support a country’s scholarship. The plagiarizing of academic writing threatens the foundations of scholarship, but making people lose faith in what they read from regular publishing houses is a far more real problem. The ruin of either type of authorship could lead to the destruction of the entirety of a country’s intellectual life. The real crisis in scholarship these days originates in the loss of trust in academics and publishers. As long as there is a lack of trust in those who engage in creative activity, no policy to support scholarship is going to have any effect. Scholarship does not come to life by having money poured into it.

The concern is even greater because most of the problems of late have been with bestsellers. Last year’s bestseller, Don’t Eat the Marshmallow...Yet!, was found to have been translated by someone other than the individual named on the cover. A book supposedly by a famous artist, which sold hundreds of thousands of copies, turned out to have been ghost authored. Insaeng Sueop continues to be very popular. Which all stands to mean that readers continue to feel all the more betrayed, and even those that actually buy the books in question will dismiss their value.

Publishing executives with a right mind are going to have to take a stand if the industry is going to be saved from mutual destruction. They will not be able to correct the twisted view that books are just another type of commercialized product unless those in charge work to clean up their act, nor will they be able to stop a situation in which poor quality books kill all of the truly good ones, and the industry is left devastated.

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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